JACKSONVILLE – These are the fun ones.
They're also important ones – in part because all NFL games are important and in larger part because the Jaguars’ home game against the San Francisco 49ers has a decided big-game feel.
It's a November matchup of division leaders, with the Jaguars leading the AFC South by two games coming off an early November bye and the 49ers after the same bye tied for first place in the NFC West with the Seattle Seahawks.
Prove-it game? Statement game?
Not as Jaguars Head Coach Doug Pederson sees it.
"We've got a great football team coming in here on Sunday and our focus is just on that," Pederson said.
Fair point: The Jaguars have won 11 of 13 regular-season games and currently have an NFL-best five-game winning streak. They won the AFC South last season. They also have beaten four 2022 postseason teams during that 13-game span, and three of their victories this season have been over teams that currently have winning records.
The Jaguars no longer must "prove" they're a good team.
Still, Sunday is a chance for the Jaguars to register a second victory this season over a defending division champion. They are 1-1 in such games this season, losing at home to the defending AFC West Champion Kansas City Chiefs in Week 2 and beating the defending AFC East Champion Buffalo Bills at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London in Week 5.
Perhaps more importantly, it's also a chance for the Jaguars to ensure they remain at least two games ahead of an improved, confident Houston Texans team in the chase for the AFC South – and to further establish themselves as a division favorite.
Here are 10 things the Jaguars must do to do that:
- Protect the ball … The Jaguars have been very good in multiple areas this season, which is why they have their best record through eight games since 1999. Perhaps most remarkable about their five-game winning streak is their eight turnovers during that span. That trend is hard to maintain, particularly against a perennial power such as the 49ers.
- … and protect Lawrence. The 49ers' pass rush is potent. They bolstered it by acquiring Chase Young at last week's trade deadline. He, Nick Bosa and Javon Hargrave make this potentially the toughest test of the season for the Jaguars' offensive line.
- Harrass Purdy … Brock Purdy, the 49ers' second-year quarterback, has emerged as perhaps worthy of being the team's quarterback of the future. He has been remarkably good through much of his season and a half. But he has thrown five interceptions in San Francisco's three-game losing streak. The Jaguars must continue that trend.
- … and force turnovers. The Jaguars' 6-2 record has been built at least partly on a league-best 18 takeaways. They have forced at least one turnover in seven of eight games this season, and forced two or more in seven of those games.
- Stop the run … The Jaguars pride themselves on stopping the run – and rightly so. They're fourth in the NFL in run defense. The 49ers are fifth in the NFL in rushing and few runners are as dangerous or versatile as 49ers running back Christian McCaffrey.
- … and contain Samuel. One reason the 49ers are difficult to stop is McCaffrey. Another is wide receiver Deebo Samuel, who can be equally effective running. McCaffrey is also as dangerous as a receiver as he is a runner. It's this versatility – along with the playcalling of Head Coach Kyle Shanahan –that made the 49ers one of the NFL's most dangerous offenses when they're right.
- Convert third downs … The Jaguars have converted 38 of 107 third downs into first downs this seasons. They have been clutch enough in this area enough to maintain their winning streak, but it must improve.
- … and in the red zone. The Jaguars have scored 10 touchdowns in 21 red-zone possessions this season. Again, they have done enough here to win, but it must improve.
- Get a lead. What long was a weakness for the Jaguars has been a strength for the last month and a half. After struggling with slow starts and rallying six times in their last eight victories last season, they haven't trailed after halftime in any of their last five games. The Jaguars have become adept at getting and maintaining leads. Both will be tough to do Sunday.
- Win the big moments. If anything has defined the Jaguars' five-game winning streak, it's clutch plays at clutch times. They haven't always dominated, but they have made big plays when it matters. Sunday's game figures to be tight. The clutch-est team wins.