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It's a must-win game


Yes, it's a must-win game for two reasons: It's unlikely the Jaguars could win the AFC South title if they lost to the Colts for a second time this Sunday, and even if the Jaguars found a way to overcome two losses to the Colts and won the division, it would be an accomplishment the team would have difficulty celebrating.

Do you remember what happened in the 1999 season? The Jaguars were 14-2 but both losses were to the Titans. The Jaguars had the best record in the NFL but they couldn't even celebrate having won the AFC Central Division title because any such celebration would have been quickly and legitimately countered by the Titans with, "We beat you twice." And they did. Counting the playoffs, they did it three times.

Football's division titles aren't like baseball's pennants. Football doesn't play 162 games. You're not forgiven for a bad game here and a bad game there, which is the luxury 162 games affords baseball's top teams. Nobody challenges the credibility of a title in a 162-game season.

In the NFL, however, you only get two shots at your division rivals. An 0-2 record will usually knock you out of contention because of the lost tie-breaker, too, but in those rare occasions, such as the '99 Jaguars, that an 0-2 record is overcome, the stigma of 0-2 is irreversible.

So, here it is, the big game: the Jaguars and the Colts at the RCA Dome this Sunday in a battle for first place. Though it's earlier in the season than a game of this magnitude should be played, it is nonetheless a game that could decide the AFC South title and the Jaguars must win it. Here's why:

• A win over the Colts would leave the two teams on equal footing in the loss column (the Jags would take a half-game lead in the win column), and with the two clubs facing remaining schedules of similar difficulty. Each will have a home game remaining against Tennessee and both games remaining against Houston. The Jags and Colts must each play Minnesota, Chicago and Detroit, too. A Jaguars win would also even the tie-breaker situation. In short, a Jaguars win would set the table for a potentially dramatic second-half-of-the-season division title race.

• Should the Jaguars lose, however, they would fall two games behind the Colts in the loss column and, of course, the Colts would clinch the tie-breaker, which means they would literally have a three-game lead.

• If we were players Jack Del Rio would prohibit us from looking ahead to the next game, but we're not players so we may look ahead and what we see is a game in Houston that will be of critical importance to the Jags' position and place in this division. The Jags didn't do well the week after their first loss to the Colts, so we have to believe that should the Jags lose to the Colts again, the game in Houston would be an even bigger state-of-mind game. Going to Houston on a loss would be far more difficult than going there on a win.

• Football is a game of chest-thumping and you don't dare take a deep breath when you're 0-2 against your division rival. Let's not forget that before you can claim to be the best team in the league, you usually have to be the best team in your division. This Sunday's game is a midseason claim to that title. Should the Jaguars win, they could make that claim.

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