The stretch run begins for the Jaguars this Sunday in a game pitting two teams facing similar situations. Each trails its division leader by three games and has its back to the postseason wall.
"Two hungry football teams," is how Jaguars head coach Jack Del Rio described his team and its opponent, the Cleveland Browns.
The Jaguars and the Browns each began the season as favorites to win their division, then quickly fell off the pace. The Jaguars fell to 0-2 and the Browns to 0-3.
"They've got talent throughout their roster; eight guys who've been to the Pro Bowl," Del Rio said of the Browns.
The Jaguars have won three of their last four games and hope to get on a roll during a favorable midseason stretch of schedule that'll send the Jags to Cincinnati and Detroit in the weeks following Sunday's game against visiting Cleveland. Cincinnati and Detroit, of course, are winless.
Cleveland's schedule is not as favorable. Following Sunday's game, the Browns host Baltimore and Denver, then travel to Buffalo. The Browns also have games remaining in Tennessee, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. Ouch!
This is desperation time for the Browns. At 2-4 and with a "killer" remaining schedule ahead of them, they can not afford to lose another AFC game before the midway point in the season, and remain in the AFC wild-card race.
"This is a good football team that, like us, hasn't had the season start the way they'd like," Del Rio said of the Browns, who are coming off a 14-11 loss at Washington but have won two of their last three games, including a 35-14 blowout of the Super Bowl-champion New York Giants.
Del Rio's focus is on a continuation of improved play by his team. Had it not been for what Del Rio described as "an unbelievable play" by Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, the Jaguars would likely be 4-2 and on a four-game winning streak.
"There's so much football (to be played), all I want to focus on is us improving. That other stuff will work itself out," Del Rio said in response to a question about which team he'd prefer to see win the Colts-Titans game on Monday night. "If (the Titans) can win 10 more straight, they they'll match the Patriots.
"I feel like we're a team that survived the early storm. We feel our best football is in front of us, but we have to work at it. We learned some lessons. There are some things we have to do better going forward; being able to run the ball, stop the run and being a swarming defense," Del Rio said. "I feel like an improving football team. The last game we played was probably our best football game.
"This week is going to be a heckuva task for us. All you have to do is watch the tape to recognize the challenge in front of you," he added.
The Jaguars were to release their official injury/practice report at four p.m. on Wednesday, but Del Rio previewed it by saying safety Reggie Nelson was expected to practice on Wednesday and be in the lineup on Sunday for the first time since sustaining a knee injury in week three. Wide receiver Mike Walker will not play against the Browns. Walker is battling an infection in his knee and the hope is he might be able to return to practice next week.
Meanwhile, Del Rio declined to comment on reports that wide receiver Matt Jones is in the appeals process of a three-game drug suspension.
"When there's an announcement, that information will be made public," Del Rio said.