The Jacksonville Jaguars were struggling ahead of Week 17 but a 26-0 win over the Carolina Panthers helped them to get back on track and remain in the thick of the playoff race. Coming off a four-game losing skid, the Jags played a clean brand of football they had been missing recently.
Although Jacksonville has yet to lock up a playoff spot, they showed they can deliver with their back against the wall, and just one week after tumbling down in NFL Power Rankings, they've moved back up. Granted, they're still outside the top 10 but it's encouraging to see them bounce back after a rough stretch. Pete Prisco of CBS Sports ranked the Jaguars at No. 11, noting that a win against the Tennessee Titans will put them in first place in the AFC South and get them a ticket to the playoffs.
Mike Florio of Pro Football Focus, for his part, placed Jacksonville at No. 12, arguing that they'll need Trevor Lawrence for the finale. They also moved three spots in Bleacher Report's power ranking. Both edge rusher Josh Allen and tight end Evan Engram got recognition for setting the franchise's new sack record and catching over 100 receptions in a season, respectively.
Gary Davenport of the B/R staff says that the Jaguars have a relatively easy path to the AFC South title but argues that it may not matter in the grand scheme of things.
"Given that the Jaguars face a bad Titans team in Week 18, Jacksonville has a good shot at taking the division. The larger question is whether that actually matters. As things stand, the Jags would face an 11-win Browns team in the Wild Card Round. That's going to be no easy task, especially given how inconsistent the team has been over the past month-plus"
Davenport is onto something. Although the Jaguars are a step closer to qualifying for the postseason, their play before Week 17 didn't inspire confidence. They delivered in all three phases against the Panthers, but they might not be as successful against better competition.
Perhaps Jacksonville will be able to build on the win but there's an equal chance they'll revert to the hapless team that lost four straight games because of self-inflicted wounds.
The Jaguars must defeat the Titans before they can uncork the champaigne
Circling back to Florio's comments, Trevor Lawrence missed the Panthers game with a shoulder injury, but there's a chance he might play against the rival Tennessee Titans. He's still day-to-day but progressing. This poses a conundrum to the Jacksonville Jaguars, should they play him or let him rest one more week? C.J. Beathard was serviceable in Week 17, completing 70.8 percent of his passes for 178 yards with no touchdowns and no interceptions.
Beathard generally made good decisions against Carolina. More importantly, he avoided turning the ball over, something Lawrence struggled with during the losing streak. Following the win, Beathard said he is ready to go if his number is called against Tennessee, and giving Lawrence an extra week to heal to be ready for the playoffs is probably in their best interest.
On the other hand, Lawrence gives the Jaguars the best chance to win (if healthy). With the playoffs on the line, the team may decide that playing him is the best course of action Thus, the coaching staff will need to weigh the pros on cons of holding him out and letting him suit up.
With or without Lawrence, the Jaguars will need to find a way to get a win at Tennessee. If they fall short, what was a promising season will most likely come to a halt.