Every once and awhile I change my mind. It doesn't happen often because flexible thinking is not one of my trademarks, so, if you're one of those who differed with my opinion on not playing for next season late in the season, well, then you're going to enjoy this reversal.
Permit me to explain. Over the previous four seasons, each of which saw the Jaguars fall out of playoff contention early, the question had been raised late in the season: Should the Jaguars start auditioning their young players for next season? In other words, should the Jaguars have gone into the tank for "meaningless" games?
Those who thought the answer should be "yes" explained that losing was actually to the team's advantage since it would bring with it a higher position in the draft and in the waiver order. Losing, of course, would accomplish that.
I am and always have been a purist, so I bristled at the mere suggestion of any such actions of surrender. My point was that the competitive balance of the league depended on every team giving its all for every game. I maintained that anything less than that would dishonor and cheapen the system by which the NFL awards its cherished postseason berths.
That's what it does. There's no question about it. Anything less than an all-out effort does dishonor and cheapen the system by which the NFL awards its playoff berths. I must, however, change my position on teams that are out of it "tanking" it because teams that are in it are "tanking" it.
Pittsburgh and Indianapolis are the two examples that apply directly to the Jaguars. The Jaguars need Pittsburgh and Indianapolis to win their games this Sunday for the Jaguars to have any chance of making the playoffs with a win over Oakland. Should Pittsburgh lose in its one o'clock game, the Jaguars' four o'clocker in Oakland will be meaningless.
The problem for the Jaguars is the Steelers and Colts are almost certain to rest their starters. In the Steelers' case, it is certain. The Steelers won't give a surrender effort but their starting lineup is going to be closer to what you would see in a preseason game than you would in the regular season.
And you know, that's the way it should be. The Steelers earned the right to rest and prepare for the playoffs. I can't fault them. Their season is about the playoffs now, not a meaningless regular-season finale. It's not their job to get the Jaguars into the playoffs. It's the Steelers' job to get to the Super Bowl.
But it can't be both ways. What's good for the good teams has to also be good for the bad teams. So, I'm changing my mind. The Jaguars should've "tanked" it in December the previous four years.
Little late, huh? Sorry.
Here are 10 things the Jaguars have to do to beat the Raiders.
1. Find a reason—Motivation is personal. Whatever it takes.
2. Play pass-defense—The Raiders pass it pretty good; seventh in the league.
3. Showcase the future—This team has a strong nucleus. Let's see it.
4. Run it a lot—The Raiders are 24th against the run.
5. Pass it a lot, too—The Raiders are 31st against the pass.
6. Be ready to go—Just in case the Steelers win in Buffalo. Don't get caught flat-footed. It would be doubly embarrassing.
7. Break the streak—Don't let this become another non-winning season.
8. Start the new year right—Step into 2005, which could be a very good year for this team.
9. Play with pride—The Jaguars established themselves in games against Indianapolis, Pittsburgh and Green Bay this year. Don't ruin that by finishing with two straight losses.
10. Do it for your teammates—No team in this league ever stays the same. Careers are short. Every season should be cherished.
Happy new year, everyone.