At 0-8, the season was pretty much over. Las Vegas stopped posting odds for the Jaguars to win the Super Bowl, and if they could, they would probably be at their highest (even higher than a 16 seed winning it all in March Madness) ever. Yet, now the Jaguars sit at 3-9, and while the playoffs are a slim possibility, they are definitely still a possibility with the team playing better. Jacksonville has a critical game against Houston this Thursday night, and a win for the Jaguars would do a few things. Number one, unless the Jaguars traded up, it would most likely take them out of contention for Teddy Bridgewater. Number two, the Jaguars would be on a three game winning streak for the first time since 2010, and would win in three consecutive weeks for the first time since 2009. Number three, the Jaguars would win their first ever game on Thursday night (the Jaguars have never before won a game played on Thursday night, with their last loss being a blowout loss to the Colts last year), and number four, the Jaguars would still keep their playoff hopes alive.
Keep in mind that the AFC is a very weak conference this year, and that the sixth seed right now is the Baltimore Ravens at 6-6. While the top five seeds are pretty much confirmed (Denver, Kansas City, Indianapolis, New England and Cincinnati, in no particular order), the sixth seed is up in the air between a plethora of teams, and the Jaguars are surprisingly one of them. Let's just put this in perspective- a team whose starting quarterback has not thrown a touchdown pass since the World Series started is only a game out of the sixth spot (the New York Jets). If the Jaguars were in the NFC, where there's a strong chance that Arizona could wind up with 10 wins and still miss the playoffs, then the season would be done and it'd be time to rebuild for next year. But, in the AFC? There's still that glimmer of hope and that incredible possibility.
Crazier things have happened in the NFL before. Remember the 2008 NFL season, when the San Diego Chargers were 4-8 and the Denver Broncos were 8-4 with 4 games remaining in the season? San Diego ended up winning the division by winning out and by Denver losing out. Heck, at one point, the New York Giants were 0-6, and they were a Tony Romo game-winning drive away from still being in the race for the NFC East division crown. Of course, there's always a possibility that the Jaguars make the playoffs, as technically, they are not mathematically eliminated. But, is this possibility an actual possibility, or just some fantasy to be forgotten about? Using the playoff machine on ESPN, I've devised a system of scenarios where the Jaguars can make the playoffs. What has to happen for Jacksonville to make it into the playoffs and to pull off one of the greatest Cinderella stories of all time? Let's have a look...
Let's first start with the obvious- the Jaguars must win out. If the Jaguars lose one game for the rest of the season, then their playoff hopes are done and then, they are pretty much mathematically eliminated. It obviously puts the Jaguars in a tough spot, but that's what happens at this point when you start the season with an 0-8 record. Now, can the Jaguars win out? In 2009, Jacksonville's playoff hopes were riding on victories against Indianapolis and New England in back-to-back weeks, and there's no wonder why the Jaguars didn't make the playoffs that year (the final stretch was brutal). This is not like that by any means, and it's nothing like the first half of the season. The second half of the season, especially the final quarter of the year, is an easy and winnable schedule. Jacksonville plays Houston, Buffalo and Tennessee at home, and then closes the season on the road at Indianapolis. Considering the fact that Buffalo is playing poorly right now (they've lost 4 of their last 5 games), and considering the fact that the Jaguars have beaten Houston and Tennessee earlier in the season, those 3 games are winnable. As for the game against Indianapolis, the Colts are most likely going to play their backups, because they'll clinch the division and will not have a first round bye, so they'll need the extra week of rest. And if the Colts are in a position to determine who they want as the sixth seed (as in, their play can control their opponent), would they rather play the defending Super Bowl champions in the playoffs, or the team that they destroyed 37-3 earlier in the year? Jacksonville winning out needs to happen for the Jaguars to make the playoffs, and it very well could happen.
Of course, it's not that easy. The Jaguars are not even remotely close to having control of their own destiny, and they've got to hope for a lot from the other teams ahead of them. Mainly, the Jaguars have to worry about Baltimore, who is 6-6 right now and needs to finish with no better than a 7-9 record to allow the Jaguars to have a shot at the playoffs. Here's the bad news- Baltimore plays Minnesota this week, and that should be a lock for the Ravens, especially because the game is being played in Baltimore. The good news? The Ravens can lose their next 3 games. After the supposed-cupcake game against Minnesota (and that might be close, because the Ravens lost to the Bears, and the Bears played 2 close games while splitting the series against the Vikings), the Ravens have games on the road at Detroit and Cincinnati, and in between that, a home game against New England. All three of those games are games that the Ravens can lose, so it's not like the Ravens can just breeze through the final part of their schedule. Consider this as well- last season, the Ravens went 1-4 in the final month of the season, so they didn't exactly close off strong. Hopefully for the Jaguars, that holds true this year.
Also sitting right now at 6-6 is Miami, and much like Baltimore, they've got to finish with no better than a 7-9 record. This means that the Dolphins can win no more than 1 game for the remainder of the season (keep in mind that the Jaguars, if they win out, would have 7 wins within the AFC, so they would own the tiebreaker over the majority of the teams). As for the Dolphins, this is where it gets tricky. The Dolphins aren't exactly a good team, but unlike Baltimore, the Dolphins have a somewhat easy and definitely manageable schedule from this point on in the season. Miami has a game on the road against Pittsburgh, at home against New England, on the road at Buffalo, and at home against the New York Jets. If Geno Smith is starting in week 17 and if the Dolphins play defensively like they did against the Jets this past week, then that's an automatic win. This means that if the Dolphins win 1 of their next 3 games, they'll essentially eliminate the Jaguars from playoff contention. The game against Pittsburgh is definitely gives Miami the possibility of a loss (Pittsburgh is 3-2 at home, and has not lost a home game since week 3), the game against New England should be a loss, and remember that the Dolphins lost to the Bills earlier in the year by a final score of 23-21. Bottom line? It's possible that Miami could finish 7-9 and help the Jaguars out.
Every other team from this point on has a losing record right now, and yet, they're still in contention. This just shows how weak the AFC is this year, and how there definitely is a possibility for all of these teams to make it. Tennessee needs to go 2-2 or worse for the Jaguars to make it to the playoffs, but I wouldn't worry about Tennessee. The Titans play the Jaguars in week 16, and by default, if the Jaguars are going to make the playoffs, then they'll need to beat Tennessee and win out, so there's one loss right there. On top of that, the Titans play the Broncos this week on the road in Denver, so that should be another loss. In addition, the Titans also play Arizona, who is playing for a lot and who currently has a winning record in the wild, wild NFC West. Translation: don't worry about the Titans. They pose no threat whatsoever to the Jaguars missing the playoffs.
Much like the Titans, the Jets can finish with no better than a 7-9 record. Considering their recent form, and the fact that Geno Smith might be the worst quarterback in the league right now and is looking more and more like a bust with each passing day, I wouldn't worry about the Jets preventing the Jaguars from making the playoffs by having a winning record in the last stretch of the season. The Jets play the following teams: Oakland, Carolina, Cleveland and Miami, and at least two of those games (Carolina, who is on a winning streak right now of 8 straight games, and who looks like one of the top 5 teams in the NFL at the moment, and Miami, who clobbered the Jets last week), are projected to be losses, if not, more. In addition, the Jets have never won 2 in a row this season, so that means that unless they pull together a winning streak, the best that the Jets can finish is 7-9. So, I wouldn't worry whatsoever about the Jets making the playoffs over the Jags. They don't really pose much of a threat.
It's the same thing with Pittsburgh- they cannot finish with a record better than 7-9. Pittsburgh is playing much better football at the moment than Tennessee and the Jets, so there definitely is a chance that the Steelers do go 3-1 from this point on and finish with a better record than the Jaguars. However, that being said, it's probably not going to happen. The Steelers play Miami this week, then play Cincinnati, Green Bay and Cleveland. Is this a tough schedule by any means? Absolutely not. But, there are definitely spots for losses along the way, primarily against Cincinnati (that game could be the game that clinches the AFC North for the Bengals) and Green Bay (a road game that is a rematch of Super Bowl XLV and will be tough if Aaron Rodgers plays). If Aaron Rodgers does not play, then of the teams with just 5 wins, Pittsburgh probably poses the greatest threat to the Jacksonville's playoff chances. Unlike Tennessee and the Jets, where you could just write them off as non-factors in the hunt, I'm not writing off Pittsburgh, especially with a veteran head coach in Mike Tomlin and a veteran quarterback in Ben Roethlisberger. Don't be surprised if Tomlin and the Steelers step onto the field and ruin Jacksonville's playoff hopes (pun intended), because they've got the schedule to do so. But, it's not a lock.
And finally, for the teams with 5 wins, the San Diego Chargers cannot finish with a better record than 7-9, so they cannot win 3 of their final 4 games. The Chargers have not been playing well lately, as they have lost 4 of their last 5 games coming out of the bye week. Note that the 7-9 record is if multiple teams are tied for the sixth spot; if the Jaguars and Chargers are the only two teams tied (which would require some madness involving a few ties along the way with other teams in the running), then the Chargers would take the spot from the Jaguars based off of head-to-head record (remember that the Chargers destroyed the Jaguars in week 7). San Diego doesn't have an easy schedule the rest of the way, though. The Chargers have games against the Giants, Broncos, Raiders and Chiefs, and all four of those games pose threats to San Diego's playoff run. New York has won 5 of their last 6 games, Oakland beat San Diego last time out in the game that started at midnight, and the Broncos and Chiefs are both going to make the playoffs. Translation: don't worry about San Diego having a better record and making the playoffs, because it's probably not going to happen.
Oakland is where things get a bit interesting. They are the biggest threat out of the 4 win teams, because the Raiders only have to win 3 of their next 4 games instead of having to sweep, since Oakland owns the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Jaguars and they would have 7 conference wins (like the Jaguars) if they win 3 of their next 4. But, the schedule for the Raiders from this point on is still difficult, and it is by no means easy. Oakland plays the Jets, the Chiefs, the Chargers and the Broncos in the next 4 weeks, and while the game against the Jets should be a victory for Oakland (it's actually better for the Jaguars in the playoff hunt if the Raiders defeat the Jets so that both teams wind up with 5 wins), the other 3 are up in the air and, if anything, go against Oakland. The game against Kansas City should be a loss for Oakland, the game against San Diego is a toss-up (although it's better if Oakland wins that), and the game against Denver should be a loss for Oakland if the Broncos play their starters (and most likely, they will, because it's dangerous to rest guys for 2 weeks in a row). The best case scenario for the Jaguars regarding Oakland is that the Raiders defeat the Jets and Chargers, but lose to the Chiefs and Broncos, and wind up with 6 wins. If that happens, then Jacksonville is in good shape.
Moving onto the team that the Jaguars just defeated this past Sunday, the Browns cannot sweep from this point on. If the Browns lose even one game of their next four, then they cannot be a threat to Jacksonville's playoff run. Good news- the Browns play the Patriots in New England this week, so let's just push the Browns to the side, because they are insignificant in Jacksonville's playoff hunt. Cleveland has not won a game this season where Brandon Weeden was the starting quarterback, and now, in order for the Browns to spoil the playoff hopes of the Jaguars, they need to win 4 straight. Translation: I wouldn't worry about this 4 win team. Oakland is the 4 win team to worry about, not Cleveland or Buffalo.
Since Houston is mathematically eliminated from the playoffs at this point, the final 4 win team that's going to be discussed is Buffalo. The Bills should be completely disregarded, because they do not impact Jacksonville's chances of making the playoffs. Buffalo cannot win all of their games, but this is a moot point, because the Jaguars play the Bills in week 15. By default, the Jaguars have to win out to make the playoffs, so for the Jaguars to make the playoffs and win out, they'll have to defeat the Bills. Even if Buffalo wins their other 3 games (Tampa Bay, Miami, New England), the best that they will finish is 7-9, and the Jaguars would own the tiebreaker. Don't worry about the Bills in the grand scheme of things.
Of course, if the Jaguars cannot win this Thursday night against the Texans, then this is all a moot point and it means absolutely nothing. But, it is still amazing that the 3-9 Jaguars who once started the season off winless have a realistic shot at making the playoffs if they are able to win out. We're entering the final quarter of the season, and in terms of getting better, the Jaguars are getting better. In terms of finding wins, the Jaguars are finding wins. And, in terms of possibly making the playoffs... it could happen. The odds are slim, but it's not impossible.