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Need to be challenged


The Jaguars' schedule is starting to become more of a curse than a blessing.

Three games remain to be played. They are against three teams with a combined 7-32 record and that has become a recurring theme for the Jaguars since the seventh game of the season.

The advantage of playing those types of teams is that, whether you want to admit it or not, it has certainly helped put the Jaguars into a clinch situation in week 15 of the season. Yeah, the Jaguars can clinch a wild-card berth this Sunday with the combination of a win over the 2-11 49ers and four other likely results.

Making the playoffs is a good thing. It is the goal of every team when they begin training camp and Jack Del Rio identified it as an expectation when he told the media on draft day last spring that it was time for this team to "go to the next level."

The Jaguars are going to go to the next level. That is becoming apparent and, again, we need to acknowledge the contribution the schedule has made toward that end. The Jaguars have only played one team since the middle of October that has a .500 or above record. The final 10 games on the Jaguars' schedule are against teams who currently have a combined 42-88 record.

Those are, however, numbers we don't like reading, and that's one of the curses of this schedule. It has left the Jaguars to defend their success. It has provided critics with ammunition. It would be good if the Jaguars clinched a wild-card spot this weekend because they could then avoid the inevitable barbs that would accompany their game against the Texans on Christmas Eve.

There's also another curse that accompanies this kind of schedule. If you wanna be the best, you gotta play the best. Teams that have to overcome back-breaking schedules become battle-hardened. Can we say the Jaguars have been hardened by the schedule they've played?

Forget the respect thing. It doesn't matter anyhow. Playoff teams, which is what the Jaguars will be, are judged by how they perform in the postseason. The one-and-done teams get no respect. The ones that win in the playoffs become next summer's preseason favorites. The Jaguars, therefore, will have their opportunity in January to change the media's perception.

The 1996 team, for example, went into the playoffs regarded as not being playoff worthy. The '96 Jags made it into the playoffs on a 9-7 record and a missed chip-shot field goal attempt by Morten Andersen. The whole thing was a joke, until the Jaguars won in Buffalo and in Denver and made it to New England for the AFC title game. They almost won that game, too; in fact, they should've won that game.

All of a sudden, the Jaguars were no joke and, the following summer, they were the pick of at least one national sports magazine to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl. All of a sudden, their 9-7 record and Morten's miss were forgotten. Why? Because they remember what you do in the playoffs.

All of this will be available to this year's Jaguars. They'll have the opportunity to get hot for the playoffs and make the name for themselves in January that their schedule wouldn't permit in November and December. They'll have to get hot in the next three weeks, however, against teams that are very cold, and that might be more of a curse than a blessing.

This team needs to be challenged. It needs to challenge itself.

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