The Jaguars are brimming with hope heading into the final four games of the 2009 season.
"We have a group that believes. Why wouldn't we have hope? We are definitely in it," coach Jack Del Rio said at his Monday afternoon press conference.
Yes, the Jaguars are definitely in the playoff race. In fact, they hold a one-game lead over this Sunday's opponent, the Miami Dolphins, in the race for the AFC's second wild-card spot.
Del Rio also believes his team faces a tough closing schedule. Following Sunday's game against Miami, the Jaguars will host Indianapolis four days later, then travel to New England and Cleveland to close the season.
At 7-5, the Jaguars would have to win three more games to hit the magic number of 10 wins, which usually is good enough to qualify a team for the postseason. Does Del Rio believe his team needs 10 wins to make it into the playoffs?
"I think we need one this Sunday against the Dolphins," he said. "In terms of numbers, I don't care to get into that type of discussion. I know we need to win."
The winner of this Sunday's game will hold the head-to-head tiebreaker over the other and that could make this a must-win game for each team. Miami also has a tough finishing schedule: at Tennessee before hosting Houston and Pittsburgh.
It would help the Jaguars' cause should cornerback Rashean Mathis return to action this week, and Del Rio offered some words of encouragement, but he made no proclamations.
"He thinks he can go. He plans on practicing. We'll see how he comes out. We're definitely getting closer," Del Rio said.
The Jaguars are one of the NFL's major success stories this season. In a season of major roster reconstruction, it was unthinkable that after 12 games the Jaguars would hold one-game leads over the defending Super Bowl-champion Steelers and two other playoff teams from last season, the Dolphins and Ravens, and a two-game lead over defending AFC South champion Tennessee.
"We've collectively worked, battled and committed to the organization. It's an unselfish group. I think a collection of men can accomplish special things when they're not concerned with getting the credit," Del Rio said.
Games balls were awarded for Sunday's win over Houston to tight end Marcedes Lewis (offense), linebacker Daryl Smith (defense) and Brian Iwuh (special teams).
Star running back Maurice Jones-Drew sealed the victory by pounding out three first downs and killing the final four minutes of the game, though Jones-Drew was held to 76 yards rushing by the Texans.
"We can do a little better job at creating room for him. Teams have been stacking the box. We know he's a special player with the ball in his hands," Del Rio said.
Del Rio also praised his defense's effort against the Texans, especially the pass-rush.
"We played better defensively (Sunday) than we have in awhile. You feel a little more rush and coverage coming together. We got pressure on the quarterback, which is great. We got the quarterback dinged. That's one of the things we'll have to have down the stretch. We'll need to have pressure," Del Rio said.