JACKSONVILLE – This one just feels big.
It feels that way because Sunday's Seahawks-Jaguars game indeed is big – as big a game as the Jaguars have played at EverBank Field or anywhere else in a long, long time.
It's about the postseason chase. It's about the Jaguars having a chance to clinch a winning record for the first time in a decade – and about moving five games over .500 for the first time in a decade, too.
It's about the Jaguars showing they belong among the NFL's best teams.
It's about legitimacy. It's about respect.
The Jaguars have the last two. They can earn a little more of each Sunday.
Expect the 'Bank to be loud. Expect it to be crazy. Expect the Jaguars' top-ranked defense to play in a frenzy. Expect this defense to want to prove to the NFL world it's a deserving heir to the defensive throne the day's opponent has held for the better part of the last half decade.
Expect emotion. Expect the Jaguars to have to play well – maybe their best game of the season – to get the victory. If they get it, it would be the most impressive victory of an increasingly impressive 2017 season.
Here are 10 things they must do to make that happen:
1.Pressure Russell Wilson …This is the most important thing the Jaguars must do Sunday. The Seahawks quarterback can beat you with his legs and arm. He's dangerous in the pocket, and he's dangerous when he breaks outside. The Jaguars have the speed at linebacker and along the defensive line to limit him. Having the speed and stopping Wilson are different things. This game will be about keeping Wilson in the pocket and chasing him down when he gets outside. It won't be easy. It must be done.
2.Run.This has become more difficult for the Jaguars by the week – and running back Leonard Fournette has been held under three yards a carry in three of four games. Breaking out against the Seahawks' defense won't be easy. Still, if the Jaguars can crack a long run or two that would be a major lift Sunday.
3.Make plays downfield – and do it early.The Jaguars did this against the Colts last Sunday. Doing it against the Seahawks and safety Earl Thomas is a different task. Doing it early would set a necessary tone – and give a young offense needed confidence.
4.Overwhelm the Seahawks' offensive line.The Jaguars' defensive line against the Seahawks' offensive line is a mismatch on paper. The Jaguars have turned such mismatches into on-field mismatches and big victories a lot this season. Doing it again is the most likely way for the Jaguars to control Sunday's outcome.
5.Protect the ball.The Jaguars' defense makes Jacksonville very, very tough to beat when the offense doesn't turn the ball over. The Jaguars' offense must make the defense tough to beat Sunday. Don't give away points. Don't give away short fields. Play smart. Protect the ball.
6.Get a defensive touchdown.The Jaguars have six this season. Sometimes, when they have happened one-sided victories, they have felt like a luxury. Getting one – or at least having the defense set up a short-field touchdown – feels like a necessity for Sunday.
7.Score touchdowns in the red zone.The Jaguars have been good in the red zone this season, scoring 20 touchdowns on 35 opportunities. The Seahawks are the NFL's sixth-best red-zone defense – and they're good enough that red-zone opportunities could be scarce for the Jaguars. If they can convert those opportunities, they probably win. If not …
8.Get ahead early.Getting ahead matters for the Jaguars. A lot. Their defense is built to play with a lead and can suffocate an opponent forced to pass to come from behind. Jaguars Head Coach Doug Marrone called for a fake punt on the game's first drive last week against the Colts in effort to get an early advantage. You can't risk everything to get an early lead, but is it ridiculous to think the Jaguars might do something … unusual … to get an early, go-ahead touchdown? Well, it's not that ridiculous.
9.Stay cool.The hype for this game is real – and for many young Jaguars players this may be biggest game of their NFL careers to date. Stay poised. Maintain your cool. Fifteen-yard penalties are a big no-no in a game that likely will be decided late.
10.Feed. Off. The. Crowd.How do you balance staying cool (No. 9) and feeding off the crowd? Good question, but doing it will be key. This crowd will be big. It will be hyped. The Seahawks are experienced enough in these situations that they won't be intimidated, but can the crowd's energy help this ascending Jaguars team ascend Sunday in the big moments? Absolutely.