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Unlocking Victory in Week 17: Jaguars Must Do These 10 Things vs. Panthers

10 Things - Week 17

JACKSONVILLE – The scenarios are as clear as the objective.

The Jaguars (8-7) can clinch the AFC South Sunday with a victory over the Carolina Panthers at EverBank Stadium – if they get help elsewhere around the NFL. They can also clinch the division with a victory Sunday and one over the Tennessee Titans in Nashville, Tenn., next week.

They need no help in the latter scenario. But as Head Coach Doug Pederson sees it, playoff possibilities this week perhaps aren't as important as something more fundamental:

Winning – and in particular, playing better to do so.

First, here is the Jaguars' specific postseason scenario Sunday:

  • They can clinch a second consecutive AFC South title if they beat the 2-13 Panthers, and – IF the Indianapolis Colts and Houston Texans both lose Sunday. The Colts (8-7) play host to the Las Vegas Raiders (7-8) and the Texans play host to the Tennessee Titans (5-10).

But as Pederson and Jaguars players have noted all week, the first priority Sunday is to play well. They haven't done that lately, with the result being four consecutive losses – including a 30-12 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last Sunday.

The Jaguars have committed 15 turnovers in the last seven games. They are not coincidentally 2-5 in that span, during which time they have transformed from one of the better teams in the AFC to a team trying to regain momentum as January approaches.

The Jaguars' season is far from over. Yes, the playoffs are well within reach. But they need to play better and win Sunday.

Jacksonville Jaguars vs. Cincinnati Bengals

RB Travis Etienne Jr. (1)

Here are 10 things they must do to do that:

  1. Protect the ball. This has been key all season. It has become Priority No. 1 to the degree that it dwarfs all other priorities. The Jaguars have committed four turnovers in three of the last seven games. If they improve this area, all else may follow.
  2. Run. The Jaguars haven't been great running all season, but they have been flat-out poor lately. They rushed for more than 100 yards in seven of the first 10 games. They haven't been over 81 yards in the last five games and rushed for a season-low 37 yards against the Buccaneers. It may not be realistic to expect a surge. But this area must be better.
  3. Force takeaways. Most of these 10 things will be familiar. That's with reason. The Jaguars were good this season when they were doing a few things well. Foremost on that list was creating takeaways. They still are tied for the lead in this statistic with 25. It's hard to see them being good overall without being good here.
  4. Get Etienne in the end zone. This ties in with No. 2 – but it's that important. When running back Travis Etienne Jr. and the running game were effective early in the season, this team felt at its strongest. Etienne scored eight touchdowns in the first eight games and the Jaguars were 6-2. He has two touchdowns since and the Jaguars are 2-5.
  5. Tackle. The Jaguars were a good tackling team through eight or so games and they were correspondingly stout against the run. The tackling has fallen off lately. As Pederson sees it, tackling and reducing turnovers are key the last two weeks.
  6. Forget the record. The Panthers' 2-13 record doesn't make this an easy game for the Jaguars. The Jaguars haven't played well enough lately for any game to be easy – and the Panthers have played well in recent weeks, beating the Atlanta Falcons two weeks ago and losing to the Green Bay Packers, 33-30, this past Sunday.
  7. Pressure Young. Panthers quarterback Bryce Young has played well the last game and a half after a difficult start. But he's still a rookie and rookie quarterbacks make mistakes under pressure. Outside linebacker Josh Allen remains a sack short of the Jaguars' franchise record. Sunday would be an opportune time to reach it.
  8. Get an early lead. The Jaguars were methodical and strong early in the season, trailing just once during a five-game winning streak that moved them to 6-2. They haven't led since losing a fourth-quarter lead in an overtime loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, the first game of this four-game losing streak.
  9. Play with urgency. The Jaguars somewhat inexplicably didn't do this against the Buccaneers Sunday. Without it in the final two games, the season is probably over.
  10. Embrace the moment. This ties in with No. 9, but it's all sort of the same story – and it's an element that overrides all else Sunday. The Jaguars have a chance to win a second consecutive AFC South title. They haven't won back-to-back division titles since 1998-1999. Yes, the last four weeks have been tough. But the Jaguars have a chance to make history. Not playing with urgency with that at stake is unacceptable.

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