Wild-card race tightens

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The Jaguars are facing a significantly different-looking wild-card picture today than what it was when the Jaguars left work on Thursday. The AFC wild-card race changed on Thanksgiving night, when the Kansas City Chiefs beat the Denver Broncos.

All of a sudden, both wild-card spots are wide open, and you could view that as good news or bad news, depending on your perspective. This much is for sure: Making the playoffs just got tougher.

OK, this is the situation as it stands: The Chiefs and Broncos are each 7-4. The Jaguars are 6-4. The Jets and Bengals are each 5-5 and the Dolphins are lurking at 5-6. The Jaguars, of course, must win in Buffalo on Sunday to keep pace with the Chiefs and Broncos.

The remaining schedule clearly favors the Jets, whose opponents have a combined record of 22-39. The Chiefs' remaining opponents are 27-23, the Broncos' are 26-24, the Jaguars' are 35-27 and the Bengals' are 33-28.

Jacksonville has a head-to-head tie-breaker advantage over the Jets and will play in Kansas City on the final Sunday of the season. The Jaguars and Bengals are each 3-3 in AFC games, the Chiefs are 3-4, the Jets are 4-4 and the Broncos are 7-3.

What is the formula for the Jaguars to make the playoffs? Win. It's that simple. Because the wild-card race just got tighter, winning one of the two spots is no longer as simple for the Jaguars as win 10 games, one of which must be in Kansas City. There are too many teams involved in the wild-card race and too many scenarios to consider anything other than win your games.

That pursuit, of course, begins this Sunday in Buffalo, where the weather is expected to favor the Jaguars. The forecast is for temperatures in the low to mid-50's, with little chance of rain.

By the way, with a win over the Jaguars, the Bills would improve to 5-6 and, of course, keep their wild-card hopes alive. This is another must-win game for a Jaguars team that has been living on the edge for the last month of the season.

Here are 10 things the Jaguars have to do to beat the Bills.

  1. Win battle of special teams—The Bills' rankings are all ordinary, until you get to special teams. They are a distinct threat to take it all the way back in the return game.
  1. Don't be fooled—The Bills have some talent and they're starting to come together under new coach Dick Jauron.
  1. Dominate time of possession—The Jaguars' TOP average is nearly four minutes better than the Bills'. That's an advantage the Jaguars should press against a Buffalo team that has big-play potential.
  1. Focus on Lee Evans—He caught 11 passes for 265 yards last Sunday, including two 83-yard bombs. Whatever it takes, stop Evans.
  1. Rush the passer—The Bills are 30th in the league in sacks allowed per pass play.
  1. Beware Losman—The third-year quarterback is beginning to show signs of development and he's currently playing his best football. He's streaky. Don't let him get hot.
  1. Be hostile—Because Bills fans are likely to remember the heartbreaking loss their team suffered at home in the 2004 season-opener, when the Jaguars scored the game-winner on the final play of the game. As it turned out, it was a loss that kept the Bills from making the playoffs.
  1. Don't turn it over—Turnovers are always a formula for disaster. As long as the Jaguars don't turn it over, they should win this game.
  1. Stick with what's working—The running game is going well and George Wrighster has become a go-to receiver. Feed 'em both.
  1. Feel the playoffs coming—Nothing says playoffs more than a late-season game in the northeast.
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