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View from the O-Zone: Win, and get in

Posted Dec 14, 2017

Oehser: Jaguars can clinch first playoff appearance in a decade Sunday – and nothing would make for a cooler scene than to do it at EverBank Field


JACKSONVILLE – Well, what do you know? Win, and get in.

That’s the Jaguars’ scenario Sunday. For real.

How cool would that be?

Very, very cool – and it would make for a memorable, historic scene Sunday in a very important 2017 regular-season home finale at EverBank Field.

“That would be amazing, obviously,” Jaguars tight end Marcedes Lewis said as the Jaguars (9-4) prepared to play the Houston Texans (4-9) at the ‘Bank Sunday at 1 p.m.

That amazing storyline is simple: the Jaguars will make the most postseason for the first time in a decade and the sixth time in franchise history with a victory Sunday.

Win and get in. And they can do it at home.

“I know it will be the same type of atmosphere [as during a victory last week over Seattle],” linebacker Myles Jack said. “Especially with a chance to give the fans a playoff berth … That’s going to be crazy.”

We got here fast, didn’t we?

Only a few months back, Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles was competing for his job as the regular season approached and we had no idea the defense would be perhaps the NFL’s best …

Only a few weeks after that, the Jaguars were trying to escape the up-again, down-again pattern that was the first six weeks of the regular season …

And only a few weeks ago, the Jaguars limped home from a loss to Arizona – very much in control of their playoff destiny but still knowing if they slipped a bit, if they lost a few …

Now, here’s where the Jaguars are:

*They’re 9-4, their best record through 13 games in 10 seasons. They have the third best record in the AFC, two games behind Pittsburgh (11-2) and one behind New England (10-3).

*They lead the AFC South by a game over Tennessee. There are a bunch of scenarios for the Jaguars to  win their first division title since winning the old AFC Central in 1999, but two are clear. One: win the next two games over Houston (4-9) and at San Francisco (3-10) and have the Titans lose at either San Francisco Sunday or at home to the Los Angeles Rams (9-4) next Sunday. Two: Win either of the next two games and win at Tennessee in the regular-season finale December 31. It’s there for the taking.

*They also have a real chance at a first-round postseason bye. The clearest scenario here: win their final three games and have Pittsburgh beat New England Sunday in Pittsburgh. That would make the Jaguars at least the AFC’s No. 2 seed with a first-round bye and a home game in the Divisional Playoff round January 13-14.

The Jaguars have earned the opportunity. They beat Pittsburgh (11-2) on the road by 21 points; they beat the Chargers (7-6), Baltimore (7-6) and Seattle (8-5), too. All four teams could be in the postseason; Pittsburgh and the Chargers are playing as well as any teams in the AFC right now.

And you know what? Put the Jaguars in that category, too. They have six won of seven games. They are No. 2 in the NFL total defense, No. 1 in points allowed, No. 1 in rushing and Bortles is the NFL’s top-rated quarterback over the last two weeks.

Yes, this team is for real – real enough that even with this very cool goal attainable Sunday, the Jaguars aren’t focused solely on that goal.

“We want to be playing in February,” Lewis said. “You have to take advantage of these situations. This would be my second time in the playoffs, and this is Year 12 for me. It doesn’t happen [every season]. When you have an opportunity to do something like this, you want to make sure you’re doing everything you can do get it done because you won’t be able to get it back.

“It feels good to be in this position and you’re excited about the progress we’ve made. We understand where we were, but there’s a long way to go. … We’re peaking at the right time.

Still, to reach long-term goals, the short-term must be accomplished. Byes, division titles? They can’t be done this week. The schedule dictates those boxes must be checked away from the ‘Bank – at San Francisco on Christmas Eve or in Nashville on New Year’s Eve – if they are to be checked at all.

Clinching the postseason can be done Sunday, and it can be done front of a fan base that’s connecting with this team again. How rare is the opportunity? Of the Jaguars’ previous playoff appearances, only three have been clinched in Jacksonville: 1996, in the season-finale against Atlanta; 1999, on a Monday Night against Denver; and 2007, in Week 15 against Oakland.

That’s it. It’s rare, and it can happen again Sunday. And that moment would be oh-so cool.  And it’s right there. Win, and get in – and do it at home.

Well, what do you know?

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