After posting the first winning season in the eight-year history of the franchise, expectations were high for the Houston Texans in 2010, and those expectations soared even higher following an opening-day win over the Indianapolis Colts. Seven games later, the 4-4 Texans' season would seem to be on the line in Sunday's game at EverBank Field.
The same can be said for the 4-4 Jaguars. More lightly regarded by the national media heading into this season, the Jaguars' hopes were also buoyed by a win over the Colts early in the season. Now, following a couple of lopsided losses and a dominant win in Dallas that has resurrected the team's hopes, the Jaguars face truth time against the Texans on Sunday.
One team will move on as an AFC South title contender. Sunday's loser will fall into sole possession of last place in the division.
"I think it's going to boil down to probably the team that plays the best within the division," Texans coach Gary Kubiak said in assessment of the AFC South title race picture. "We're going to end up playing big, big division games the rest of the way so every game counts as one and the division games count as two; they just tend to carry that much weight."
The Texans are facing a crushing schedule over the next month and a half of the season. After Sunday's game, the Texans will play road games against the Jets, Eagles and Titans, and home games against the Ravens and Titans. Clearly, any chance the Texans have of making a run at the division title and the playoffs would begin with a win in Jacksonville.
"We got off to a very quick start. We've struggled the last couple of weeks and we've got to figure out a way to get back on track," Kubiak said.
The Jaguars host Cleveland next week and then travel to the Giants and to the Titans the following two weeks. Any chance the Jaguars have of contending for the division title and the playoffs would begin with winning their home games. Cleveland is the only team on the remainder of the Jaguars' schedule that is not .500 or better.
"I'm aware of that long-term view. We take them one at a time," Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio said.
The team the Jaguars are facing this week has one of the best balances of run and pass in the league. Second-year sensation Arian Foster leads the league in rushing and the new threat of run in the Texans' attack has taken some of the pressure off quarterback Matt Schaub, while also helping him in the play-action passing game.
Schaub is protecting sore ribs and star receiver Andre Johnson has missed practice this week due to a chronic ankle problem. The Jaguars were healthy until Thursday's practice, when they lost star pass-rusher Aaron Kampman for the season to a knee injury. For the second time in two seasons, Kampman will face knee reconstruction (the other knee this time) and offseason rehab.
The Texans' weakness is on defense. They're last in the league in total defense and in pass-defense.
"We've struggled throughout the season. We've got some nice excuses (the Texans have lost linebacker DeMeco Ryans for the season and were without linebacker Brian Cushing for the first four games due to a suspension) but there are no excuses in this business," Kubiak said.
It's decision time for two teams at EverBank Field on Sunday. What will they decide for their futures?