JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser examines key players, matchups and storylines as the Jaguars prepare to play the Atlanta Falcons at EverBank Field Sunday
The Jaguars can cast an eye on the scoreboard again – one eye, at least.
Actually, it's Jaguars fans who can cast that eye there, because players and coaches have plenty of work to do if they're even going to think about the postseason.
But the postseason at the very least has re-entered the discussion for the Jaguars. That's the big result of a really big victory Sunday – 51-16 over the Indianapolis Colts at EverBank Field.
Because of that victory, the Jaguars (5-8) are again a game out of first place in the AFC South, trailing the division-leading Colts (6-7) and Houston Texans (6-7) by a game with three games remaining. The Jaguars can still win the division and qualify for the postseason for the first time since 2007, though a lot of things must go right.
The most likely scenarios include the Jaguars winning their remaining their final three games: home against Atlanta Sunday, at New Orleans December 27 and at Houston January 3. If they do that, their scenarios depend largely upon the outcome of Sunday's game between the Colts and Texans.
If the Jaguars win their remaining games and Houston wins Sunday, the Jaguars would win the AFC South if the Texans lose to Tennessee next week and the Colts lose one of their remaining two games. If the Jaguars win their remaining games and Indianapolis wins Sunday, the Jaguars would win the AFC South if the Colts lose their final two games.
It's a long shot, and the Jaguars need help, but the postseason is still in the discussion.
The Falcons' once-promising season has turned bad.
After starting the season 5-0 under first-year head coach Dan Quinn, the Falcons have lost six consecutive games and seven of the last eight. They are now 6-7, having lost to the unbeaten Carolina Panthers, 38-0, this past Sunday.
The Falcons have scored a first-half touchdown just once in the last seven games, and their issues seemed to peak Sunday, when they trailed the Panthers 21-0 after the first quarter. They hadn't been shut out since 2004, with quarterback Matt Ryan afterward calling the performance "about as bad as we can play."
Still, until the Carolina game the Falcons showed signs of a competitive team. Four of their previous five losses had been by a score or less.
Ryan remains capable when given time, throwing 17 touchdowns with 14 interceptions this season. He also has been sacked 26 times. Wide receiver Julio Jones continues to be one of the NFL's elite players regardless of positon, catching 109 passes for 1,426 yards and six touchdowns.
Matchups to watch
*Jaguars wide receiver Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns versus Falcons cornerbacks Robert Alford and Desmond Trufant.Robinson and Hurns have become a premier matchup whatever the opponent. Robinson has 12 touchdowns receiving this season and Hurns has eight, and they've emerged not only as one of the NFL's best young receiving tandems, but one of the NFL's best receiving tandems, period. Trufant is the NFL's fifth-highest-rated corner according to Pro Football Focus with an interception, five passes defensed and one touchdown allowed. This duo has become key to the Jaguars' offense, and it's tough to slow the Jaguars without slowing them first.
*Jaguars cornerbacks Davon House and Aaron Colvin versus Jones.Jones is far and away the focal point of the Falcons' offense —and with reason. His speed and athleticism make him a threat even against double coverage and he can turn bad throws into big plays. House at times this season has been assigned the task of covering the top receiver all over the field. The Jaguars won't likely reveal their plans in this area, but it wouldn't be a shock if House followed Jones at times.
*Jaguars running backs T.J. Yeldon/Denard Robinson versus Falcons defensive front. Robinson replaced Yeldon (sprained knee) Sunday and rushed for 75 yards on 14 carries and a touchdown in his most extensive action of the season. Whoever is at running back, the run game likely will be a focus for the Jaguars Sunday. The team rushed for a season-high 154 yards Sunday, with Yeldon rushing 11 times for 62 yards before the injury. The Falcons started the season stout against the run, but after leading the league in run defense they have allowed 191, 166 and 142 yards rushing the last three weeks to Minnesota, Tampa Bay and Carolina.
Jaguars to watch
*Blake Bortles, quarterback. Bortles development continues to be impressive. He has thrown eight touchdowns with no interceptions the last two games, including three touchdowns in the second half against the Colts Sunday. He has 30 touchdowns and 13 interceptions this season.
*Andre Branch/Chris Clemons, Leo ends.Branch and Clemons had their best game of the season Sunday, combining for three sacks. That included a sack/fumble/fumble recovery by Branch for a game-turning 49-yard touchdown. The duo needs to remain productive and help force Ryan into mistakes, particularly with reserve Leo Ryan Davis' status uncertain with a knee injury.
*Julius Thomas, tight end.The veteran has become more of a threat by the week, catching a touchdown pass in each of the last four games. His chemistry has improved with Bortles over the last few weeks, and as a result, Thomas has emerged as a reliable third-down and red-zone option.
Keep an eye on …
*The status of middle linebacker Paul Posluszny (hand) also will be updated Wednesday. Head Coach Gus Bradley on Monday said the team was hopeful Posluszny would be cleared to practice Wednesday after missing Sunday with a fractured right hand. If he plays, it will be with a protective cast/club. …
*Yeldon's status is expected to be updated Wednesday.
*Tight end Nic Jacobs (hamstring) and Davis also will be updated Wednesday. Both players missed Sunday's game. …