JACKSONVILLE – The time is at hand, and the objective is clear.
The Jaguars (9-4) can qualify for the playoffs for the first time in a decade by beating the Houston Texans (4-9) Sunday at EverBank Field. Objectives don't get clearer than that.
There are other ways the Jaguars can make the postseason Sunday: if they tie the Texans and Buffalo loses or ties against Miami, if they tie the Texans and Baltimore loses or ties at Cleveland, if they lose to the Texans and both Baltimore and Buffalo lose, if Baltimore loses and the Kansas City-Los Angeles Chargers game Saturday does not end in a tie.
Because the Chiefs and Chargers play Saturday, it's likely that the Jaguars will enter Sunday knowing that a Cleveland victory over Baltimore will get them in the postseason.
Whatever the likelihood of that, upsets elsewhere aren't what matters to the Jaguars as the weekend begins.
No, what matters is a chance to make the postseason in front of the home crowd.
To do that, they must complete a season sweep over the Texans; that's something they have done three previous times: 2005, 2009 and 2013. They must win a fifth consecutive game at EverBank Field, something they haven't done since 2009.
They must do a lot of other things, too. Here are 10:
1.Play sound, play smart.The Jaguars are huge favorites against the Texans for a reason. They have matchup advantages in key areas and they are by far the healthier team. The way to win when you're in that situation is to play smart. Don't give away points. Make the Texans outplay you.
2.Get Clowney blocked.The Texans are without key injured players such as quarterback Deshaun Watson, linebacker Whitney Mercilus and defensive end J.J.Watt. But they're not without talent. Their most talented player Sunday will be end Jadeveon Clowney. He can dominate a game by himself; double-teaming and constantly being aware of him will be critical.
3.Run.The Jaguars revived the running offense against Seattle last week. Stopping the run is the strength of the Texans' defense, but the Jaguars want to be able to run whatever the circumstance and whatever the opponent's strength.
4.Pressure T.J. Yates.Yates is the Texans' third quarterback this season. The Jaguars sacked the other two – Watson and Tom Savage – a combined 10 times in the regular-season opener. Ten more sacks may not be realistic Sunday. But it's also not necessary to reach that number. What is necessary is to pressure Yates. The Jaguars' biggest matchup edge is their defensive line against the Texans' offensive line. Exploiting that advantage is the best way to secure this game early.
5.Lock down DeAndre.Cornerback Jalen Ramsey doesn't need to be reminded of this. He gets psyched for a lot of receivers. Texans wide receiver Deandre Hopkins is definitely on that list. Look Ramsey to match up on Hopkins a lot Sunday. And look for this to be a matchup well worth watching.
6.Run block.This is key for the Jaguars not only Sunday, but the rest of the season. The offensive line run-blocked better against Seattle than it has all season. For that matter, the group pass-blocked better against Seattle than it has all season, too. If the line matches that level moving forward, there may not be a better team in the NFL than the Jaguars.
7.Throw early – and on early downs …Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles' confidence appears to be growing, and he has had success getting the ball to Marqise Lee, Dede Westbrook and Keelan Cole. Despite Bortles' recent success, teams aren't likely to stop stacking the line of scrimmage against rookie running back Leonard Fournette. Let Bortles keep taking advantage of single coverage on the outside.
8. … and get a lead early.The Jaguars haven't lost a game this season in which they have led by at least eight points. The largest lead they have lost this season was the 10-point edge they held on Seattle early in the third quarter, and the Jaguars never trailed in that game. It's very difficult to rally against this defense and pass rush. Make Yates have to do it.
9.Stop the run early.The Texans won't want to expose Yates to the Jaguars' pass rush. If the Jaguars can stop the run early in the game and force passing situations, the Texans won't have a choice.
10.Feed off the crowd.Anyone at the 'Bank last Sunday knows the Jaguars' home-field advantage is real again. The urgency and fervor Sunday may not quite match what it was for Seattle. Then again: it might. A playoff appearance is at stake in Duval. Think the crowd won't be ready?