JACKSONVILLE – The Jaguars are in first place.
That's a cool status, something the Jaguars have pursued much of the 2022 season. But Jaguars players made this clear as they gathered at TIAA Bank Field Monday:
Their newfound status is only a start.
"Now we're in that position – and we want to stay there," wide receiver Christian Kirk said as the Jaguars (7-8) began preparing to play the Houston Texans (2-12-1) at NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas, Sunday at 1 p.m.
The Jaguars, winners of three consecutive games, moved to within a half-game of first place in the AFC South with a 19-3 Week 16 victory over the New York Jets Thursday. They moved into a tie for first on Saturday when the Tennessee Titans (7-8) lost to the Texans, 19-14.
The Jaguars, who last made the postseason when winning their lone AFC South title in 2017, are currently in first place because of a Week 14 victory over Tennessee. But what mattered most is that the results ensure the Jaguars will play for the AFC South title in Week 18.
"We're in control; that's all that matters," Jaguars tight end Evan Engram said. "Our focus is on right here. All the outside narratives, all the stuff … we keep our eye on it, but our focus is here. We can't really afford to wander and think about all that.
"We're staying here and staying locked in."
The Jaguars will play host to the Titans at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville in Week 18 on either January 7 or 8, with dates/times to be determined by the NFL following Week 17 games. The winner of that game will win the AFC South.
Neither the Jaguars nor the Titans can improve their division-title hopes this week in Week 17. The Titans play host to the Dallas Cowboys (11-4) Thursday, but that game – like the Jaguars-Texans game Sunday – has no bearing on the division title.
Assuming no ties, here's why:
- If the Jaguars and Titans both win or lose in Week 17, the Week 18 winner will win the South because of a better overall record (9-8 or 8-9).
- If the Jaguars lose in Week 17 and the Titans win, a Titans Week 18 victory would give them the South title based on better overall record (9-8). A Jaguars Week 18 victory in that scenario would mean the teams finishing tied for first with the Jaguars winning the South at 8-9 because of a head-to-head sweep over the Titans.
- If the Jaguars win in Week 17 and the Titans lose, a Jaguars Week 18 victory would give them the South title based on better overall record (9-8). A Titans Week 18 victory in that scenario would mean the teams finishing tied for first with the Titans winning the South because of a better division record (8-9).
The Jaguars can still qualify for a wild-card berth but need to beat the Texans Sunday and have multiple teams lose in Week 17 and 18. That will remain true regardless of the results of the Indianapolis Colts-Los Angeles Chargers game Monday.
"These last two games are must-wins for us," Kirk said. "We've worked so hard and fought through so much to get in that position. It's been a goal of ours. A sense of urgency does arise."
The Jaguars, after a five-game October losing streak, have emerged in November and December as one of the NFL's hottest teams – and one with a knack for rallying to beat quality teams. They have trailed in all five of their victories since the losing streak – rallying to beat the Las Vegas Raiders 27-20 (17-point deficit), the Baltimore Ravens 28-27 (nine-point deficit), the Titans 36-22 (seven-point deficit), the Cowboys 40-34 in overtime (17-point deficit) and the Jets (three-point deficit).
The Ravens and the Cowboys both have qualified for the postseason, with the Titans still tied for first and the Jets and Raiders still alive for an AFC wild-card berth – and Jones said he doesn't expect the Jaguars' approach to change as December turns to January.
"It still doesn't mean anything yet," Jones said. "We still have to close it out. The foundation of who we are has already been set in place. Now, we don't deviate. We stay the course. We execute what we do. I feel like game time it's going to show."