JACKSONVILLE – This one could be weird. Really weird.
The Jaguars (1-13) on Sunday will play host to the Chicago Bears, a game at TIAA Bank Field the Bears (7-7) really need to continue a late-season playoff push. The Jaguars' motivation for Sunday?
Well, that's where it gets weird.
That's because the Jaguars' motivation depends on perspective, with fans feeling dramatically differently about this game than players and coaches. The latter group wants to snap a franchise-record-tying 13-game losing streak and the former group mostly doesn't want their team to win at all.
Instead, many fans and observers want the Jaguars to lose their final two games to secure the No. 1 overall selection in the 2021 NFL Draft – a choice many believe would be Clemson University quarterback Trevor Lawrence, widely considered the best quarterback prospect to enter the NFL in nearly a decade.
Jaguars coaches and plays not a whit about draft positioning. Head Coach Doug Marrone made that clear this week, and he said the best Christmas players and coaches could give one another would be a victory. That's the goal of players and coaches – and for them, nothing else matters.
So yeah … Sunday at TIAA Bank Field figures to be weird.
Can the players and coaches accomplish their goal? That will be difficult. The Bears have a good – if recently inconsistent defense – and an improving offense. They've won two consecutive games. Their status as playoff contenders could make this one as tough as recent one-sided losses to a couple of other playoff contenders, Tennessee and Baltimore.
Here are 10 things the Jaguars must do to win Sunday:
1.Ignore the fans. Many fans at the 'Bank figure to be hoping the Bears win. The chance to get Lawrence is that enticing. If the Jaguars want to win Sunday – and players and coaches definitely do – they may have to shut out the noise from their followers.
2.Get Mack and Quinn blocked. Bears pass rusher Khalil Mack is a game wrecker and pass rusher Robert Quinn was one of the league's highest-profile free agents this past offseason. Quinn hasn't had the season the Bears hoped, but this is a duo that figures to give Jaguars offensive tackles Jawaan Taylor and Cam Robinson problems.
3.Stop. The. Run. The Jaguars have done this progressively less well in recent weeks – and Bears running back David Montgomery had perhaps his best career game last week. If the Bears can come close to running as well as the Tennessee Titans and Baltimore Ravens have run against the Jaguars in recent weeks, the Jaguars will be in trouble.
4.Get early breaks. This has become a weekly key for the Jaguars; when you're outmanned as the Jaguars are defensively you need early turnovers – and points off those turnovers – to stay in games. This remains a key for Sunday.
5.Pressure Mitchell Trubisky. The Bears' quarterback has played as well since replacing injured Nick Foles in the lineup, and the result has been an improved Bears offense. But Trubisky is still capable of game-turning mistakes. The Jaguars must pressure him to make that happen, and this front hasn't gotten enough pressure all season.
6.Run Robinson. This has become progressively harder in recent weeks as teams pay less attention to an ineffective passing game and more attention to Jaguars rookie running back James Robinson. The Titans and Ravens essentially held Robinson in check. The result? A couple of the Jaguars' least-effective offensive games in recent weeks – and not coincidentally, a couple of their most one-sided losses of the season.
7.Get good Gardner – or Glennon. Jaguars Head Coach Doug Marrone declined to name a starter this week, saying it will be decided in practice. Whoever plays, he must play significantly better than typically has been the case at quarterback for this team this season.
8.Contain Allen Robinson. This seems unlikely, partly because Bears and former Jaguars wide receiver Allen Robinson seems likely to be motivated playing his former team – but mostly because his size and aggressive style will make him a tough matchup for an undermanned secondary.
9.Play above the Xs and Os. An offense struggling to the extent that the Jaguars are struggling in recent weeks probably isn't going to drive the length of the field often against a defense as good as that of the Bears. Wide receivers Laviska Shenault Jr. and DJ Chark Jr. have more playmaking ability than they have shown this season. They must show it Sunday for the Jaguars to have a chance.
10.Protect the ball. The Bears haven't forced turnovers defensively at their accustomed pace this season. If they start taking the ball away Sunday, that's a danger sign for the Jaguars. A big one.