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Playoff spot on the line


The late-season dominoes continue to fall favorably for the Jaguars, but the biggest dominoes are the ones they'll have to knock over themselves, beginning with the Miami Dolphins on Sunday.

Wanna go to the playoffs? Then beat the Dolphins. It's that simple.

That's how big Sunday's game is. The recent collapse of the Steelers has created a gaping hole in the AFC playoff picture, and the Jaguars and Dolphins will vie to fill that hole.

Should the Jaguars win Sunday's game at Jacksonville Municipal Stadium, they'll take a two-game lead over all of their wild-card pursuers except, possibly, Baltimore. Should the Dolphins win on Sunday, they'll pull even with the Jaguars but, more importantly, the Dolphins will own the head-to-head tiebreaker and could force the Jaguars to win-out in its remaining three games to qualify for the playoffs.

"You work your butt off for this opportunity. We've been here a few times and we've gotten it done, and we've been here a few times and haven't, and it comes down to making the plays you have an opportunity to make. We'll get our opportunity starting Sunday to continue that quest to maximize all we can out of each other and ultimately find a way to win the game. If you win enough of them, you keep playing. That's what we're after," coach Jack Del Rio said.

The Dolphins are after the same thing and they have an on-the-rise, second-year quarterback leading them.

"Chad Henne has taken over, kind of pumped some life into them. He's got a strong arm and a couple of their receivers are emerging. Ted Ginn's got great speed," Del Rio said.

Ginn and leading receiver Davone Bess (59 catches for 548 yards) will test a secondary that could find itself without star cornerback Rashean Mathis (groin) for a fourth consecutive game. It is with the run, however, that the Dolphins do their most damage.

The league's fourth-best rush-offense will test an 11th-ranked run-defense that is playing its best football of the season. Sunday's game could very well turn into a battle of running games, as the Jaguars can be expected to pound away at the league's 14th-ranked run-defense with the number seven rush-offense.

"It's a good physical football team that's coming in here. They like to get after people. It ought to be a very physical football game. There will be a lot of good hitting," Del Rio said.

The two teams are mirror images. The Jaguars started 0-2; the Dolphins lost their first three games. The Jaguars have won seven of their last 10; the Dolphins have won six of their last nine. Both teams are best at running the ball and stopping the run.

"Both teams understand the situation. After slower starts, we've put together pretty solid seasons and have given ourselves a chance sitting here in December to play a big football game," Del Rio said.

For each team, it may not get any bigger than this; at least not until the next game.

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