JACKSONVILLE – There's really weird, and sort of weird.
And while the Jaguars are doing whatever they can to make the 2017 regular-season finale as normal as possible, there's little denying the week's odd undertone.
Not that Head Coach Doug Marrone is approaching it that way.
"We are going to work hard to play a complete game in all three phases," Marrone said as the AFC South Champion Jaguars (10-5) prepared to play the runner-up Tennessee Titans (8-7) at Nissan Stadium in Nashville, Tennessee, Sunday at 4:25 p.m.
"That is what you want to do. That is the challenge every week."
So, then: Why is this week so strange?
It's hard to describe in one paragraph. But if you follow the Jaguars, you know it begins with the question of whether the team will do everything possible to win Sunday.
The Jaguars have clinched the No. 3 seed in the AFC playoffs, so they could theoretically rest players Sunday. Marrone nixed that idea Tuesday and Wednesday, telling the media what he told players – that the team will play to win, meaning starters will play until the game no longer is in doubt.
As safety Tashaun Gipson saw it, the week's oddness ended there.
"That was put to bed when Doug said, 'We're playing this game to win the game,' '' Gipson said. "There was talk of, 'Are starters going to play?' He came in and said, 'We're playing to win. There's a lot at stake. We don't want to go into the playoffs with back-to-back losses. This is for us.'
"Once that was said everybody's mindset flipped on and said, 'OK, no matter what we've accomplished or clinched, it's a normal work week for us. We have to treat this like a playoff game and we know what's at stake: 'We win, they go home.'''
So, yes … players are approaching Sunday as normally as possible …
And yet, oddness remains in nearly every pre-game storyline – and for a game with one team locked into its playoff seeding, it's fraught with tricky pre-game storylines:
*It's win and get in for Tennessee – and they might get in if they don't win.The Titans get in the postseason if they win Sunday, but they're not necessarily out of they lose. They also can get in with a loss if the Bills and the Chargers lose. If the latter happens, they would make the playoffs despite a four-game season-ending losing streak. Weird.
*The Titans could visit the Jaguars in the first round.There is a strong possibility the Jaguars could play host to the Titans less than a week after visiting them. The Titans would visit Jacksonville in the first round of the playoffs if Tennessee wins Sunday and Baltimore beats Cincinnati. That seems the most likely scenario for a Tennessee-Jacksonville first-round matchup. But the Titans also could visit Jacksonville if they lose to the Jaguars, and Oakland beats the Los Angeles Chargers, AND Miami beats Buffalo. That's right: an 8-8 Titans team could come to Jacksonville for Round 1 to play the team that almost knocked them from the playoffs the week before …
There's also the weird potential scenario that has many Jaguars fans concerned – that of the Titans beating the Jaguars Sunday, therefore sweeping the Jaguars despite the Jaguars winning the AFC South, then the Titans coming to Jacksonville for a postseason game. This would be similar to 1999, when the Jaguars won the old AFC Central at 14-2 with two losses to Tennessee. The Titans won the AFC Championship Game in Jacksonville, a memory that still haunts a faction of Jaguars fans.
History is of little concern to current players and coaches. What concerns them is the now – and for now, what matters is Sunday.
The thought here is Sunday will be tricky – partly because of the weirdness outlined above, but mostly because of the have-to/want-to theory that says teams playing for their playoff lives and therefore "having to win" have an advantage against teams with no playoff ramifications at stake and therefore just "wanting to win."
Call it Desperation Syndrome, and a desperate team is a tough out.
Making this matchup intriguing is that the Jaguars this week very much sounded like a motivated team. The idea of getting swept by Tennessee seemed decidedly distasteful, particularly after comments by Titans defensive tackle Jurrell Casey implying that the Titans weren't buying into the Jaguars as "King of the South."
Defensive tackle Malik Jackson called Casey's comments disrespectful, and Gipson wondered aloud how a team (the Titans) could consider itself "King of the South" when another team (the Jaguars) were "hoisting" [AFC South Championship] T-shirts and hats.
"We know what they're saying," cornerback A.J. Bouye said.
That was obvious, and this was, too:
This is going to be an intriguing game Sunday, not one that fits your normal have-to-versus-want-to formula – or a lot of other normal formulas, for that matter.
No, there's really weird and there's sort of weird.
And Sunday's Jaguars-Titans game seems to be leaning strongly toward the former.