JACKSONVILLE – One to go.
As hard as it may to believe, the up-and-down-and-up-again-down-again 2015 Jaguars season will end Sunday at NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas.
The Jaguars (5-10) won't be in the playoffs, and their last game with playoff implications turned out to be a Week 15 loss to the Atlanta Falcons at EverBank Field. That was one of more than a handful of games the Jaguars had a very real chance to win to stay in the AFC South chase.
They didn't win enough of them. As a result, what could have been very, very meaningful game Sunday will matter only for pride and momentum heading into the offseason.
That's a disappointing end to what could have been a far different season.
Still, the Jaguars will play the Texans (8-7) Sunday – and they will play to win.
Here are 10 things they must do to accomplish that:
1.Be ready for the Texans' best.A whole lot must go wrong for the Texans and right for the Indianapolis Colts Sunday for the Texans to not win the AFC South and advance to the playoffs. In fact, nine things have to happen in the Colts' favor for them to advance. Still, the safest way for the Texans to advance is to beat the Jaguars, so will they be motivated? Yes, no doubt.
2.Rush the passer.OK, now that's out of the way …
*3.Force Bryan Hoyer into mistakes. *Yes, this is pretty much No. 2 all over again, but you can't overstate the importance for the Jaguars of pressuring the passer. By this point, it would be a surprise if the Jaguars do it with four linemen, but remember when these teams met at EverBank in Week 6? How Hoyer stood and stood … and stood … and eventually helped the Texans pull away? You can't let that happen again and expect to win. And yes, Hoyer has been cleared through the NFL's concussion protocol and will start Sunday.
4.Run the ball.As much focus as there has been on the Jaguars' defensive struggles in recent weeks, the inability to run effectively – particularly without T.J. Yeldon – has hurt nearly as much. The Jaguars' running offense has stalled in recent weeks, forcing the Jaguars' into tough down-and-distance situations far too often. Look for Jonas Gray to get plenty of opportunity Sunday.
5.Cover DeAndre Hopkins.This will be a rematch of Week 6 when Jaguars cornerback Davon House covered Hopkins all over the field. House did a good job before two mistakes led to fourth-quarter touchdowns. House was benched the following week, but has returned to play at a high level and likely will draw the Hopkins assignment again.
6.Block J.J. Watt.Broken hand or no broken hand, he's dangerous. Really dangerous. Jaguars right tackle Jermey Parnell's status is uncertain because of a hamstring injury. If Parnell doesn't play, Sam Young will play in his place. He has fared well against Watt before, but that doesn't make it an easy task.
7.Start fast.This maybe isn't quite as vital as it was against the Saints last week. In theory at least, the Texans in Hoyer's first start since December 13 shouldn't be quite the same offensive force the Jaguars saw in New Orleans. Still, the Jaguars have scored one offensive touchdown in the first half in the last three games.
8.Get Julius Thomas and Marqise Lee involved.Allen Hurns and Allen Robinson have had huge seasons, and they along with Blake Bortles are the reason this offense has improved. But Thomas gives the Jaguars a third-down weapon and Lee gives them an added big-play element numbers. Balance things out a bit.
9.Be precise. If Jaguars Head Coach Gus Bradley has had a theme this week it has been precision. The defense lacked it last week against the Saints. That led to big plays, big points and a one-sided loss. Hoyer may not make you pay for lack of precision as dearly as Brees, but as Week 6 showed, he still can make you pay.
10.Close it out strong.The Jaguars have talked all week about this game mattering. Prove it.