JACKSONVILLE – Let the eye-rolling begin.
Actually, make that, "Let the eye-rolling continue," because certainly there has been a lot of it already from people following the Jaguars this week.
That happens when people say NFL games without postseason implications matter.
It happens when coaches say it. It happens when players say it.
It happens when media says it.
But you know what? So what? The Jaguars' game against the Houston Texans Sunday matters. Not as much as it could have, or should have, or would have had the Jaguars taken advantage of their opportunities this season, but it matters.
"It's another opportunity to get better at the game of football, and another opportunity to improve as a team," defensive end Jared Odrick said as the Jaguars (5-10) prepared to play the Texans (8-7) at NRG Stadium in Houston Sunday at 1 p.m.
"There's a lot of opportunity within having another game despite (being out of) the playoffs. There is an opportunity that lies within a game or any situation and if you don't take advantage of it, you're shorting yourself of learning something, of improving yourself."
Odrick said he learned early in his career with the Miami Dolphins that you didn't want to be playing for pride.
"You never want to be in that position, but I don't think we're playing for pride," he said. "I think we're playing for improving ourselves and as a team."
Wide receiver Allen Hurns said there is importance in one more chance to show not only where this team is, but where it is going. The Jaguars are better. Hurns knows it, and a lot of people watching know it. But one more chance to show it?
Yeah, that matters.
"We've been up and down and up and down, but you can really see we've improved from last year to this year," Hurns said. "This game can really show the team we can become next year. I feel like this year even the games we won offense, defense and special teams didn't play good for all four quarters.
"I feel like once we're able to show we can play consistently for all four quarters, that will be a good thing going into the offseason, being able to build off of that."
That's the team stuff. But there's another element to why this game's important.
That element is why Odrick looked incredulous this week when asked why he wanted to play Sunday, why he wanted to spend the week doing whatever was necessary to play through the quad contusion that kept him out of all but one series against New Orleans last Sunday.
That element is why defensive end Tyson Alualu had the same reaction when asked if he expected to play through a less serious ankle injury.
It's because to NFL players, the chance to play a regular-season game – any regular-season game – is something to be savored, not squandered. Fans can watch many games on many, many NFL Sundays for many, many seasons.
The best players might get a few hundred opportunities to play. Most get far fewer.
And then there's the simple fact that every game is on film, and the entire league – coaches, general managers, etc. – is watching, will watch or at least can watch.
There is no room for thinking a game doesn't matter.
"You better give everything you have," middle linebacker Paul Posluszny said. "If you want to stay in this league, you better give maximum effort."
So, no, Sunday doesn't matter to the Jaguars in terms of the postseason. It stopped mattering in that sense for the Jaguars when the Texans won in Nashville, Tennessee, last Sunday.
But it matters because a victory would mean a 3-3 record in the division. It matters a little for momentum going into the offseason, and it matters because 6-10 is double the victory total from last season, but all of those things are fairly "eh" reasons for trying to win. And the argument that a better draft position would be a positive thing isn't a ridiculous argument.
Except in this sense: players and teams don't approach it that way, and they shouldn't and can't approach it that way.
Will the Jaguars keep an injured player or two out to avoid further injury? Maybe. Will they take a look at a young player – say (wink, wink) a player such as running back Jonas Gray? Perhaps.
But this game won't be treated like the preseason. No way.
Nor should it be treated that way.
"That's the thing: regardless of where we're at, to us it's another opportunity to show improvement, to put our best put forward and to display our skills," Posluszny said. "We're going to approach it like any other game."
So, for Sunday at least, let the noise that has buzzed around the team in recent weeks wait a while. Let the eye-rolling continue, too, but know that within the Jaguars, it's being ignored. Because this game? Yeah, it matters.
Just not the way it would have, could have, or should have, but it matters.