Two teams that aren't accustomed to high-profile games in December with the playoffs on the line will square off in exactly that kind of game on Sunday at EverBank Field. The 7-5 Jaguars and the 6-6 Oakland Raiders will play a game that will go a long way toward determining each team's fate in the 2010 season.
For the Raiders, it's a must-win game. The Raiders have no wiggle room in their quest to catch the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC West title race. The Chiefs, 8-4, play at the 6-6 San Diego Chargers on Sunday, so a Raiders win in Jacksonville and a Chiefs loss in San Diego would leave the Raiders a game out of the lead with a game at Kansas City on the final Sunday of the season ahead.
The Jaguars aren't in chase mode, they're in protect mode. They'll be attempting to take a one-game lead to Indianapolis in a showdown for the AFC South title. First, the Jaguars must beat the Raiders or fall into a tie with the Colts.
"We're excited to be in first place but there are a lot of games left and we can't be too confident. They just beat a Chargers team we struggled against," quarterback David Garrard said.
The Jaguars' efforts with the media this week were spent on not sounding over-confident and not saying anything that would make its way onto a bulletin board. Former Jaguars defensive tackle John Henderson did just the opposite.
"It's going to feel good to go and whip somebody's you know what. I hope he goes and puts it on his bulletin board," Henderson said, referring to Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio. "They better bring it. That's all I gotta say."
Henderson remains bitter at having been cut by the Jaguars shortly after they drafted defensive tackle Tyson Alualu in the first round of last spring's draft. The Jaguars also spent each of their next three picks on defensive linemen. The Jaguars also traded defensive end Quentin Groves to the Raiders.
On what is expected to be a bad-weather day that'll produce rain and falling temperatures throughout the game, and in a game between two mirror-image teams that rely on their running games to move the ball and score points, the players along the line of scrimmage will likely determine which team wins.
Jaguars defensive line coach Joe Cullen considers the Raiders defensive tackle tandem of Tommy Kelly and Richard Seymour to be the best in the league. "That's what we're trying to get to," Cullen said, referring to his tackle tandem of Alualu and Terrance Knighton, the cornerstones of the Jaguars defense of the present and the long-term future.
"What I see is that teams that allow them to run the ball, the Raiders win that game. Once you make them one-dimensional, you have a better chance of winning," Knighton said.
Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew is on a five-game, 100-yard rushing streak and he thinks balance is the key to the Jaguars' success.
"When we're able to run the ball, we're able to be balanced. When you're a balanced offense, you're tough to stop," Jones-Drew said.
The team that rushes for the most yards on Sunday is likely to be the winner.