JACKSONVILLE – Doug Pederson sees things simply this week.
The Jaguars' regular-season finale for a second consecutive year matters very much – and for the second consecutive year, the Week 18 opponent is rival. But while the Jaguars have multiple postseason scenarios Sunday, their head coach's focus is singular:
That's that the Jaguars can clinch the AFC South with a victory.
"There's only one [scenario] that matters right now for us," Pederson said as the AFC South-leading Jaguars (9-7) prepared to play the Tennessee Titans (5-11) at Nissan Stadium in Nashville, Tenn., Sunday at 1 p.m. "That's all I need to tell the team.
"There's nothing other than trying to win this game on Sunday."
The Jaguars, after an 8-3 start, lost four consecutive games before beating the Carolina Panthers this past Sunday. It marks a second consecutive season the Jaguars have needed late-season victories to qualify for the postseason. They won their last five regular-season games last season, including a Week 18 winner-wins-the-division game against the Titans in Jacksonville.
"That's what you want as a team, to be able to go out there and control your own fate," Jaguars running back Travis Etienne Jr. said. "That's what we have. As a competitor, what else do you want? When we started in OTAs, that's what we wanted – a shot at the playoffs.
"We have a shot here. We couldn't ask for anything more. "
The Jaguars never have won back-to-back AFC titles. They last won back-to-back division titles when they won the 1998 and 1999 AFC Central titles.
"We have an opportunity to go out there and be the first," Etienne said. "There's not too many times you come into an NFL franchise and you're able to be the first. I sense that. We sense that. We take great pride in that. It's what we came here for, to be legends."
A Jaguars victory would give them their third AFC South title. The Indianapolis Colts have won nine division titles (2003-2007, 2009-10 and 2013-2014) since the division's inception in 2002 with the Houston Texans winning six (2011-2012, 2015-2016 and 2018-2019) and the Titans winning four (2002, 2008 and 2020-21).
"We're trying to make our mark," Pederson said. "It's a great division that has great teams in there, great coaches and leaders, and great football players. For us to be in this position in a second year is a credit to our players in the locker room, coaching staff to work as hard as we do and the players to work as hard as they do."
The Jaguars cannot win the South if they lose Sunday. The winner of Saturday night's game between the Colts (9-7) and Texans (9-7) would win the South if the Jaguars lose Sunday. The Jaguars can only win the South with a tie if the Colts and Texans also tie.
The Jaguars can make the postseason as wild card with a loss. For that to happen, the Baltimore Ravens must beat the Pittsburgh Steelers on Saturday and the Denver Broncos must lose or tie against the Las Vegas Raiders late Sunday afternoon.
"I'm not going to cloud their mind with stuff," Pederson said. "Obviously, our focus is trying to beat Tennessee and regardless of records and who's playing and who's not playing, this is always a really good football game and it's a four-quarter game. That's our focus right now."
The Jaguars, who beat the Titans, 20-16, in Week 18 last season when outside linebacker Josh Allen returned a fumble 37 yards for a touchdown with 2:51 remaining, have won the last three games in the series. Their longest winning streak in the series came when they won four consecutive meetings from 1996-1998.
"It's going to be no different," Pederson said. "There's a lot to be playing for on both sides, really. It doesn't matter who is out there playing. They're going to play hard, we're going to play hard, it's going to be a physical football game like it always is and you've got to prepare that way."
- Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence on playing win-and-in games: "You can't change when the stakes get higher. You have to be committed to what you do. I think we are. We know what to do, we've been in this situation before. We trust our process and we know how to prepare for games like this. We know what's on the line, but we have to take care of Wednesday first, then Thursday and Friday, Saturday and we'll get there Sunday."