NFL Analysis


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Trevor Lawrence's Injury Leaves Jaguars' Place in AFC Playoff Race Uncertain

Trevor Lawrence suffers injury vs. bengals
Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence (16) is examined on the field after suffering a leg injury in the fourth quarter of a Week 13 NFL football game against the Cincinnati Bengals, Monday, Dec. 4, 2023, at EverBank Stadium in Jacksonsville, Fla.

The quarterback injury season from hell just won't stop. 

Midway through the fourth quarter of Monday night's Jacksonville Jaguars vs. Cincinnati Bengals game, Trevor Lawrence hit the dirt after getting his ankle rolled up on. 

LT Walker Little got walked back by a defensive end and got caught on Lawrence's ankle, a mix-up that ended with Lawrence getting folded like a pretzel amidst the sea of bodies. 

Lawrence tried to get up under his own power, but his body didn't cooperate. Lawrence, visibly frustrated, immediately took off his helmet and chucked it to the sideline. Trainers escorted a gingerly Lawrence to the locker room shortly after that. He never returned to the game. 

Without their star quarterback, a game that already looked tough for the Jaguars took a turn for the worse. Backup C.J. Beathard mustered enough to earn the Jaguars a tying field goal, but he couldn't cut it in overtime. 

The Bengals, also on a backup quarterback, took the win in overtime, 34-31. 

For the time being, we don't know how long Lawrence is going to miss. The NFL Network's Tom Pelissero reported Lawrence's initial diagnosis is a sprained ankle, and he will get an MRI on Tuesday. 

All things considered, that feels like a positive outcome. The play certainly looked worse than that in real-time, and an ankle sprain probably wouldn't force Lawrence to miss postseason ball. 

The question is what the Jaguars do without Lawrence in the lineup — however long that may be — and while he is still fighting back to full health. 

Jaguars Can't Operate Without Lawrence

Not that we needed the end of that game to drive the point home, but the Jaguars are not the same team without Lawrence. The entire offensive operation revolves around what he does, and the offense was just hitting its stride after the Week 9 bye. 

Lawrence and the Jaguars righted the ship after two shaky months to open the season. The Jaguars’ offense went from 23rd in EPA per play in the first eight weeks to 10th in the four games after their bye. 

Their recent stretch put them squarely between the Houston Texans and Philadelphia Eagles, two offenses we know can run it up on anyone on the right day. 

Most of that was because of the passing game sorting itself out. Lawrence was playing outstanding ball all year long, but the offensive staff and skill players found their groove after taking the bye week to reset. 

The play-calling became more balanced and thoughtful, WR Calvin Ridley became more involved as a movable piece, and the rest of the offense's minor skill players rose to meet the standard the stars set. 

Lawrence's steadiness is what allowed the offense to fall into place. Above all else, Lawrence is a stabilizer. He can make insane throws outside the numbers and give you a little creation ability. However, his real superpower is how consistently he keeps the offense moving efficiently. 

Lawrence always remains chill in the pocket, knows how to get through his reads in a timely manner and finds the right throws at an exceptionally high rate. 

As such, it is no surprise Lawrence was fourth in success rate since the team's Week 9 bye, according to TruMedia. The only quarterbacks ahead of him are Dak Prescott, Brock Purdy and Tua Tagovailoa — 1.5 MVP candidates and two Shanahan offense merchants. 

Those guys are working with a lot more than Lawrence is, which is why their overall production and EPA numbers are better. Still, Lawrence has found ways to keep up with them in terms of setting the floor for their offenses. 

No offense to Beathard, but he won’t give the Jaguars that kind of play. 

What Is Jacksonville's Place in the AFC?

Lawrence's injury and likely absence will hurt the Jaguars' positioning for the AFC’s first seed. That's true regardless of how much time Lawrence misses, whether it's one or two weeks or until the postseason. 

The Jaguars won’t churn out a winning offense without Lawrence or if Lawrence isn’t at strength. 

With how badly the defense has collapsed in the last month, that's potentially disastrous for the Jaguars. 

Let's say Lawrence misses the next two weeks, for argument's sake. That doesn't sound so bad, right? They'd still get him back with three (easy) games left in the season and be ready for a playoff run. 

Well, those two games are against the Browns and the Ravens. The Browns’ front seven will eat Beathard alive, and the Ravens are one of the five best teams in football. There's a fat chance the Jaguars lose both those games with Beathard or a weakened version of Lawrence. 

Moreover, the Ravens are one of the teams the Jaguars were scrapping with to get the first seed, alongside the Dolphins and Chiefs. Losing to the Ravens would kill the Jaguars' chances at the playoff bye and shoot the Ravens up the board. 

Per the New York Times' playoff predictor, the Jaguars would have a one percent chance at the No. 1 seed if they lost to the Ravens. Losing to the Browns would effectively drop them to zero percent. 

They could win every game but the Ravens game and still only have a roughly one percent chance at getting the bye, assuming all the other teams contending don't somehow implode. 

Beyond that, it opens up the Jaguars to falling further down the seeding in general. Lawrence's injury takes them from a shot at the bye to potentially sliding down to the fourth seed, depending on when Lawrence returns and how the conference's other three division leaders finish. 

That is absolutely massive, considering the weight of seeding for matchup purposes and home-field advantage in January. 

The silver lining is Lawrence shouldn't be out for the season. If they get him back at any point, there's always a chance a special quarterback can go on a special run, regardless of seeding or where the games are played. 

That's what the Jaguars will bank on to finish the season.