The Jaguars will be playing for a playoff berth, while the Texans are pursuing nothing more than a non-losing season, but when the two teams meet at Alltel Stadium this Sunday, they may be playing most importantly for the future.
They are the AFC South's new kids on the block. Well, that may be an exaggeration since the Texans aren't exactly "on the block," yet, but they are undoubtedly a team on the rise.
"Our focus is on playing good football; preparing for a division opponent that's 3-2 against the Jaguars. They've been able to beat this organization every year they've been in existence. All the side stories need to remain just that," Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio said.
Del Rio and the Jaguars are showing a very healthy respect for the Texans, and why not? Not only is this a must-win game for the Jaguars, it's a game against a team that scored a 20-6 win in Houston on Oct. 31.
In the four-team AFC South, the Jaguars and the Texans are the two teams with the young stars. They are the two teams with the healthy salary caps. While Tennessee's salary cap problems will force the Titans to remain in a period of subtraction for at least another couple of years, and the Colts are doing everything they can to delay the effects of their salary cap mess, the Jaguars and Texans have cap room to spare and look forward to the offseason with the prospect of more roster additions. In other words, the Jaguars and the Texans are only going to get better.
"Hopefully, you add a few more good players, you have more continuity and you find a way to win those close games that you have lost," Texans coach Dom Capers said when asked what it will take for his team to get over the hump.
At 6-8, the Texans' season collapsed in November. Their win over the Jaguars left the Texans at 4-3 and alive in the AFC South title chase, but they lost five of their next six games and, frankly, they weren't all that close.
The Texans have a nice cast of characters, including one of the game's hot-new passing combinations – David Carr to Andre Johnson – but they need more players. That's especially true on defense, where the Texans rank 27th.
"We're in our third year and I told our team from the first day of meetings that you can't get caught up talking about playoffs until you become a winner. To me, that was a step for us, to try to become a winner. We're going through that process. There's no question in my mind that we have the best team we've had in three years," Capers said.
Three years ago, the Texans were an expansion team that featured a distinct Jaguars flavor and a first-pick-of-the-draft quarterback. Should they upset the Jaguars this Sunday, the Texans will have a very good chance of reaching the .500 mark for the first time. They'll host Cleveland on the final day of the season.
An 8-8 record would certainly represent a turning point in the Texans' brief history, and that'll be the Texans' motivation this Sunday in Jacksonville: Turn the corner and take aim on the future.
"I certainly hope we can move into the winning category and be a strong competitor for the playoffs next year," Capers said. "We won one division game (in each of our) first two years and we've won three at this point this year. I think we've been competitive in the large majority of the games. There is no question in my mind that we're heading in the right direction."
Are the Texans ready to join the Jaguars as the future of the AFC South? That's a question the Texans will answer this Sunday against the Jaguars.
"How you play at this time of the year is a reflection on the character of your players and coaches and team," Capers said.