JACKSONVILLE – It's all right there. Right now.
That may the biggest thing to know about the critical stretch that now lies ahead for the Jaguars – and it's an amazingly cool thing if you think back a year, or even a few months.
The Jaguars enter December tied for first place.
They control their destiny not only in the chase for the postseason, but in the AFC South.
They have five regular-season games remaining. All five should matter – and they have a very real chance to … well, they have a chance to do anything any other NFL contending team can do.
Win, and they get in.
"The ball's in our court; we control everything we want to do," defensive tackle Malik Jackson said Wednesday as the Jaguars (7-4) prepared to play the Indianapolis Colts (3-8) at EverBank Field Sunday at 1 p.m.
It's December football – or, as Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles called it this week: "The nitty gritty."
"We have to be at our best," Bortles said. "Everything that has happened up to this point, it all mattered a lot and it was super important, but … now it's time to be on and ready to go and clicking on all cylinders going into December here at the end. I think that's important."
Here's how the Jaguars stand on this last day of what was a very good November, and what until a last-second loss to the Arizona Cardinals last Sunday bordered on a glorious one:
They're tied with the Tennessee Titans atop the AFC South three games ahead of third-place Houston. Both the Titans and Jaguars are 7-4. The Titans right now hold a couple of tiebreaker advantages: the first being head-to-head (Tennessee beat Jacksonville, 37-16, in Week 2) and the second being division record (the Titans are 3-1 against AFC South teams; the Jaguars are 2-1).
The teams play in Nashville in the regular-season finale, and the four games both teams play between now and New Year's Eve will determine just what that game means.
"We want the division," Jackson said. "That's our goal – to be No. 1 in our division."
The AFC wild-card picture is murkier, with the Jaguars currently holding the No. 5 seed, the Baltimore Ravens holding the No. 6 (and final) seed and the Buffalo Bills (6-5), Los Angeles Chargers (5-6), Oakland Raiders (5-6) and Cincinnati Bengals (5-6) still very much in it.
The good news for the Jaguars? They hold head-to-head advantages over Baltimore, the Chargers and Cincinnati. It looks as favorable as it can look with five games remaining on that front.
Those are the particulars, but the time for getting lost in details, what-ifs and online Playoff Machines is not yet at hand. What is at hand begins Sunday and is a relatively rare opportunity:
*A three-game home stand.
*With the postseason appearance very much on the line.
"The season is won in December," Jaguars cornerback A.J. Bouye said. "You want to gain momentum going into the playoffs. If we do everything we need to do, we'll only gain momentum going into the playoffs."
The Jaguars in 22 previous seasons have had seven three-game home stands, but only two of those have come with all games in December. Only one of those – 2009 – came with the Jaguars over .500; they were 6-5 that season. None have come with the Jaguars starting the home stand in first place.
So if this opportunity feels rare …
If it feels like it has been a while since the Jaguars have had a chance to play such important games in the friendly familiarity of the 'Bank …
Well, if it feels like those things it's because those things are real – and that could make Sunday the first of several memorable December Sundays on the banks of the St. John's. Here's something to remember as this stretch begins:
The Jaguars earned this opportunity. To be in contention entering a three-game December home stand, a team must negotiate a road-heavy early schedule. The Jaguars this season have done more than negotiate the road; they've been close to owning it, going 4-2 with three-point losses at the New York Jets and Arizona. They have won at Pittsburgh. They are 2-0 in division road games. If you had told anyone associated with the Jaguars before the season those last two sentences would have been true, be assured they would have taken it.
And actually, they would have taken 7-4, too. Yes, the record could be better entering December. The sting of the Arizona loss is still fresh and real, but what's just as real is this:
The Jaguars are tied for first with a defense that will be the best unit on the field on most games the rest of the season. There are a bunch of winnable games, and a bunch of them are at home.
It's all right there. Right now. And how cool is that?