The Jacksonville Jaguars were tied for the best record in the NFL heading into their BYE. They also had a three-game lead in the AFC South. While they still have a shot at clinching the No. 1 playoff seed in the conference, the Jags will have stiff competition from other contenders.
If Week 9 proved anything is that the the path to the playoffs and the top seed in the conference won't be easy. The San Francisco 49ers and the Philadelphia Eagles are the best teams in the NFC but things get a bit murkier in the AFC. Who's the second-best team after the Kansas City Chiefs? The Baltimore Ravens, the Cleveland Browns, and the Cincinnati Bengals all have a strong case.
The Ravens crushed the Seahawks in Week 9 while the Browns shut down the Arizona Cardinals. The Kansas City Chiefs also took care of business, disposing of a Miami Dolphins team that's supposed to be playoff-worthy. Similarly, the Bengals have bounced back after a slow start and Joe Burrow looks like the pre-calf injury version of himself.
The Jaguars are also in the thick of the playoff race and they have enough talent in place to challenge the go toe-to-toe with the best teams in the conference. But so do the Ravens and Cincinnati. Heck, Jacksonville lost to the Chiefs earlier this year. It's true that they've gotten much better in past weeks but the Jags will face several potential playoff contenders in the upcoming weeks, starting with the Niners.
The Houston Texans remain a threat to the Jacksonville Jaguars in the AFC South
But before the Jaguars start thinking about potentially making the playoffs, they need to fend off the Houston Texans. As recently as last week, they had a three-game lead but Houston has narrowed down the gap after defeating the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Houston is in the early stages of a rebuild but head coach DeMeco Ryans has done a good job of having his team ready to go week in and week out. Moreover, C.J. Stroud has shown he's a keeper, building a strong case for the Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2023. The Texans already beat Jacksonville once this season and could do it again if the Jaguars take their foot off the gas pedal.
This isn't to say the Jaguars are suddenly a bad team or vulnerable. Rather, the margin for error in the second half of the season will be slim because as good as they've been the past eight games, they still have room for improvement. Specifically, their offense has shown a penchant for stalling out around the third quarter and not putting teams down when they have the chance.
The good news is that most of the issues the Jaguars have had are rooted in execution, something that can be cleaned up. In fact, there's a good chance head coach Doug Pederson and his staff spent the BYE looking for ways to improve their scoring efficiency and come out strong against the 49ers in Week 9.
The Jacksonville Jaguars will face several tough opponents in the upcoming weeks. Will going undefeated the rest of the way may not be realistic, they need to win as many games as possible in order to keep up with the Super Bowl champion Chiefs in the race for the No. 1 seed.