JACKSONVILLE – Each Saturday during the 2018 season, nine Jaguars experts – Rick Ballou, Tony Boselli, Frank Frangie, Jeff Lageman, Brent Martineau, John Oehser, Brian Sexton, J.P. Shadrick and Ashlyn Sullivan – will break down the following day's Jaguars matchup.
Up this week:
The Houston Texans at NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas, Sunday.
Rick Ballou, Jaguars sideline reporter
The Jaguars will win if: The defense forces several turnovers. Blake Bortles will get one last shot at quarterback for the Jaguars, but the Jaguars really have struggled on offense. The Jaguars had 10 sacks last season in Houston. If Jacksonville pulls the upset, it will be the defense that's the difference maker.
The Texans will win: If they show they're indeed the better team – and if they remember what happened last year in the regular-season opener. Houston should be able to limit Jacksonville's offense and win the field-position battle. Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson has weapons and the Texans will be balanced enough with the run and pass to score touchdowns.
As Ballou sees it:Texans, 24-12. There's so much at stake for the Texans, including a No. 2 seed and a first-round postseason bye if the New England Patriots lose Sunday. A playoff-like atmosphere will provide juice as well for the Texans. The Jaguars will play hard, but Houston will be too tough in that environment.
Tony Boselli, Jaguars analyst and former Jaguars left tackle
The Jaguars will win if: They get multiple short-field opportunities on offense, created by a defense that dominates the Texans and a special-teams unit that has one or two big plays. The Jaguars will need quarterback Blake Bortles to make three-to-five off-schedule plays as well.
The Texans will win if: They win on first down versus the Jaguars' offense. If they create second- and third-and-long situations, they will put the Jaguars' offense in difficult, uncomfortable situations.
As Boselli sees it: The Jaguars have a great opportunity to spoil the Texans' chances to win the AFC South. It will take a great effort from the Jaguars' defense and mistake-free football from the offense. If they can take a lead into the second half, the Texans will feel the pressure and start to press. Look for the Jaguars to finish the season on a high note with a 13-7 victory.
Frank Frangie, Radio Voice of the Jaguars
The Jaguars will win if: Bortles can get the offense going early. They need more zone reads like last week against Miami, with Bortles keeping the ball … hopefully a few early in the game. They need to get the ball downfield early. And they really need to keep Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson in the pocket.
The Texans will win if: If they get Watson on the edge, run a bunch of bootlegs – i.e., do the things that give the Jaguars trouble. They also need to keep Bortles from hurting them as a runner. That makes the Jaguars dangerous.
As Frangie sees it: The Texans will be tough to beat, but the Jaguars will hang around in this one. Bortles has much for which to play; others do as well. This should be a very close game.
Jeff Lageman, Jaguars analyst and former Jaguars defensive end
The Jaguars will win if: They can hold Texans pass-rushers J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney to a combined two sacks or less, play turnover-free football and have a big play in the return game.
The Texans will win if: They start fast on the scoreboard, eliminating the Jaguars' rushing attack and forcing Bortles to throw 25 or more times.
As Lageman sees it: In a playoff-like atmosphere, the Jaguars will show tremendous heart – but the Texans will force the Jaguars into throwing the football. That will result in numerous turnovers that will give the Texans the victory it needs for the AFC South title.
Brent Martineau, Action Sports Jax Sports Director
The Jaguars will win: If they embrace the spoiler role and become the team they thought they would be in 2018. Bortles is back, and he needs to play a good game. The offensive line is banged up; running back Leonard Fournette still needs to be productive. The defense needs to make impact plays in Houston as it did in Miami. That is a tall task, but that's what it will take. The Jaguars of last season, September and this past Sunday need to travel to Houston to win.
The Texans will win: If they take care of the football. It's really that simple. The Dolphins lost to the Jaguars because they turned it over for a game-clinching Pick Six. The Texans must protect the ball and dominate the Jaguars' offensive line. This is a huge mismatch on paper in the trenches with the Jaguars' offense vs. the Texans' defense. It could be a long day for the Jaguars' offense.
As Martineau sees it: I think the Jaguars will scare the Texans a bit in this game. Houston has a lot on the line from a seeding standpoint and all the pressure is on the Texans. I think Houston might play a bit tight and make some mistakes, but it is hard to overlook how dominant the Houston defensive line might be on Sunday. The Texans will sweat a little bit, but they will end up winning the AFC South with a 20-16 victory over the Jaguars.
John Oehser, jaguars.com senior writer
The Jaguars will win if: They get multiple big plays from defense and special teams – and at least one touchdown drive from the offense. That will mean Bortles making plays with his legs. That's why Bortles was re-inserted into the lineup, and play-caller Scott Milanovich could lean on Bortles' athleticism heavily Sunday.
The Texans will win if: They take advantage of a huge matchup edge against the Jaguars' offensive line. Clowney and Watt can dominate a game, and the Jaguars' offensive line has allowed 19 sacks in the last four games. Bortles is better than evading the rush than his four-game replacement, Cody Kessler, but this is still an area in which the Texans should flourish Sunday.
As Oehser sees it: The Texans are playing for postseason seeding and a division title. The Jaguars are playing for pride. Postseason incentive usually wins in that scenario.
Brian Sexton, jaguars.com senior correspondent
The Jaguars will win if: They can score on special teams and defense. Let's face it: the odds of a Jaguars offense missing its tight end and four starting offensive linemen scoring on Watt and the Texans are long. If the defense can keep the game close and score AND get a punt return touchdown from Dede Westbrook, those odds would look a lot better – maybe even doable. The odds of scoring on both special teams and defense are pretty long.
The Texans will win if: They protect Watson. The second-year quarterback has had a nice season, completing 68 percent of his passes and with 26 touchdown passes and nine interceptions. The downside is he has been sacked 56 times, and the Texans need to keep him on his feet if they're going to make any noise in the playoffs. He was outstanding against the Philadelphia Eagles this past Sunday, passing for 339 yards and two touchdowns and running for two more scores.
As Sexton sees it: The Texans have the wind in their sails and will win this one. They're playing for the AFC South title and an outside chance at a first-round bye in the playoffs. They're talented, fairly healthy and should be entirely motivated to put away a team that is proud but not nearly good enough on offense to compete with a legitimate contender.
J.P. Shadrick, jaguars.com reporter/editor
The Jaguars will win if: They can slop up the game and win a low-scoring, field-position battle. They must figure out how to move the ball consistently and finish with points. They also must play darn-near perfect defense and catch a couple of breaks.
The Texans will win if: They can unleash the pass rush. If the Texans do not allow the Jaguars to establish the running game, then Watt, Clowney and the rest could have a big day against a backup group on the offensive line.
As Shadrick sees it: The Texans could be anywhere from the No. 1 seed to the No. 6 seed. They need this game badly. The Jaguars would love to spoil the party in Houston this week, but this is a tough ask for the Jaguars in Week 17.
Ashlyn Sullivan, Digital reporter and host
The Jaguars will win if: They pressure Watson into mistakes. The Jaguars' defense must turn turnovers into points. Watson is the NFL's most-sacked quarterback and will be playing behind a banged-up offensive line. Despite their record, the Jaguars' front seven is still very good. They're going to have to get after Watson to give themselves a chance.
The Texans will win if: They stop the run. Bortles will be the Jaguars' starting quarterback Sunday, but the offense is still dealing with a lack of weapons and lack of production. That won't change with Bortles under center. The Jaguars will continue to try to establish a strong running game; if the Texans stop the run, they will force Bortles to throw to the Jaguars' limited weapons. No one can expect the Jaguars to be successful without a running game; they haven't shown that all season.
As Sullivan sees it: The victory last week against Miami was the Jaguars' feel-good story to end the 2018 season. This week, the Texans are playing for the AFC South title and home-field advantage. The Texans have too much to play for to lose this game. I don't think this will be a blowout, but I can't see the Jaguars upsetting the Texans because their unproductive offense is too hard to overcome despite the defense's efforts.