This one has real flavor and a true must-win quality. Sunday's game between the Jaguars and the Dolphins could turn out to have been a head-to-head, winner-take-all battle for an AFC wild-card playoff berth.
"It's going to be an in-state rivalry. It's going to be like a best-friends brawl," Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew said of the game.
At 7-5, the Jaguars have a one-game lead in the wild-card race and are in control of their own destiny, but even though the 6-6 Dolphins are a game behind the Jaguars, it could be said they are also in control of their own destiny because they could clinch the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Jaguars with a win on Sunday.
"They're a physical football team. They are running the ball extremely well. Chad Henne has a strong arm; good player. (Ted) Ginn has great speed. There'll be a lot of good hitting. We're looking forward to the challenge," Jaguars head coach Jack Del Rio said in previewing the game on Wednesday.
The Jaguars understand the must-win nature of this game, but they claim they've been in that mode since the second half of the season began.
"I think they've been must-wins for a long time. I know I've felt that way. When we went to New York, we knew what time it was. If you're going to sustain your push, you have to play well in December," Del Rio said.
The Jaguars have won four of their last five games. The Dolphins have won three of their last four and are coming off an emotional, 22-21 win over New England. The Dolphins are back to .500 after an 0-3 start, and Sunday's game is clearly the tipping point in their season.
"Watching them play on tape heightens everybody's sense of awareness," Jones-Drew said.
Sunday's game could turn out to be a clash of running games. The Dolphins have the league's fourth-best rushing attack; the Jaguars are number seven.
"We know we can run the ball if we execute. We just have to press it," Jones-Drew said.
The Jaguars pressed the issue on their final possession of the game against Houston last Sunday and were able to kill the final four minutes of regulation
"We made a sideline adjustment. They were doing a great job of stuffing our inside running game, so we just ran outside," Jones-Drew said.
At this time last year, the Dolphins were famous for the success of their "Wildcat" formation, but running back Ronnie Brown is lost for the season and the Dolphins are using less of the "Wildcat" and more of Henne as a quarterback under center. Henne is in his first season as a starter.
The Jaguars have the advantage of experience at quarterback. David Garrard led the Jaguars down the stretch and into the playoffs in 2007 and he appears to be peaking his game this year just as he did two years ago.
"I know it's going to be an intense game. I know it's going to come down to the wire," Garrard said.