JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Doug Pederson’s message to his team following a fourth consecutive victory was simple: keep being you.
The Jacksonville Jaguars have figured out who they are and how to win — key steps for one of the NFL’s youngest teams. The past month has been perhaps the most impressive stretch in franchise history, complete with a resounding victory at Tennessee, an overtime stunner against Dallas and then back-to-back road wins as favorites.
The streak has the Jaguars (8-8) in position for a winner-takes-the AFC South regular-season finale against the skidding Titans (7-9) on Saturday night. A primetime matchup at home against the two-time defending division champs?
It’s the ideal setup for Jacksonville’s potential — maybe pending — coronation.
The Jaguars are 6½-point favorites, according to FanDuel Sportsbook, and no one would be surprised to see the line increase. The Titans have lost six in a row and could be starting third-string quarterback Josh Dobbs against a team poised to end years of futility.
“It’s time, it’s time, it’s time,” Pederson emphasized to his team after a 31-3 romp at Houston that ended a nine-game skid in the series.
“This is what you play for. This is what you coach for. This is what you want for your football team,” Pederson told reporters later. “You want to be in the conversation, and you want to be playing for, for us, the AFC South.
“Listen, we haven’t done anything yet. They’re still the champs until something happens. I felt like and really feel like our guys are in a good place. They’re in a good place mentally, physically. I don’t really have to worry too much about them getting excited for this one.”
Although the pressure will be on the Jaguars, they insist it’s been that way since a five-game losing streak in October dropped them to 2-6. If they beat Tennessee, they would be the fifth team in NFL history to make the playoffs with a five-game winning streak and a five-game losing streak in the same season.
"We've been expecting this, and we’re ready for it," quarterback Trevor Lawrence said. "You can’t freak out and make it bigger than it is. You have to stick to what you know and your process.”
Jacksonville’s defense has been at its best the past two weeks. After allowing 227 yards and a field goal to the New York Jets, the Jaguars gave up 277 yards and a field goal to the Texans and stopped Houston four times on fourth down.
They also finished with a combined three takeaways in those games and allowed just 150 yards rushing.
WHAT NEEDS HELP
Ball security remains a concern. Thanks to his eighth interception of the season, Lawrence has four turnovers in Jacksonville’s past three games. The Jags are 3-1 this season when not committing a turnover, with the lone loss coming at Kansas City, so they know the importance of protecting the ball.
K’Lavon Chaisson, a first-round draft pick in 2020, played a season-high 33 snaps and notched his first sack since Week 5 of the 2021 season. Chaisson is being counted on to replace Dawuane Smoot (Achilles), who landed on injured reserve last week.
Pederson and the Jaguars had hoped to avoid a short week for the finale, especially after a road game and with Tennessee coming off extra rest following a Thursday night game.
One less day means tweaking the schedule and cramming some things together, but it should help that they played the Titans a month ago.
Pederson pulled many starters in the second half at Houston and reported no injuries. LB Travon Walker (ankle) and DT Foley Fatukasi (ankle) returned after missing last week’s game.
2 — number of times in franchise history the Jaguars have swept Tennessee. They made the playoffs both previous times, in 1997 and 2005, and likely need to do it again to get back to the postseason for the first time since 2017.
Beating the Titans is Jacksonville’s clearest path to the playoffs, but the Jags also could back in with a loss if Buffalo beats New England, Cleveland wins at Pittsburgh and the Jets win at Miami.
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