They're rested. Now, it's time to see if they're revived.
That's the main storyline coming off the 2012 bye week for the Jaguars, who struggled before the bye but who still have a chance to fight their way into the playoff chase.
Really? Playoffs? Yes, because although the Jaguars are 1-4 with three one-sided home losses, the postseason picture in the AFC is the definition of wide open, with only two teams – the Houston Texans and Baltimore Ravens – over .500.
That's right. Everyone else is .500 or worse.
That's the mathematical storyline as the Jaguars prepare to play the Raiders in Oakland Sunday, but the realistic angle is this team needs to play better. The Jaguars didn't play nearly well enough often enough before the bye, with the result a start that few around the organization expected.
The Jaguars are getting closer to full health. Linebacker Daryl Smith returned to practice this week, and a defensive line that has been thin all season also is nearing full strength. That added depth could help a pass rush that has produced three sacks this season.
After a difficult early season schedule that included four teams .500 or better, the Raiders on paper appear a more favorable matchup, but at 1-4, the Jaguars' concern isn't playoff appearances, or even matchups. They need to show improvement.
With improvement, victories and all that comes with them will take care of themselves.
The Raiders' storyline entering Sunday is strikingly similar to that of the Jaguars. Like the Jaguars, the Raiders are struggling with one victory. Like the Jaguars, the Raiders see this game as one they should win, and believe it can be used as a way to regain momentum after a difficult start. The Raiders played one of their worst games of the season three weeks ago, losing 37-6 to Denver, but responded this past weekend after a bye with a 23-20 loss to the unbeaten Atlanta Falcons. The Raiders had 474 yards offense in that game, and while running back Darren McFadden struggled at times, quarterback Carson Palmer overcame an interception that was returned for a late touchdown to lead a game-tying drive in the final minutes. The Raiders entered the season believing they were much improved, and showed last week they're capable of playing at a high level when they're playing well. Now, their task is to show consistency.
The game at O.co Coliseum in Oakland, Cal., will be broadcast regionally on CBS and locally on WETV CBS 47 (Channel 6) with Ian Eagle on play-by-play and Dan Fouts on analysis.
Early matchup to watch
Jaguars middle linebacker Paul Posluszny versus Raiders running back Darren McFadden. This isn't a one-on-one matchup in a pure sense, but how the Jaguars handle McFadden will be critical Sunday. The Jaguars enter the game ranked No. 30 in the NFL in run defense, an area that has been hurt by the absence of Smith, who has a chance to return from a groin injury Sunday. Without Smith this season, the Jaguars have been up and down against the run, twice allowing more than 200 yards rushing in a game. McFadden has been inconsistent this season, rushing for less than 35 yards in three games, and averaging less than 3.0 yards a carry in four of five games, but he is capable of scoring from anywhere on the field.
Players to watch
Justin Blackmon and Cecil Shorts. With Laurent Robinson still in the concussion program as of early this week, Shorts could make his first NFL start Sunday. Blackmon will be making his sixth consecutive start to start the season, and though the Jaguars rank 32nd in the NFL in passing offense, when the team has shown flashes offensively a lot of the production has come from Shorts and Blackmon. Shorts has perhaps the Jaguars' three biggest receptions of the season, a 39-yarder for a touchdown against Minnesota, an 80-yard game-winning touchdown against Indianapolis and a 34-yard, diving reception against Chicago. Blackmon has 13 receptions for 119 yards, catching three passes for 40 yards against Chicago just before the bye.
What to watch
- Smith returned to practice Monday, and is expected to work more Wednesday and Thursday. He has been out since the beginning of the season with a groin injury and a decision on his status is expected later in the week.
- Robinson, after missing the Bears game October 7, remains in the concussion program. He was scheduled to undergo a concussion test Tuesday. If Robinson can't play, Shorts will start in his place.
- The Jaguars likely will play either cornerback Aaron Ross or newly-signed wide receiver Micheal Spurlock on punt returns Sunday, Head Coach Mike Mularkey said this week.
- Defensive end John Chick is expected to return to practice Wednesday. He has been on the Physically Unable to Perform list all season while rehabilitating a patellar tendon injury. The Jaguars now have a three-week window to either move Chick to the active roster, place him on injured reserve or release him. Until they do one of the three, he will not count on the 53-man roster.
- Defensive tackle C.J. Mosley and defensive end Austen Lane are expected to start for a second consecutive game, respectively. With defensive end George Selvie expected to return after missing the first five games with a knee injury, the Jaguars' line could be as close as it has been all season to full strength on Sunday.
- With safety Dwight Lowery likely out at least 2-to-3 weeks with an ankle injury, the Jaguars this week signed veteran Chris Harris. Either Harris or second-year veteran Chris Prosinksi will start against the Raiders.