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O-Zone: Remote possibility

JACKSONVILLE – Let's get to it …

Frank from Jacksonville

To play or not to play? That is the question. If wild card is not an option, do we keep this thing rolling or do we sit our starters? Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence might make a mistake in the Texans game that he could learn from in the finale against Tennessee. However, if he or any key starters were injured during the Texans game, we will be regretting the decision. So, what's the best option?

This likely will be the major Jaguars topic all week, with enough wrinkles that it could remain complex right up until the Jaguars kick off against the Houston Texans at NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas, Sunday. I'll say this first: I will be surprised if Head Coach Doug Pederson goes all in on resting players in that game. I'll say this second: There are some complexities involving ties that make this topic tricky, so I'll do the best I can with the answer. The reason it's a topic is the Jaguars' game against the Tennessee Titans at TIAA Bank Field in Week 18 will decide the AFC South regardless of whether either team wins or loses in Week 17. That makes the Jaguars' game against the Texans almost meaningless when it comes to the division if there are no ties in any remaining games. We'll get to how ties might affect scenarios in the next answer. Also: There will still be scenarios when the Texans and Jaguars play Sunday in which the Jaguars could qualify for the postseason as a wild-card team if they lose to the Titans and beat the Texans. Those chances admittedly are remote, but weird things happen in the NFL – particularly in Weeks 17 and 18. You don't want to rest starters in Week 17, lose in Week 17 and Week 18 and find out you would have made the postseason by winning in Week 17. I expect Pederson could err on the side of caution Sunday and hold a player or two out if the player has been dealing with significant injuries in recent weeks. But I doubt he will go all-in on holding players out.

Jess from Glen Carbon, IL

Hey Zone, what if the Jags and Titans both win in week 17 and then they tie in the regular season finale? Both teams would be 8-8-1 with identical division records of 3-2-1. Is the next tiebreaker conference record, which the Jags have the tiebreaker advantage, or is it common opponents, which the Texans would have the tiebreaker advantage?

This is a significant question that hasn't been discussed much – and I kept this answer separate from the first answer in an effort to avoid confusion in what by nature is a very confusing topic. The answer to your question is if the Titans and Jaguars both win in Week 17 and tie one another in Week 18, the Jaguars would win the AFC South because of a 1-0-1 record against the Titans. Head-to-head record is the first tiebreaker. This is one reason I expect the Jaguars to play all healthy/available players if Tennessee beats Dallas Thursday. While it's unlikely, being able to play for a tie in the event of overtime in that game is plausible enough to play into that sort of decision.

Mark from Archer, FL

John, if the Jags win the division, they will have gone from having the worst record in the NFL and being last in their division to a winning record and a division title. Has that happened before?

Yes. The last time was when the Houston Texans won the AFC South at 9-7 after selecting defensive end Jadeveon Clowney No. 1 overall in the 2015 NFL Draft. The Kansas City Chiefs went 11-5 with a wild-card appearance after selecting offensive tackle Eric Fisher No. 1 overall in the 2014 NFL Draft. The Indianapolis Colts went 11-5 with a wild-card appearance after selecting quarterback Andrew Luck No. 1 overall in the 2013 NFL Draft.

Jacob from NY

Should I be disappointed if the Jags do not make the playoffs? My mind says be happy no matter what because this season is a huge improvement. But my heart says don't let the Titans win the division again.

Of course you should be disappointed if the Jaguars don't make the playoffs. Absolutely. And everyone around the Jaguars – coaches, players, football staff … everyone – will be disappointed if that happens. It wouldn't mean fighting back from a 2-6 start as the Jaguars did to control their postseason destiny wasn't impressive. It wouldn't make the future less bright. It wouldn't mean people should be fired. But it damned sure would be disappointing.

Ian from Leeds

Peter King has Lawrence in his Top 10 watch for MVP this week. I'm as much of a homer as most guys, and I think Lawrence has been excellent for the last month, but surely that's a bit much?

No, it's not. The Jaguars have a chance to finish 9-8, winning seven of their last nine games and making the postseason. They would not have a chance to do that without Lawrence.

Josh from St. John's

Merry Krimmas. What a gift the Jags have given is this year. Coach Doug has to be in the conversation for Coach of the Year, doesn't he? From first pick in the draft to leading the division. Heck of a turnaround.

Pederson absolutely should be in any conversation about 2022 NFL Coach of the Year. There will be other candidates, including Kevin O'Connell in Minnesota, Dan Campbell in Detroit and Kyle Shanahan in San Francisco. But it's hard to make the case that any head coach this season has reversed a culture and squeezed more from a team than Pederson has with the Jaguars.

Bradley from Oceanside, CA

With a loss to the Cowboys, the Titans will be 0-7 against teams with a winning record and now they have a quarterback that makes Zach Wilson look like an All-Pro. This is over, right?

Not even close. The Titans are struggling and indeed have lost five consecutive games. But they have lost three of those games by a score or less, with two of those losses – to the Cincinnati Bengals and Los Angeles Chargers – to very good teams. They are a good defensive team. They are perfectly capable of keeping a game close into the fourth quarter and making a play to win a big game.

Nick from Palatka, FL

Yep, same old Jags ... meaningless game in January next week. Oh well.

Oh well.

Bill from Jacksonville

John, with the Jags having lost two starting DL (Dawuane Smoot and Cam Robinson) in the last two weeks, what are your thoughts on how well the Jags can compensate for their loss heading into the division winning game against the Titans in two weeks?

Robinson plays left offensive tackle and Smoot plays defensive line. I expect the Jaguars to be able to compensate for those losses without them turning into major crises. Walker Little, a second-round selection in the 2021 NFL Draft, has filled in capably at offensive tackle throughout his career when needed. It's a stretch to say he's as good as Robinson, but he has been more than capable as a quality swing tackle when given the opportunity. The Jaguars could miss Smoot a touch more than Robinson, but the Jaguars' strength along the defensive front is their depth. No defensive lineman has played at a Pro Bowl level this season, but multiple players have contributed. I expect that's another spot where they will be a drop-off, though not enough to be a crisis. Remember: You must be able to overcome an injury or two in the NFL to contend and make the postseason. I don't know that the Jaguars can withstand too much more on the lines, but they should be able to withstand these losses.

Rob from Orange Park, FL

I peruse the "what's a comment section" occasionally when I am reminiscing about junior high. It does seem that the comments of "Shad and the entire organization" is the worst in history, "I'll never buy tickets again" and "I hope the team moves to London' etc…" have magically gone away. A fickle bunch it seems.

Winning is cool. Fans like it. What's a "what's a comments section?"

Sean from Oakleaf, FL

Do you have any thoughts on the likelihood of the Jags-Titans game being flexed to prime-time Sunday Night Football, the last regular season game for the NFL?

I think it's a very good possibility that Jaguars-Titans will be played in prime time on either Saturday or Sunday night January 7 or 8.

Steve from Sunroom Couch

Dear John, "It long has been better than most fans realized." Would most observers include former Jaguars quarterback Nick Foles?

First, Foles isn't a fan. Second, why could I care about his thoughts on the matter?

Mr dude from PVB

O, I just had a ridiculous realization. It's possible for the Jaguars to host three playoff games. Too soon?

It's waaaay to soon, but yes … the Jaguars if they secure the AFC's No. 4 playoff seed could play host to three playoff games. Upsets would have to rule the day, which makes it extremely unlikely.