With Saturday’s AFC Divisional Playoff game against the Jacksonville Jaguars getting closer, these are the five most Important players to watch for. This is a rematch of the week ten matchup in Kansas City which the Chiefs won, 27-17.
1. Linebacker Nick Bolton
As the anchor for the Kansas City defense, Bolton is coming off an historic regular season recording 180 total tackles. The second year pro had nine games where he recorded ten or more tackles. Bolton also recorded two sacks and two interceptions in the 2022 campaign. Specifically against the Jaguars, he recorded eight tackles. With an offensive attack as good as Jacksonville, look for Bolton to be all over the field making an impact. In the week ten matchup, the Chiefs defense forced three turnovers.
In his news conference on Tuesday, Bolton said “[The key is] just keep your emotions in check and just play all 60 minutes. Play aggressive, smart and sound football”. Additionally, he explained how much growth Trevor Lawrence has had as a quarterback now compared to earlier in the season. “The’re doing a great job of minimizing turnovers and just maximizing opportunities to put points on the board”. Over the last six weeks of the regular season, Lawrence threw a total of eight touchdowns to two interceptions. Last week he threw four interceptions in the first half alone against the Chargers in the Wild Card game so look for the defense to try to generate turnovers
2. Kicker Harrison Butker
The Chiefs have had their fair share of issues in the kicking game this season. Harrison Butker is in his sixth season as Chiefs kicker but coming off his worst career year as a pro converting 18 of 24 attempts. His longest kick made was from 62 yards against the Buffalo Bills in week six. In the Jaguars game, Butker went three for four on extra points. On the season as a whole, the Chiefs ranked second to last among the 32 teams in field goal conversion percentage converting 24 of 32 attempts. He battled an ankle injury throughout the season which caused him to miss weeks 2-5. He also missed the week 18 game against the Las Vegas Raiders with back spasms. After the week off, he should be well rested and ready to roll.
3. Wide Receiver Juju Smith-Schuster
Another key player to watch out for is Juju Smith-Schuster. The former Pittsburgh Steeler has had a very quiet season in Kansas City catching 78 passes for 933 yards and three touchdowns. His specialty is running intermitted routes as he’s averaged 11.9 yards per catch this year. His best game this year was in week seven against the 49ers where he caught seven passes for 124 yards and a touchdown. Against the Jaguars, he had a rather quiet afternoon: two caches for 33 yards. However, with all the attention being drawn to tight end Travis Kelce, look for him to step up and make big plays when his number is called upon.
4. Marquez Valdes-Scantling
MVS is the type of receiver who offensive coaches would love to have on their roster. A big, physical, fast receiver who can put major pressure on the opposing team’s safeties and cornerbacks. The former Green Bay Packer who signed with the Chiefs in free agency this past March has paid off. Although he might not see many targets, he can put up big numbers in bunches. In the game against Jacksonville, Valdez-Scantling had three catches for 60 yards. His best game as a Chief this year in terms of catches was against the Raiders in October. He caught six passes for 90 yards. Overall, his average in yards per catch this season tops off at 16 so when the opportunities present themselves, he will take advantage of them and I expect the same during these playoffs.
5. Running Back Jerrick McKinnon
Last but certainly not least, McKinnon is a guy to keep an eye on for Saturday’s game. Although he has not made a big impact in the running game except for short yardage situations (72 carries for 291 yards, 1 TD), he is arguably Patrick Mahomes’ most valuable weapon as a receiver not named Travis Kelce. This season, McKinnon has career highs in the receiving categories. 56 catches, 512 yards and nine touchdowns. In the week ten matchup against the Jaguars., McKinnon caught six of eight targets for 56 yards. His best game of the season came in week 14 against the Broncos: seven catches, 112 yards and two touchdowns.