2022 NFL season: Six things to watch for in Chiefs-Raiders, Titans-Jaguars doubleheader on Saturday

Saturday marks the return of NFL games following the disturbing events that unfolded Monday night, when Bills safety Damar Hamlin suffered a cardiac arrest during the Buffalo-Cincinnati game leading to its postponement and eventual cancellation.

The 24-year-old’s condition has significantly improved over the past several days, to the point he was able to address his teammates on Friday morning. Teams around the league will be demonstrating their continued support for Hamlin in multiple ways this weekend, beginning with Saturday’s two games.

The day begins with the Raiders hosting the Chiefs, who have their eyes on locking up the top seed in the conference. NFL owners approved changes to the AFC playoffs on Friday that could directly affect the Chiefs, depending on the results of Week 18’s games.

In the second game of Saturday’s doubleheader, the Titans and Jaguars will meet in Jacksonville, with the AFC South title hanging in the balance.

This is an incredible moment for the Jaguars, who haven’t made the playoffs since reaching the AFC Championship Game in the 2017 season. The Titans, who have won the division two years running and have made the postseason in three straight seasons, have lost six straight games down the stretch, including once at home to the Jaguars in Week 14.

Patrick Mahomes also is only 50 passing yards away from a career-high season total. Mahomes theoretically could break the NFL’s all-time single-season mark of 5,477 yards, set by the Broncos’ Peyton Manning in 2013, if he threw for 430 yards. He’s surpassed that number five times in his career, including once against the Raiders in 2019.

Las Vegas Raiders
  1. Jarrett Stidham in an unexpected spotlight. When the Raiders opted to bench Derek Carr and turn to the little-used fourth-year QB, it was viewed as more of a slap in Carr’s face than it was a chance to see what Stidham could do. After all, Stidham barely got off the bench in New England with Josh McDaniels calling plays in 2020, when the Patriots struggled to throw the ball consistently. But after Stidham’s stunning 365-yard passing game last week against the 49ers, did all of that change? Perhaps the light just went on for Stidham. Or maybe the 49ers just didn’t prepare well for a QB who had all of 61 NFL pass attempts (including 13 with the Raiders) coming in. Whatever the case, Stidham won’t sneak up on the Chiefs, who actually faced him for a half in 2020 and now have seen what he did to a highly respected San Francisco defense. Stidham stung them a few times in man defense but also succumbed to pressure a few times later in the game, so it will be interesting to see how Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo chooses to play it. Having a healthy Trent McDuffie, who missed the first matchup against the Raiders, should help as he could be asked to help cover Davante Adams.
  2. Pass protection could be key for Patrick Mahomes. In the Chiefs’ first meeting with the Raiders back in Week 5, they struggled to move the ball consistently and didn’t score in the game’s first 20-plus minutes. The Raiders’ pass rush was a big reason why, as defensive ends Maxx Crosby and Chandler Jones harassed Chiefs tackles Orlando Brown Jr. and Andrew Wylie consistently and forced Mahomes to operate under heavy stress more often than not. However, Jones is now on injured reserve, and the Chiefs’ tackles have been better of late; Mahomes has only been sacked eight times in his past eight games, spanning 291 pass attempts. Either way, look for the Chiefs to dig deep into their screen game and have several quick-hitting pass concepts at the ready just in case. Keep an eye on Jerick McKinnon, who has been busy as a receiver lately, and Kadarius Toney, who had four catches for 71 yards last week in spite of losing a fumble. Mecole Hardman (pelvis) also has recently been activated and could be given some run in this one as the Chiefs gear up for the playoffs. 
  3. Josh Jacobs could hold the Raiders’ key to an upset. Jacobs was a major thorn in the Chiefs’ sides back in Week 5, running 21 times for 154 yards and a touchdown and catching five passes for 39 yards. He had six of the Raiders’ nine longest gains in that game, and that was even with nine touches in the second half. But his production has tailed off in recent games, and Jacobs is now dealing with hip and oblique injuries. He’s missed time this week in practice, including in Wednesday’s walkthrough. That’s a fairly concerning sign for his chances to play Saturday. The Raiders have nothing but glowing things to say about Jacobs and reportedly are now open to re-signing him after they declined his fifth-year option prior to the season. That leads us to believe they might not want to tax Jacobs further after he’s already amassed a career-high 374 touches and 2,003 yards from scrimmage this season. If Jacobs can’t go, it could be a Zamir White game. He’s run only 16 times for 66 yards this season, with no more than three carries in any game. But White was a fourth-round pick this spring and was a workhorse at times at Georgia, especially in the 2020 college season.

Jacksonville Jaguars
  1. Young Jaguars have a chance to do something special. The Jaguars were a combined 4-29 the previous two seasons. They’ve finished in last place in the AFC South for four straight seasons prior to this one. They were 3-8 with five straight losses at one point this season. They’re one of the youngest rosters in the NFL. Yet here they are, playing at home with a chance to clinch the division against a Titans team that had beaten them nine of the past 10 times coming into this season. But the Jaguars already have shown they can beat the Titans, scoring 29 straight points in their Week 14 victory at Tennessee — and that was with Ryan Tannehill playing. The Jaguars haven’t lost since Week 13, when Trevor Lawrence was twisted up in a scary looking collision, but he’s managed the toe injury he suffered in that game well. Since then, the offense has been cooking and the defense has allowed six points in the past two games. Look for Lawrence to take some shots early and test a Tennessee secondary that has faded just a bit down the stretch but did get its hands on eight of Lawrence’s 42 pass attempts back in Week 14.
  2. Joshua Dobbs is playing in the biggest game of his NFL life. Dobbs was last week’s surprise starter for the shorthanded Titans, and his surprisingly good performance against the Cowboys earned him another start with the team’s playoff lives at stake. He did complete only 20 of 39 passes and turned the ball over twice, but Dobbs showed poise and decisiveness throwing the ball that former replacement starter Malik Willis had not. The Jaguars have not been tested defensively the past two games against the likes of Zach Wilson, Chris Streveler, Jeff Driskel and Davis Mills. They have faced a slew of dual-threat quarterbacks this season, with varying levels of success. But the Jaguars contained Jalen Hurts earlier in the season about as well as any defense has, and this defense has gotten better since then. Even with Tannehill having some early success against them in Week 14, the Jaguars turned him over twice in the first half and sacked him three times and held him to 9 of 22 passing after halftime. They should be able to get some pressure on him, but Dobbs will treat this game as his Super Bowl, not knowing when he might start next.
  3. Derrick Henry has a chance to save the Titans’ season. Without Henry in the lineup last week, the Titans’ replacement backs ran 20 times for 65 yards, with a long run of 12. Yet Tennessee was able to keep it a close game into the fourth quarter. Now with Henry — a longtime Jags tormentor — back in the lineup Saturday, they should have a chance. In his past two games in Jacksonville, Henry has combined for 345 rushing yards and five TDs on 55 carries. Back in Week 14, Henry also shredded the Jaguars for 121 yards and a TD on only 17 carries, adding three catches for 34 yards. But he also suffered the only two-lost-fumble game of his career, with both turnovers occurring in the Titans’ end of the field. First he coughed up a reception right before halftime that led to a Jacksonville TD, and the second came early in the fourth quarter, leading to a Jaguars field goal. That’s not likely to happen again. The Jaguars must bring population to the ball if they’re going to slow Henry down. Safety Rayshawn Jenkins and linebackers Devin Lloyd and Foyesade Oluokun are among the NFL’s leaders in missed tackles this season, per PFF, so they’ll need to wrap up better in this crucial game.

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