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Handicapping number two


It's the race for number two in the AFC. We all know, of course, who number one is. What we're trying to find out is which team has the best shot, any shot of giving number one a game in the playoffs. Lets' take a look at the contenders.

Colts—They have the kind of explosiveness on offense that, should Peyton Manning get hot on a cold day in New England, could get it done. Losing Dwight Freeney has to hurt, however, and given the Colts' lack of bulk on defense, you have to believe that on a soft field and on a cold day, their defensive line would get pushed around. I'm not buyin' that number two ranking on defense.

Jaguars—David Garrard is looking more and more like the real thing. He's starting to look like a quarterback who can win in the postseason. The Jags certainly have the kind of running game you want in the cold and on the road. The defense is the big question. Do the Jags, 27th in pass-defense, have the secondary to match up against the conference's top quarterbacks?

Steelers—They have a quarterback on the rise, solid receivers and a premier running back, but these aren't your father's Steelers because they aren't real good up front. When Ben Roethlisberger isn't getting sacked, he's running for his life. Can they fix their offensive line? One more thing: Their defense is overrated.

Browns—This is a nice story and the Browns might even find a way to win the AFC North and get a home game, but that's where it'll stop. They don't have the kind of defense you need to win in January.

Titans—Without Albert Haynesworth, the Titans defense has come unglued in the last two games. During that time, we've seen that the Titans don't have a quarterback or an offense that can make up the difference. Haynesworth can't do it all.

Chargers—Lots of stars but not much glow. Norv Turner is not likely to turn this team around. If anything, the Chargers could be on the verge of collapse.

Broncos—Jay Cutler is coming on. This kid looks like a winner. The problem for the Broncos is a defense that is showing few signs of improvement.

That's the way I handicap the race for number two. The Colts still have the best shot, but the Jaguars are an intriguing team on the rise.

Here are 10 things the Jaguars have to do to beat the Bills this Sunday.

  1. Hold onto the ball—The Bills win when they force their opponents to turn it over. They don't have the firepower to win without your help.
  1. Play cold-weather football—The forecast is for a warm afternoon on Sunday, but we are rapidly approaching the cold-weather time of the year and the Jaguars have what it takes to win in cold places. Run the ball, convert third down, play sound defense and special teams.
  1. Continue the surge—A lot of players on this team are advancing their careers: David Garrard, Reggie Williams, etc. That's what works.
  1. Lie to yourself—Make yourself believe the Bills are number one in offense and defense. Don't believe they're number 31 in each.
  1. Protect the quarterback—The Bills' strength is their defensive line, especially the ends. If they run free, they have the ability to create havoc.
  1. Double-team Evans—Lee Evans is the real thing. He is worthy of special attention from the Jaguars' defensive backs.
  1. Win special teams—Roscoe Parrish and Terrence McGee are the best kick-return one-two punch in football. Parrish beat the Jaguars last season.
  1. Waste nothing—Every trip into the red zone must yield points. In week 12, that should be the expectation.
  1. Get MoJo movin'—Maurice Jones-Drew is playing great football and appears ready to take his game to a new level. Let him.
  1. Live in the moment—Don't think about next week's game in Indianapolis. Think only about beating the Bills.
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