JACKSONVILLE – The season's not over.
No, despite the disappointment of the playoff talk officially and finally being no more, the Jaguars (5-10) have one more game remaining: against the Houston Texans (8-7) at NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas, Sunday at 1 p.m.
That means another week of preparation, which means another week of questions as we look ahead.
Will the Jaguars be cautious with starters? Will they end the season on a high note?
Does late-season momentum matter?
All are significant issues for the Jaguars in a game that has far more significance for their opponent, because while the Texans almost certainly will win the AFC South title, they still have not clinched. They can do so with a victory over the Jaguars.
If they don't beat the Jaguars, the odds are still in their favor, with the second-place Indianapolis Colts needing eight different scenarios to go their way to win enough tiebreakers to win the South. But those are questions and issues for the Texans and Colts this week.
Here are six key questions for the Jaguars as they prepare for the 2015 regular-season finale:
1)Do they go all out?This is not about effort; rather, it's about whether the Jaguars will play all players in a game with no postseason implications. The torn anterior cruciate ligament sustained by defensive tackle Sen'Derrick Marks in the 2014 regular-season finale is a vivid enough memory that the question of whether to play front-line players is legitimate. Still, you can't sit everyone in a regular-season game. The guess here is if players are healthy, they will play.
2)Does it matter?This will be a topic all week, and it's an understandable one. With no playoff implications, why does this game matter? For pride. For momentum entering the offseason. Because it's an NFL regular-season game. Those motivations don't matter to some fans. Those motivations aren't as important as the postseason. But they're why the game matters to the Jaguars.
3)Who gets more time?Do you make an effort to play wide receivers Marqise Lee and Rashad Greene more? Running back Jonas Gray? Do you test a few players on defense? The likely answer is this will not look like Preseason Week 4 with a slew of new faces in new places, but a player such as Gray – who had several impressive runs Sunday in New Orleans – likely will get an extensive season-ending look.
4)Can the Jaguars close with a flourish?A victory for the Jaguars would mean winning two of the last four games. It also would mean finishing with the best record since 2010, and it would mean a .500 record over the last 10 games. None of those things would be as important as making the postseason, but they certainly would signify a stronger finish than the last two seasons.
5)Can the Jaguars rush the passer? Or start fast?The answers to both questions in recent weeks has been an emphatic, "No." As a result, the Jaguars lost two games and faded from AFC South contention. It may not be realistic to get season-long issues fixed in one week leading to the last game of the regular season, but that doesn't mean you stop trying.
6)Who will stay and who will go?There likely will be questions about the future of the coaching staff; that comes with a 5-10 start. Then, too, there a slew of players in the final seasons of contracts or with contracts that don't ensure they will remain next season. Tight end Marcedes Lewis, guard Zane Beadles, running back Toby Gerhart, punter Bryan Anger, defensive end Chris Clemons, defensive end Andre Branch, center Stefen Wisniewski – all are among players whose return will be an issue next in the offseason.