JACKSONVILLE – Here's this week's Setting the Table: Storylines and stuff to watch as the Jacksonville Jaguars (4-9) prepare to play the Buffalo Bills (4-9) at EverBank Field in Jacksonville Sunday
The Jaguars are alive – mathematically, anyway.
But while the Jaguars can technically make the postseason, the talk around EverBank Field this week is far less about their slim playoff possibilities and more about what they can control.
What they can control is their momentum, and the Jaguars very definitely have that.
After losing their first eight games of the season by double digits, the Jaguars have won four of their last five games since a Week Nine bye week, beating the Tennessee Titans (29-27), losing to the Arizona Cardinals (27-14), beating the Houston Texans (13-6), beating the Cleveland Browns (32-28) and beating Houston (27-20) at EverBank Field last Thursday.
The victory over the Texans Thursday was their first of the season at home, and gave them their first-three-game winning streak since 2010.
The Jaguars haven't had a four-game winning streak since they won four consecutive games early in the 2007 season to move to 4-1. That was the last time the Jaguars made the postseason.
How have the Jaguars turned it around? By making fewer mistakes, by running well enough to be more effective offensively, and with big-time effort defensively – to name a few reasons.
They Jaguars haven't allowed a team to rush for more than 100 yards since the bye and have rushed for more than 100 yards in the last three games after not doing so in the first 10 games. They also have forced 10 turnovers in the last five games, and have a 9-5 takeaway-giveaway ratio in that span. They have forced five turnovers and committed one in the last three games.
Chad Henne, the Jaguars' starting quarterback the last seven games, has thrown for four touchdowns and one interception during the team's three-game winning streak, and Jaguars Head Coach Gus Bradley has praised his play and decision-making during that span.
Henne replaced Blaine Gabbert as the starter, and while Gabbert remains the backup it's not expected that Gabbert will play or start unless Henne is injured.
While the Jaguars have not been eliminated from the playoffs, they need a lot to happen to get in. First, they must win their remaining three games and have Baltimore and Miami lose their remaining three games. They also need San Diego, Pittsburgh and the Jets to lose twice and Oakland and Cleveland to lose once. There are various ways those scenarios could happen, but the chances are very slim.
The Bills (4-9) played well at times early, but an inconsistent offense has prevented an often-solid defense from contending for the postseason under first-year Head Coach Doug Marrone. The Bills' defensive front seven is one of the NFL's best, and the unit also features Pro Bowl safety Jairus Byrd and former first-round cornerback Stephen Gilmore. But while the Bills lead the NFL with 44 sacks, they have struggled against the run, ranking 26th -- and have allowed 21 or more points in all but one game this season. The Bills started 3-4 with three of four losses by a touchdown or less, but have lost five of the last six games with four of the losses by double digits. Offensively, the Bills are coming off perhaps their worst game of the season, with rookie quarterback E.J. Manuel – the team's first-round draft selection who has struggled after a solid start – getting sacked seven times and throwing a season-high four interceptions in a 27-6 home loss to Tampa Bay. The Bills rank sixth in the NFL in rushing, but rushed for just 67 yards against Tampa Bay with 29 yards coming on scrambles by Manuel.
The game at EverBank Field in Jacksonville Sunday at 1 p.m. will be broadcast regionally on CBS and locally on WTEV-TV CBS-47. Andrew Catalon will handle play by play and Rich Gannon will handle analysis.
Early matchup to watch
The Jaguars' offensive line versus the Bills' defensive front. This could theoretically be all about Bills veteran linebacker/end Mario Williams, who usually lines up on the left side but who moves around at times in the Bills' scheme. He has 12.5 sacks and will be a challenge for Jaguars offensive right tackle Austin Pasztor or left tackle Cameron Bradfield. But the Bills' entire front seven is impressive, particularly as pass rushers, with the Bills leading the NFL with 44 sacks. Jerry Hughes, who backs up Williams, has eight sacks, and defensive end/tackle Alan Branch – who played for Jaguars Head Coach Gus Bradley before signing a one-year contract with the Bills this past offseason – has been improving in recent weeks after taking over for Alex Carrington. Interior linemen Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus are also among the NFL's better interior pass rushers and have seven sacks each.
Player to watch**
Paul Posluszny.The Jaguars' middle linebacker – who signed with the Jaguars as a free agent from Buffalo just before the 2011 regular season – not only has been the Jaguars' defensive leader and leading tackler this season, he often has been the team's best defensive player. He earned his highest Pro Football Focus run defense grade of the season against the Texans Thursday, and will be key against Buffalo, which could look to simplify the offense in the wake of a difficult performance by quarterback E.J. Manuel against Tampa Bay Sunday. Bills running back C.J. Spiller rushed for just 19 yards last week, but remains one of the league's top breakaway threats.
What to watch
- Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew sustained a hamstring injury against Houston last Thursday and will be questionable in practice this week. He is not expected to practice until Friday. Bradley said Jones-Drew improved over the weekend while undergoing treatment on the area….
*If Jones-Drew can't play, Jordan Todman will start, with rookie Denard Robinson also getting carries. Todman, who signed with the Jaguars off the Vikings' practice squad last November, has rushed for 138 yards and two touchdowns this season, including with 76 yards and a touchdown in the last three weeks….
*The Jaguars also signed free-agent running back Delone Carter as a free agent Monday…
*Rookie linebacker LaRoy Reynolds returned from a four-game suspension Friday and could be activated for Sunday's game. The Jaguars currently have a roster exemption for Reynolds…
*The Jaguars placed running back Justin Forsett (foot) and wide receiver Stephen Burton (concussion) on injured reserve Monday….
*Safeties Josh Evans (shoulder) and Chris Prosinski (concussion) are expected to practice limited Wednesday. Evans missed Thursday's game against Houston and Prosinski sustained the injury in that game…