The range of possibilities is extreme. The Jaguars will play in Houston on Sunday in a game that could end their season or extend it at least one week. It's a game that could result in the team's first winning season in three years, or extend that non-winning streak another year. Most importantly, Sunday's regular-season finale in Reliant Stadium could produce the Jaguars' first-ever AFC South title, or extend the Colts' run at the top another season.
This is anything but a meaningless final game for the Jaguars. This one has a wide-reaching range of meaning.
"We put a lot into this season and we want to finish feeling good about ourselves and so we need to go down there and play good football and get that done," Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio said.
The Jaguars haven't talked much about how this game addresses the AFC South title, which would require a Jaguars win over the Texans and a Tennessee win in Indianapolis for the Jaguars to claim. The Jaguars have intentionally kept a sharp focus on that which they can control, which is to say the game they're playing.
Cornerback Rashean Mathis conducted a players-only meeting to start the week. The intent of the meeting was to sharpen the team's focus on a winning season, which a win over the Texans would produce. The Jags would finish 9-7 after a 7-9 finish in 2009.
There's an added meaning to this game in that it would avoid a second consecutive late-season collapse. The Jaguars lost their final four games in 2009, falling out of playoffs contention after beginning December as the leader for a wild-card berth.
With a win in Houston, the Jaguars will halt a two-game losing streak; a loss would result in three consecutive losses to end the season, after having been able to clinch the division title with a win in Indianapolis in week 15.
The Jaguars will be without quarterback David Garrard for this game. Garrard underwent surgery on a finger on his passing hand on Thursday. Trent Edwards will be the Jags' starting quarterback in what will amount to an audition for his future in Jacksonville.
Running back Maurice Jones-Drew won't play, either, sidelined by a knee injury that effectively ended his season in Indianapolis, when he failed to rush for 100 yards in a game for the first time in seven games. He did not play against the Redskins last Sunday.
The Jaguars will be facing a 5-10 Texans team that is also depleted by injury. The Texans have lost eight of their last nine games, including a loss in Jacksonville on a Hail-Mary pass, and coach Gary Kubiak is clearly on the hot seat.
"We were sitting 4-2 when we went into our bye. We were struggling on defense at that point, but the problem was we lost our captain on defense," Kubiak said, referring to linebacker DeMeco Ryans. "Even with that, we had ourselves in position many times, five or six times, to make a play in the fourth quarter to win a game and we'd be sitting here feeling a lot better today. We couldn't find that player that could have been the difference in the record we're sitting on right now."
The Jaguars have made big plays at critical times of games this season. They beat the Colts on a walk-off, 59-yard field goal. They beat the Texans on a pass defensive back Glover Quin deflected directly into Mike Thomas' hands. The Jaguars rallied to beat Cleveland and Oakland. They've failed, however, late in the game the past two weeks, and that's why they need help from the Titans this week.
Injuries to Aaron Kampman, Garrard, Jones-Drew, Eben Britton and Mike Sims-Walker have clearly hurt the Jaguars' cause, but Del Rio avoided comment.
"Anything I say along those lines is going to be considered excuse-making and I don't want to get into that kind of stuff. Let's lean on each other and find a way," Del Rio said.
Sunday, the Jaguars will lean on Edwards to lead them to a win over the Texans, and the Jaguars will lean on the Titans to score an upset over the Colts. Should that scenario occur, the Jaguars would host a playoff game next week.