The Jacksonville Jaguars are playing for January on Sunday against the Houston Texans.
Here we are. Week 15 in the 2017 season and the Jacksonville Jaguars have a rare opportunity. An opportunity to secure what no Jaguars team has accomplished since 2007: A spot in the playoffs.
It has been a tumultuous journey in Jacksonville since then. With the win last week over the Seattle Seahawks, the Jaguars sealed the team’s first winning season since that ’07 campaign. In fact, Jacksonville hadn’t even won more than five games in a single season since 2010.
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But the times have changed, and changed dramatically. The Jaguars are 9-4, and have quickly become one of the biggest surprises in the league, going from perennial basement-dweller to legitimate threat in January in one season.
But to be a threat in the playoffs, you first have to punch your ticket to the dance. And standing in the way of the Jaguars is the Houston Texans.
The Texans come into the game at 4-9, and with that, have been relegated to simply trying to play the role of spoiler as the season winds to its conclusion. The Jaguars on paper have the clear advantage, but no game is a given in the NFL.
A preview of week 15:
QB Blake Bortles vs Rising expectations
Blake Bortles has been playing on fire the last few weeks. From dominating the Indianapolis Colts again to playing his best game in the biggest moment last week against the Seattle Seahawks, Bortles’ play has been lights out.
But after those games, specifically last Sunday vs. the Seahawks, hype is swirling around Bortles. People are starting to believe after all that he can be the reliable guy behind center that would make Jacksonville extremely dangerous come playoff time.
But with expectations soaring, pressure will build on Bortles to continue to deliver. With a playoff berth on the line on Sunday, even against an inferior opponent, Bortles must continue to shine.
Bortles has not needed to put up huge numbers with the supporting cast on the defensive side. But it is clear that the team runs at its best when Bortles is playing poised, intelligent football. Sunday is a key test for Blake Bortles to continue to prove he is turning a corner, especially now with expectations continuing to mount.
To say Yannick Ngakoue has received NO recognition would be an overstatement, but Ngakoue continues to fly under the radar league-wide considering the monster season the second-year pro is currently having. Ngakoue has eleven sacks on the year, and just as impressive, six forced fumbles. The defensive end has been a bullet flying at quarterbacks.
The Texans are starting T.J. Yates at quarterback Sunday, which undoubtedly is not the position they want to be in going against the NFL’s best defense. The Jaguars defensive line as a unit will be licking their chops at the chance to unleash on the third-string quarterback.
In the first meeting this season, the Jaguars suffocated the Texans in the form of ten sacks. Ngakoue himself had two, as well as two forced fumbles. Expect another intrusive performance from Yannick Ngakoue in the second meeting as he has another multi-sack game, and gets a strip on T.J. Yates.
The only way I can envision this game on Sunday even really being close is if the Jaguars are battling themselves as much as they are battling the Texans, in the form of mental mistakes, penalties, and turnovers. But even then, it is hard to see Jacksonville dropping this game with so much on the line. The Jaguars have stayed even-keeled all season and live by the “just another week” creed. Even with the playoffs in sight, Jacksonville will remain focused and be geared up and ready to go.
The last time the Jaguars had a win-and-in game at home, they dismantled the Oakland Raiders 49-11 to clinch their spot in the playoffs emphatically. Don’t expect quite that level of dominance against Houston, but Jacksonville is prepared and knows what’s at stake. The first head-to-head was a 29-7 result in week one. Battle number two will yield the same results.
The Jaguars get solid production from all three phases of the game, including another defensive masterpiece, and the team heads to the postseason for the first time in a decade in front of a raucous crowd at EverBank Field.