They don't have the look of a 4-9 football team. As the Jaguars prepare to travel to New England for a cold-weather game against the hottest team in the league, spirits at Alltel Stadium suggest the Jaguars are not just playing out the string.
There is an energy in their locker room, and it's all about a team on the rise.
"What a great opportunity," coach Jack Del Rio said. "This (Patriots) is probably the hottest team in football. This will be a great time to go up and compete in the frigid Northeast."
Not too long ago, this game may have made the Jaguars wince. They were 1-7 and wondering if they would win again. The second half of the season couldn't go fast enough. New England in December? It was a painful thought.
Now, everything has changed. The Jaguars have won three more times and are entertaining thoughts of a winning record in the second half of the season; of finishing the season with five consecutive wins. New England in December? You betcha.
"I think this team is in better shape than it was at the start of the season," Del Rio said earlier this week.
He was speaking about a roster that's been improved by waiver-wire acquisitions and the development of young players. As the Jaguars head into the final three games of their season, their lineup has stability and promise. It is, essentially, next year's team.
"If we're able to progress like we have, we have a chance," defensive tackle Marcus Stroud said when asked if he believes the team will be a playoff contender next season.
Patriots coach Bill Belichick talked up the Jaguars during his Wednesday conference call with Jacksonville reporters.
"Watching Jacksonville play right now, I think they're one of the hottest teams in the league. I think they're playing extremely well. If there is anybody on our team after they get through watching Jacksonville play that doesn't see the Jaguars as one of the best teams we've played this year, then they're obviously not watching enough tape," Belichick said.
Belichick's remarks may cause you to wonder: Are these the same Jaguars that were 1-7? Or you could ask: If they're so good, why are they 4-9?
"They lost a couple of tough games right at the very end early in the season," Belichick said, referring to losses in Carolina and in Houston. "I don't care about earlier in the season; we're playing them now and they're playing well," Belichick added.
The Jaguars' motivation for this game would seem to be about pride and making a statement for the future. The Jaguars would love to finish the season with the longest winning streak in the league.
But the Patriots' motivation is much more distinct. They have clinched the AFC East title and are now playing for AFC playoffs homefield advantage. This is a must-win game for the Patriots, which means it's very unlikely the Patriots will take the Jaguars lightly, and that's why this game has such a big-game feel to it for the Jaguars.
For a 4-9 team near the end of its season, this is as close to a postseason feeling the Jaguars will experience this year, and if their enthusiasm is any indication, they'll be ready for the Patriots and the expected cold weather.