Trevor Lawrence's injury makes AFC supremacy even easier for Chiefs

If the Chiefs could get their act together, the conference is still ripe for the picking.

Cincinnati Bengals v Jacksonville Jaguars
Cincinnati Bengals v Jacksonville Jaguars / Mike Carlson/GettyImages

The entire AFC is limping along this year. That includes the Kansas City Chiefs.

It's interesting to look at the projected power structure of the conference before the season and compare it to where we're at now. Because what has taken place versus what was predicted are vastly different scenarios—and yet here we are.

The Chiefs as defending champs look like a shell of themselves offensively—their greatest strength in years past—and yet they're still riding a two-game lead in the division. Injuries are threatening their defensive muscle and the offense has fallen apart in this season's second half. Putting even 20 points on the board feels like a tall order some weeks.

But hey, how about those Cincinnati Bengals, who are down to their backup quarterback and flirting with a .500 record in a loaded division? The Bengals are feisty but any Super Bowl ambitions were drained the moment Joe Burrow decided to turn his attention to 2024.

The Buffalo Bills are always a sexy preseason pick, but they decided Ken Dorsey was the proper scapegoat for a miserable early season run that's left them hanging around the same even record that the Bengals are enjoying. Both teams can only hope for a fringe playoff position at this point.

If the Chiefs could get their act together, the conference is still ripe for the picking.

Anyone want to nominate other favorites? The Miami Dolphins love to beat up on the playground's weaklings but they lack any ability to rise up to a real bully. The Baltimore Ravens aren't nearly as threatening without their star tight end, Mark Andrews. The Cleveland Browns are running on quarterback fumes despite their defensive depth.

Want to talk about other potential playoff teams? The Pittsburgh Steelers will always be competitive, but their offense was already anemic and that was before they lost Kenny Pickett. The Indianapolis Colts lost Anthony Richardson for the year and decided to remain pesky as ever. Sean Payton has the Denver Broncos believing they could punch higher than their weight class, but they're one-and-done even if they make it. The Houston Texans just lost Tank Dell for the year and feel a bit too early despite showcasing a solid foundation.

Then there's the Jacksonville Jaguars, a team that the Chiefs beat early in the year back in Week 2 that has come together under Doug Pederson to become a formidable AFC South power with Trevor Lawrence at the helm. Or is he?

On Monday Night Football, the Bengals with Jake Browning at the controls rolled into Jacksonville and walked away with a win while the Jags faithful were more concerned about a loss of a different kind.

You can see the injury above, but Lawrence went down with an lower leg or ankle injury that clearly had him in severe pain. The Jags now have good news but no one is quite clear what a timeline might resemble just yet. What seems apparent at this stage is that Lawrence will need to miss some time. (If not, that'd be an incredible story for the NFL.)

Even with Lawrence, the Bengals kept pace with the Jags all night and left them with an 8-4 record, the same as the Chiefs and K.C. holds that tiebreaker. They also own it over the Dolphins, who are one game ahead of the Chiefs in the standings yet face a much more difficult schedule. If the Jags can't rise up to take out a middling AFC team in primetime with an unproven backup QB, are they really going to make a postseason run?

Of course, all of these questions and doubts could easily be turned on the Chiefs as well—and we've admitted as much. Nick Bolton and Drue Tranquill are missing from the heart of the defense, and the secondary just lost Bryan Cook. Patrick Mahomes lacks a meaningful connection with most of his targets and the team shoots itself in the foot as much as ever in the Andy Reid era. Other teams should be pointing and asking, "They are the defending champs?"

The truth is that the AFC is weaker in 2023 than anyone could have expected for myriad reasons—most notably the number of significant injuries. Trevor Lawrence is the latest name to add to that list, making another contender look that much more fragile in the thick of a playoff hunt.