JACKSONVILLE – This promises to have a different feel.
That's unavoidable for the Jaguars Sunday. When a team has playoff seeding secured in the regular-season finale, an odd feeling is part of the deal.
The Jaguars (10-5) are locked into the AFC's No. 3 seed because they can no longer catch New England or Pittsburgh, and the Jaguars' record against AFC opponents assures the Kansas City Chiefs cannot move by them. So, the Jaguars will play at home in the first round of the playoffs January 6-7.
That hasn't happened in 18 years, and it's significant for a franchise that last made the postseason a decade ago.
The Titans (8-7), despite losing their last three games to slip from a first-place tie in the AFC South, can make the playoffs with a victory Sunday. The Titans also can make the playoffs with a loss if the Oakland Raiders beat the Los Angeles Chargers and the Miami Dolphins beat the Buffalo Bills.
If the Titans win, there's a good chance they will visit the Jaguars in an AFC Wild Card game January 6-7. The only way a 9-7 Titans team wouldn't play in Jacksonville next Sunday is if the Cincinnati Bengals beat the Baltimore Ravens Sunday.
Jaguars Head Coach Doug Marrone said this week the Jaguars will play healthy starters until the game no longer is in doubt. There's no reason to think they won't do that.
Here are 10 things the Jaguars must do to beat the Titans Sunday:
1.Play all out, all the time.The Titans have lost three consecutive games entering Sunday, but make no mistake: They are more than capable of winning this game. The three losses have been tight – and they're a tough, physical motivated team. They're desperate and you don't beat desperate in the first half.
2.Play the starters.You don't win this one with your second unit.
3.Pressure Marcus Mariota.The Titans quarterback has thrown 12 touchdowns with 15 interceptions this season. That's a troublesome statistic for a player who a season ago was considered one of the NFL's rising stars. He has been hampered this season by a hamstring injury that has reduced his mobility, and he hasn't performed as well as hoped from inside the pocket. The Jaguars have bothered immobile quarterbacks more often than not this season. They need to do it again Sunday.
4.Stay poised.The Jaguars didn't do this against the San Francisco 49ers last week. As much as anything, that's why they lost. You can't give away free points, free yards and field position against good teams and expect to win in the NFL. Not in December and January. Not any time, really.
5.Run.The Jaguars are the NFL's No. 1 rushing offense, but they have been inconsistent here much of the season. Whoever plays running back Sunday, getting at least the beginning of some continuity in this area matters entering the postseason.
6.Stop the run.The Jaguars have been inconsistent here, too – and make no mistake: while the Titans rank 16th in the NFL in rushing, running well remains their focus. The Titans rushed for 179 yards and 12 first downs in a Week 2 victory in Jacksonville; if the Jaguars are to win Sunday, they must handle the Titans offensive line better than they did in mid-September.
7.Get ahead early.This always is a key for the Jaguars, but it's particularly important Sunday. The Titans' tendency to fall behind early has contributed to their three-game losing streak. If the Jaguars make the pattern hold and make the Titans believe they're playing to win, the Jaguars could take control and pull away. If not …
8.Hit the big ones.Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles made a habit of hitting big plays in the first three games of December. The longest completion against San Francisco: 32 yards. This is becoming a big-play offense – and to win Sunday, the Jaguars need more than one.
9.Win the turnover battle.The Jaguars lost it 3-1 against the 49ers, another key reason for the loss. This is a win-and-get-in game for Tennessee. The crowd and the team will feast on any Jaguars mistake. Don't make them. Don't give this team hope.
10.Remember Jurrell.Titans defensive tackle Jurrell Casey talked this week as if Tennessee sweeping the Jaguars already had happened. He also implied that the Jaguars weren't Kings of the South despite winning the division. The Jaguars talked about that as motivation this week. To win Sunday, they must play like it.