JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Kansas City and Jacksonville are counting on this season to be better than the last one.
It’d be tough to be any worse.
Coming off 2-14 records, the Chiefs and Jaguars open the season against each other today with new general managers, new coaches and lots of new faces.
One of them will get a different result.
The Chiefs, who lost four in row and 12 of 13 to end last season, have 30 new players on the 53-man roster. Jacksonville, which ended 2012 with a five-game losing streak and lost 12 of its final 13, has 26 newcomers.
“Sometimes change can be good,” said Chiefs coach Andy Reid, who spent the previous 14 seasons in Philadelphia.
Neither team appears done tweaking the roster, either.
The Jaguars added 10 players over a six-day span last week, making for a unique situation heading into the opener.
Jacksonville defensive end Jeremy Mincey said he’s still learning names and numbers.
“This is a funny league,” Mincey said. “That’s just how it is. You’ve got to expect the unexpected. In this business, you’re never safe.”
The Chiefs claimed seven players off waivers following final roster cuts.
“Yeah, it’s strange,” Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith said. “Definitely not the norm having this many new faces coming in this close to a game. I think obviously both teams are hoping to never be in this position again — certainly not us — but it’s the nature of the business.”
Aside from all the turnover, here are five things to know about the Chiefs and Jaguars before Sunday’s game:
Top picks on display
Eric Fisher and Luke Joeckel didn’t become good friends during the NFL combine or the draft, but they have a lot in common as they make their NFL debuts. Not only were they picked first and second overall by Kansas City and Jacksonville, they moved from left to right tackle and were thrown into the starting lineup. “We just filled a void that the team needed,” said Joeckel, who’s facing a tougher task by going against Pro Bowl linebackers Tamba Hali and Justin Houston. “We’re here to help our team win football games. No matter what position that is, we’re going to do that.”
Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew, playing his first regular-season game in nearly 11 months because of a foot injury, believes he’s ready for a heavy workload against the Chiefs. He might end up disappointed. The Jaguars have Justin Forsett, Jordan Todman and Denard Robinson also vying for carries, so Jones-Drew might not get his number called as often as he’s grown accustomed to in seven seasons. “The main part is just staying positive,” he said. “There were a couple days during camp where I was like, ‘I don’t know if I can do this anymore.’ Once the pain subsides and the soreness goes away, you’re ready to roll again. You were all saying I felt great and I had to lie to myself, too, and say that. Now I feel good and I’m just ready to get out there and play.”
Charles in charge
The Chiefs led the AFC in rushing last season and could be even better with Jamaal Charles in Reid’s West Coast offense. Charles ran for 1,509 yards and five touchdowns in 2012, recording two 200-yard games and three scoring runs of at least 80 yards. “He’s been unbelievable,” Jacksonville defensive coordinator Bob Babich said. “Jamaal is an excellent back. He’s shifty, he’s fast and his strength is underrated.”
Premium on pass rush
Both teams desperately would like to see an improved pass rush. The Chiefs ranked 29th in the league with 27 sacks last year despite having three linebackers — Hali, Houston and Derrick Johnson — selected to the Pro Bowl. Hali and Houston combined for 19 sacks. The Jaguars, meanwhile, were the worst in the league with 20 sacks. And over the last five years, no NFL team has recorded fewer sacks than Jacksonville (120), which has seven fewer than — yep, you guessed it — Kansas City.
Hot and humid
It’s supposed to be nearly 90 degrees at kickoff, and the Jaguars are hoping the heat and humidity will give them an edge. Sure, it’s hot in Kansas City this time of year, but the Florida humidity can be downright draining. Just ask newly signed Jaguars receiver Stephen Burton, who had to leave practice Wednesday because of heat-related issues. The Jaguars are 7-4 in home games played above 86 degrees, with the most recent losses coming when Jacksonville was clearly outmanned. “Nothing compares to Florida heat,” said Jaguars receiver Cecil Shorts III, who grew up in Ohio. “Nothing.”