JACKSONVILLE – This one won't be easy.
And while it's true that no game has been remotely easy for the Jaguars in recent weeks, Sunday's game has a couple of elements that could make it particularly tricky.
The Jaguars are headed West. While there, they will visit the Black Hole.
Not only that, they will be the last team to deal with the Black Hole because the Jaguars' game against the Oakland Raiders Sunday will be the last game for that historic franchise in Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum. That makes Sunday the end of one of the most memorable, colorful eras in NFL history.
At first glance, it seems silly to think the Jaguars could win Sunday. They haven't won on the West Coast since 2004. They have lost their last five games by at least 17 points. This hardly looks like a team capable of spoiling a silver-and-black farewell party.
What hasn't been as emphasized as Sunday approaches is that the Raiders are also struggling. They have lost three consecutive games by at least 21 points to slip from serious playoff contention to seriously needing to win their last three games – and get a lot of help – to have a chance at the postseason.
So, yes: While this game won't be easy, it's very definitely one the Jaguars can win.
Here are 10 things they must do to make that happen:
1.Ignore the chaos. The game's circumstances will be hard to ignore. The stadium that gave us the Black Hole is chaotic on a normal day. This day won't be normal. There will be distraction, messiness and weirdness. The Jaguars must play through it.
2.Stop the run. We've reached the point where it may not be realistic to think the Jaguars will do this. The inability in this area has defined the miserable second half of this season. The Jaguars have lost their last five games by a cumulative 174-57 and they have allowed 195 yards or more rushing in four of the five games. It's not the only reason the Jaguars are losing, but it's a major reason.
3.Get a couple of early breaks. NFL players don't quit, but comes a time during losing streaks such as this that they slip into a "here-we-go-again" mentality. The Jaguars' largest lead during this streak has been seven points and they lost that quickly in Indianapolis. They need a couple of early breaks to get a big enough lead to start believing. If that doesn't happen, "here we go again" will become a thing. Again.
4.Get a big play from special teams. This plays off No. 4, but the Jaguars have gotten scant few big plays from this area this season. A fumble recovery in Week 3 against Tennessee. A punt return from wide receiver Dede Westbrook in Week 13 against Tampa Bay. The Jaguars need a play from this area, and they need it early.
5.Get a defensive touchdown. Are we overemphasizing the need for a big, unexpected play? Something above the Xs and Os? Perhaps, but the Jaguars haven't been competitive in a month and a half. They need something, anything.
6.Work the middle of the field. This may not be possible considering the Jaguars' depleted situation at tight end, but Jaguars rookie quarterback Gardner Minshew II has avoided throwing to the middle of the field enough that teams absolutely know that tendency. That has made the offense too easy to defend in recent weeks.
7.Take advantage of pass-rushing opportunities. The inability to stop the run has meant too few pass-rushing opportunities this season, but the Jaguars remains strong in the area. On the rare occasions when teams are in third-and-long, edge rushers Josh Allen and Yannick Ngakoue must get to the quarterback and force turnovers. It's likely the only way for this team to get enough points to win.
8.Get receptions from somewhere, somehow. The Jaguars' go-to receiving options already were at a precious few. That was before wide receiver DJ Chark Jr. sustained an ankle injury last week against the Chargers. Chark is expected to try to play, but even if he does, the Jaguars need another receiver – maybe Chris Conley? Maybe Westbrook – to make a momentum-changing play or two.
9.Get the Stache dashing. Minshew was at his best early in the season before teams figured out they needed to rush him with the idea of keeping him in the pocket. If the Raiders let Minshew escape outside – and therefore let him use his legs to win – that's an advantage for the Jaguars.
10.Stop.The.Run. It simply can't be overemphasized.