JACKSONVILLE – It's time now for the important stuff.
Not that beating the New York Giants and the New England Patriots for a 2-0 start to the 2018 season wasn't important for the Jaguars, but there's a difference in out-of-division games and in-division games in the NFL.
The Giants and Patriots mattered.
Sunday's game against the Tennessee Titans matters more.
The Jaguars' first goal under Head Coach Doug Marrone is winning the division, and their first 2018 AFC South game comes Sunday against the Titans at TIAA Bank Field.
The Jaguars aren't alone among NFL teams emphasizing division games, though large signage outside their locker room at the Bank does re-emphasize the emphasis.
And although the Jaguars won the AFC South title last season, they lost twice to the Titans. So perhaps the "re-emphasis" will be re-, re-emphasized this week.
And after beating the Jaguars in Nashville last January, the Titans talked as if they – and not the Jaguars – were the real division champions. So that re-emphasis might be even more re-emphasized …
Or something to that effect.
This game matters. It's the first AFC South game of the season. That makes it the most important game of the season thus far.
And here are 10 things the Jaguars must do to win Sunday.
1.Channel the emotion. Titans-Jaguars once was a real, honest-to-goodness divisional rivalry. It's starting to feel that way again. All the Titans talk last January about how they were the real AFC South Champions? That will have the Jaguars emotionally ready. That's fine, but it must be used correctly.
2.Minimize penalties. Penalties always kill. They really killed the Jaguars against Tennessee in Week 2 last season. The Titans, like the Jaguars, want to play ball control on offense and they want to win with their defense. Penalizing yourself into bad down-and-distance situations plays into their hands. The Jaguars must play smart. They must stay ahead of the chains.
3.Swarm and overwhelm. The Titans have been hit hard by injuries. They're trying to get guys –Including quarterback Marcus Mariota – back, but there is uncertainty at quarterback and offensive line. The Titans are also without Pro Bowl tight end Delanie Walker. On paper, that's an advantage for the Jaguars. They must turn into one on the field. They must get into situations where the defense can dominate. That means they must …
4.Stuff Derrick Henry. Henry hurt the Jaguars last season. Offensive coordinator Matt LeFleur will want the big, powerful back to do so again. The Jaguars must stop Henry on early downs to get the needed pressure on either Mariota or his backup, Blaine Gabbert. If they pressure Mariota/Gabbert, turnovers will come.
5.Run. Yes, the Jaguars' passing game bordered on glorious against the Patriots. But the Jaguars still must run well enough to make opponents worry about the run. That opens up the passing game, and it enables them to keep defenses off the field.
6.Protect Bortles … They did this against the Patriots Sunday, and quarterback Blake Bortles stayed clean throughout. The Titans harassed Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson throughout a Titans victory Sunday. The Texans' offensive line has struggled, but the Titans' front is good enough to disrupt an offense. The Jaguars must get them blocked.
7.Neutralize Jurrell Casey. The Titans' three-technique tackle is one of the NFL's best at his position. He had two sacks against Houston and could have had more. He also talked – a lot – in January about the Titans being the real AFC South Champions. Casey must be silenced. On and off the field.
8.Stay alert … The Titans veered outside the box against Houston, running Henry from the Wildcat formation and going for it in unorthodox situations. They also scored on a fake punt. Maybe new Head Coach Mike Vrabel will be more predictable as the offense regains health. Or maybe he won't. There are only two regular-season games of film on Vrabel. For the Jaguars, that means needing to be ready for anything.
9…. and stay balanced. Four receivers caught touchdown passes for the Jaguars last week. Running back Corey Grant was as likely to make a big play as tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins as running back T.J. Yeldon … and so on. That unpredictability is making the Jaguars difficult to defend. They must keep it that way.
10.Be ready to scrap. Expect this game to have a street-fight feel. And expect the Jaguars to welcome that.