JACKSONVILLE – We're shuffling off to Buffalo.
When that happens, the Jaguars will face the difficult late-season task of playing a contending team that very much needs to win to stay in the postseason chase.
That's the Buffalo Bills, and their need to win makes the Jaguars' task Sunday difficult.
What makes Sunday doubly difficult is that the Jaguars travel to this game not only on a five-game losing streak but a week after falling to 2-8 and securing a ninth consecutive non-winning season. They're not mathematically out of the playoffs, but the chances are very, very slim.
Those chances are actually so slim that the playoffs haven't been part of the pre-game conversation for the Jaguars the last two weeks.
Instead, the conversation has been about pride, and playing well despite the absence of season-long goals. Those aren't pleasant NFL conversations before Thanksgiving, but for the fifth time in six seasons, that's the Jaguars' reality.
So, a key question around the Jaguars this week is one that was heard last week and one that likely will be heard in the coming weeks. How can the Jaguars be motivated?
The answer is simple. They must be motivated because it's professional football, and you play for professional pride. You play because everyone in the league can see what you put on tape. You play at your highest level because to do anything else is unacceptable.
Another key question: Can the Jaguars win Sunday? It won't be easy. But yes, they can.
Here are 10 things they must do to do that:
1) Reverse the ratio.We've all heard, read and written about the Jaguars' turnover ratio in recent weeks. For the season it now stands at an NFL-worst minus-15. We're going to hear more until it gets better. It's defining the season. If the Jaguars improve the ratio, they will have a chance to win every game. If they keep making the ratio worse, they might not win again. It's that clear cut.
2) Protect the ball. Really? Another mention of turnovers? Yes, because this is about giveaways and about Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles. He has 16 turnovers this season. That's more than a turnover and a half per game. He has had an interception returned for a touchdown in each of the last two games. That stuff has to stop.
3) Beware the blitz.Bills Head Coach Rex Ryan and assistant head coach Rob Ryan run the Bills' defense. They are known for exotic, disguised blitzes. They know Bortles commits turnovers. They will try to confuse him. The Jaguars must be ready.
4) Stop Shady …The Bills rank No. 1 in the NFL in rushing. Running back LeSean "Shady" McCoy is a big reason. He is in his eighth NFL season and has rushed for 716 yards and seven touchdowns on 138 carries. He's good. He'll make you miss and look bad doing it. The Jaguars emphasize stopping the run. They'll need to really emphasize it this week.
5) … and keep a close eye on the quarterback.Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor doesn't run as much as McCoy, but he runs a lot. He's dangerous when he does. He's good for a huge, back-breaking run or two a game – and he must be accounted for in the run game.
6) Throw the ball to Marqise Lee.The Jaguars' offense has been at its most dynamic in recent weeks when he has been involved. The third-year wide receiver looks like an emerging star. Let him keep shining.
7) Cover the punts.The Jaguars have allowed a long, momentum-turning punt return in each of the last three games. When special teams plays allowed start defining your season it's usually a long season. They're deflating, disheartening and they're a big reason for the team's current five-game losing streak.
8) Stay focused.This shouldn't be an issue in the NFL, but it is for the Jaguars. Key, avoidable penalties at key times have killed the Jaguars this season. Defensive tackle Sen'Derrick Marks' offside penalty that gave Detroit a key fourth-quarter first down was just the latest. NFL games are usually decided on a few late plays. Teams that give away yards on those plays because of penalties usually lose.
9) Run.The Jaguars have run better in three games with Nathaniel Hackett as coordinator – and partly as a result of that, they have played three contending teams very tough. The better this team runs, the better chance it has to win.
10) Play better at quarterback.For the Jaguars to break this losing streak this simply must happen. If it happens, the Jaguars have a chance. If not …