JACKSONVILLE – The postseason hopes are now ever-so slim.
So distant, worn and faded are the Jaguars' 2015 playoff chances, in fact, that they're barely worth mentioning – except that the subject is the playoffs, and there are two weeks remaining in the season …
So, sure: they're worth mentioning – and they will be a topic when the Jaguars gather Wednesday to begin preparing to play the New Orleans Saints at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome Sunday. The Jaguars must win the AFC South to make the postseason. To win the South, three things must happen:
*The Jaguars (5-9) must beat New Orleans (5-9) Sunday and the Houston Texans (7-7) on January 3.
*The Texans must lose to Tennessee (3-11) Sunday.
*The Indianapolis Colts (6-8) must lose to Tennessee on January 3.
The Texans and Titans play at 1 p.m. Sunday. So, with the Jaguars playing New Orleans at 4:05 p.m., the playoff talk may officially and finally be over by the time Saints-Jaguars kicks off.
Then again …
Either way, here are six key questions for the Jaguars as they begin preparations to play the Saints:
1)Can the Jaguars pressure Drew Brees?This is a major question; it's The Question facing the Jaguars this week, in fact. The Jaguars have struggled to pressure quarterbacks throughout the season, and the lack of pressure hurt big-time against Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons Sunday. Brees is dangerous. Very dangerous. How to pressure him will be a topic all week, and the question is whether the Jaguars have an answer.
2)Are the playoffs still a thing?The likely answer this week will be, "No." Even when the postseason seemed more likely than it does now this team never discussed the scenarios much. Players won't likely discuss the topic much this week, either. The possibilities are way, way too slim. Then again …
3)Can the Jaguars stay motivated?With the playoffs now a long, long shot this will be a topic. Still, don't expect it to be a problem. This team always has played hard for Head Coach Gus Bradley, and nothing during this season has indicated that will change. The playoffs weren't a big carrot in recent weeks, anyway, with the focus very much on maximizing this season and improving. It would be surprising if that changed.
4)Who will play running back?The Jaguars' injury issues at running back continue. T.J. Yeldon missed the Falcons game with a sprained knee; while Bradley said he is hopeful that Yeldon will play in the final two games, his status is uncertain. Backup running back Denard Robinson sustained a left foot sprain Sunday, though Bradley sounded hopeful on Monday that he would play. Neither of the two healthy running backs on the roster – Joe Banyard or Jonas Gray – played on offense Sunday.
*5)Can the Jaguars convert third downs? *They haven't been able to do this lately – at least not in the first half. The Jaguars are 0 of 11 on third downs in the first and second quarter the last two weeks, and that has contributed to the team not scoring a first-half offensive touchdown in that span. Bradley on Monday said extra practice time will be devoted to the area this week.
6)Can Blake gets his mojo back?This translates to, "Can the offense get moving again?" The Jaguars scored 90 points in two weeks leading to the Falcons game, then managed just 17 points against Atlanta. They struggled on third down in the first half, then after three inspired – very inspired, in fact – drives at the end of the second quarter and beginning of the third, they played perhaps their worst quarter of the season in the fourth. The Saints are probably going to score efficiently, which means the Jaguars' offense may need a lot of inspiration Sunday.