JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The weeks only get bigger from this point forward.
The Jacksonville Jaguars (9-8) are set to face off against the Los Angeles Chargers (10-7) on Saturday at 8:15 p.m. (NBC and Peacock) at TIAA Bank Field in the wild-card round of the playoffs. It will be a rematch of the team’s Week 3 meeting on the west coast when Jacksonville took down the Chargers 38-10.
Saturday will mark just the fifth home playoff game for the Jaguars and the first since 2018 (Buffalo Bills). It is also just the second time Jacksonville is hosting a playoff game since 1999.
Jacksonville finished in first place in the AFC South division after defeating the Tennessee Titans 20-16 last Saturday night, while the Chargers finished in second place in the AFC West, finishing behind the 14-3 Kansas City Chiefs.
The Jaguars enter Saturday’s game on a five-game win streak, securing an AFC South title for just the second time in franchise history.
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Jaguars head coach Doug Pederson said earlier this week that he has not seen any nervousness from his guys. They’ve been in this same position for weeks now.
‘No bigger than last weekend,’ said Pederson.
‘Obviously, this is a little different. The atmosphere will be different. The pace will be a bit different; the intensity will be a little different. It’s just the way it is in the postseason. I haven’t seen a difference with the team, which is a good thing. We just got to focus on our jobs.”
Though the team’s win against the Titans to get them to the playoffs was huge, it’s onto the next, quarterback Trevor Lawrence said this week.
‘Obviously, that’s a huge stepping stone for us, but now, since we came back, it’s really just been next week, or this week, moving onto the next week, focusing on the task at hand and realizing it’s the same thought process this week to earn another opportunity next week. You just find a way to win, whatever it takes,’ said Lawrence.
Both Lawrence and his counterpart, Chargers QB Justin Herbert, will make their playoff debuts Saturday.
Lawrence finished the regular season with a 66.3 percent completion percentage, 30 total touchdowns (25 passing, five rushing), eight interceptions and 4,113 yards passing yards.
Herbert finished the year with a 68.2 percent completion percentage, 25 touchdowns (all passes), 10 interceptions and 4,739 passing yards.
Jaguars rookies get unique playoff opportunity
The Jaguars will have 40 players that have never touched the field for a playoff game Sunday.
That includes newcomers such as rookie linebacker Devin Lloyd, who spoke about the opportunity in the locker room on Thursday.
‘It’s definitely exciting, especially hearing about how long guys are in the league and don’t have this opportunity,’ said Lloyd. ‘So I’m definitely grateful, grateful for this opportunity. And looking forward to really just getting another chance to play another week.’
Lloyd has had an up-and-down rookie season. He went from a full-time starter on the Jaguars’ defense to playing in a rotating role with fellow rookie, third-round pick LB Chad Muma.
Still, he’s embraced the challenge and has had an opportunity to get better as the weeks go on.
‘The more you see, the better you get on and I’d say the biggest thing that’s helped his recovery purposes, my body is starting to feel fresher than it was a few weeks into the season, really.’
The playoff atmosphere will kick things up a notch, and being able to experience that will be something Lloyd and his fellow rookies will hold with them for the remainder of their careers.
Takeaways key in playoff matchup vs. Chargers
The Jaguars finished the regular season with 27 takeaways, tied for the fourth-most in the league this season.
In the past five games, the Jaguars have posted 11 turnovers, one of the highest marks in the league during that span.
Jacksonville’s propensity to take the ball away will be a major asset this week.
The team’s defense has surrendered just one touchdown over the last three games, hitting its stride during the most important span of football.
‘Everybody is trusting one another to, one, be where they’re supposed to be and everybody’s saying the right things to each other,’ Lloyd explained of the defensive turnaround.
‘We’ve always been physically relentless, we always played fast. We’ve always played downhill. There was just a little communication errors, breakdowns, whatever you want to call it at the beginning of the season … all these guys are pretty much new to this defense.
‘It’s a first-year defensive coordinator. We cleaned that up throughout the year and we’re in playoff form so we feel good.’
The Chargers are one of the best teams this season at protecting the football. They gave up just 19 turnovers during the regular season, which ranked fifth in the NFL.
With a high-powered offense (ranked ninth in the league in total yards per game), Jacksonville’s ability to steal possessions becomes more important than ever.
Jaguars rushing attack vs. lackluster Chargers run defense
The Jaguars’ offense hasn’t exactly looked sharp over the last few weeks. While the team had some success against the Houston Texans in Week 17, they weren’t able to get the ball rolling against the Titans — rushing for a season-low 19 rushing yards, it was the team’s third-lowest rushing total in franchise history and fewest in a victory.
That probably won’t cut it against the Chargers, a high-powered offense that will take advantage of more possessions than the Titans likely could.
‘That’s something that we try to establish each weekend if we can, and this will be no different if we tryto do that,’ Pederson said. ‘This is another good front we’re playing, obviously good against the pass. We’ve got to try.”
The Chargers are currently ranked as the 28th-best run defense in the league, allowing a total of 145.8 yards per game on the ground. They’re dead last in yards per attempt allowed at 5.4 YPA allowed.
Jaguars running back Travis Etienne has been the bell-cow back for the team nearly all season.
Etienne rushed for 1,125 yards and five touchdowns. He posted five games during the regular season with 100 or more rushing yards.
To Etienne, the fix is simple — keep at it.
‘Just calling the plays, honestly, just calling the runs,’ Etienne said. ‘Just executing, not giving up on the run, keep swinging and just keep calling my number.’
Jaguars uniform combo revealed
This week, the Jaguars will don teal jerseys and white pants to take on the Chargers.
Jaguars, Chargers injury report: Mike Williams ruled out for LA
No team in the playoffs is completely healthy and that can be applied to the Jaguars and Chargers as they get set for their biggest games of the season.
For Jacksonville, five players are listed as questionable including Lawrence (toe), receivers Kendric Pryor (shoulder) and Jamal Agnew (shoulder), long snapper Ross Matiscik (back) and offensive lineman Brandon Scherff (abdomen).
Kicker Riley Patterson was listed on the injury report this week for the first time with a right knee injury but practiced in full the last two days. He was taken off the injury report on Thursday.
Lawrence has been listed as questionable since suffering the toe injury against the Detroit Lions six weeks ago but has played in every game.
Agnew, Matiscik, Scherff and Agnew will all likely suit up on Saturday as well with Pryor as the only true question mark. Pryor has not been active for a game this season.
For Los Angeles, while they initially listed eight players on their injury report through the week, only receiver Mike Williams (back) remained by Thursday, listed as questionable to play. Williams suffered the injury in the team’s Week 18 loss to the Denver Broncos. On Friday, however, Williams was ruled out, unable to play in Saturday’s contest.
Williams played in the teams’ first meeting, hauling in just one catch for 15 yards. The Chargers will likely utilize third receiver Joshua Palmer in his place along with DeAndre Carter.
Demetrius Harvey is the Jacksonville Jaguars reporter for the Florida Times-Union. You can follow him on Twitter at @Demetrius82.