BROADCAST: Potentially bad news here for the #DraftOrder folks — James Lofton and Andrew Catalon are on the CBS call.
The @Jaguars' Week 17 matchup at Houston will remain at 1 p.m. on CBS (@ActionNewsJax).@AndrewCatalon (p-by-p) & @Lofton80 (analysis) on the call for the second straight week. They'll also be joined by @jayfeely, who will report from the sidelines.— Tad Dickman (@TDickman89) December 24, 2018
REFEREE: Pete Morelli on the whistle for Sunday.
UNIFORM WATCH: White tops, black trousers. Again.
The Texans won’t be resting starters on Sunday as they are fighting for not only the AFC South division crown, which isn’t 100 percent wrapped up yet, but a potential first round bye as the number two seed in the playoff order. Heck, they even have a slight chance of the AFC number one overall seed and home-field throughout the playoffs if the they win, the Kansas City Chiefs lose, the Los Angeles Chargers lose, the New England Patriots lose, and if the Texans get the strength of victory tiebreaker over the Chiefs.
Sound confusing? It is, kind of, but you would have to believe that the Jaguars would love to throw an enormous wrench into the AFC South by snagging one final win and heading into the offseason with the momentum of back-to-back wins.
Offensively, everything runs through Deshaun Watson. Watson lost his reliable veteran receiver Demaryius Thomas last week to a ruptured Achilles but he still has Deandre Hopkins at his disposal and potentially impressive-looking rookie Keke Coutee, who has been working through a hamstring injury the past several weeks. The Texans offensive line has been their biggest weakness this season, allowing a league-high 56 sacks on the year.
The Jaguars aren’t too far behind with 50, but the difference is the Texans basically have their entire starting unit from week one available. Upgrading the tackle positions will be an enormous priority for the Texans this offseason, as Julién Davenport and Kendall Lamm have been low-quality starters.
With both Calais Campbell (nine) and Yannick Ngakoue (eight) within spitting distance of double-digit sacks, hopefully both players can hit that accomplishment this week. The run game could see a heavy dose of power back D’Onta Foreman, who has fresh legs after missing the majority of the 2018 season rehabbing from an Achilles injury that happened in 2017. Despite practicing fully on Thursday, Lamar Miller is banged up, so Foreman should get the majority of carries to preserve Miller for their playoff run. As Derrick Henry has shown, the Jaguars have shown an inability to tackle bigger, more physical backs between the tackles.
Defensively, the Texans lost three players just last week in linebacker Brian Peters (IR) and defensive backs Kareem Jackson (knee) and Johnathan Joseph (neck). Jackson and Joseph were limited in practice, and they weren’t the only defensive starters who are walking into this match up wounded, as you see the Thursday injury report below. Rest assured that if a Texans player can play, they will this week with so much on the line in regards to their playoff outlook. Similar to the Jaguars, the Texans defensive line should have their way with the Jags’ makeshift offensive line, so expect Blake to rely on his legs early and often as he runs for his life. The Texans are down to Shareece Wright, Aaron Colvin and Johnson Bademosi at the cornerback spots if Joseph and Jackson can’t go, so in theory, the Jaguars wide receivers have a favorable match up this week were it not for the quarterback ineptitude. At safety, rookie Justin Reid is having a remarkable season, and Tyrann Mathieu and Andre Hal have given the Texans a strong rotation at a position they’ve traditionally struggled at.
Full Texans injury report:
One. Last. Sail.
Scrape the barnacles off the BOAT, as Bortles will have one final hoorah as a starter in a Jaguars uniform. Marrone feels his mobility gives them the best chance to win, and he’s probably right, but is that what we want? Hopefully he doesn’t go all #BecauseJaguars and throw for 350 yards and 5 touchdowns, thus giving the front office pause about moving on in the offseason. To be frank, it does seem that the decision to move on from Bortles in 2019 has been set in stone, but you really can’t put anything past this team anymore.
If this is the case, I do hope Bortles has a nice farewell game and potentially increases his next contract by a million or so to add to the contract offsets that could save the Jaguars more cap room next season.
Another major storyline is draft position. For those hoping to secure a franchise quarterback through the draft, as AP’s Mark Long reported is the plan this offseason, they really need to acquire the highest positioning possible.
AP's Mark Long reports the Jaguars "are expected to select a quarterback early in the draft and sign a veteran starter to start until the rookie is ready." Sounds logical but then logic doesn't seem to often fit in Jaguars QB decisions.— Vito Stellino (@vitostellino) December 26, 2018
Yes, they will likely have to trade up wherever they end up (anywhere as high as No. 5 or as low as No. 13), but trading up from a couple spots versus several spots could spell a difference of a 2020 first rounder and maybe even more assets. If they are indeed planning on taking a young rookie quarterback like Dwayne Haskins Jr., they need to hold on to as many draft picks as possible so they can surround him with talent to ensure his success, so the less they need to trade, the better. With this week’s news that Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert will be returning to Eugene for his senior season, Jaguars fans should be cheering for the Detroit Lions, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, New York Giants, and Buffalo Bills to win their games this week.
Lastly, the saga of Leonard Fournette continues. Already having missed the crux of the 2018 season with a hamstring injury, Fournette is very questionable to play on Sunday with a foot/ankle issue that has kept him out of practice this week and he is slowly starting to wear out his welcome in Jacksonville.
The second-year player and offensive team captain has recently disclosed to media that he “could be in better shape,” and while I do think that his comments were blown slightly out of proportion, there is no doubt this offseason will be crucial for Fournette to re-commit to being a professional. Fournette needs to prove he loves football again and that he wants to be great. This isn’t LSU and he’s not above the game. He can’t get away with pure talent and being bigger and stronger than everyone else in the NFL. Hopefully Fournette hires a nutritionist, personal trainer, and gets with Fred Taylor, who faced similar criticisms early in his Jaguars career, so that he can turn it around and become the player we all hoped for.
Right now, he is looking a lot more like Trent Richardson than he is Ezekiel Elliott.
That’s really it for storylines. With a season as disappointing as 2018 was for the Jaguars, let’s get this game over with, avoid major injuries, and go full throttle into offseason mode.
Jalen Ramsey vs. Deandre Hopkins
Our favorite matchup of the year, Ramsey recently labeled Hopkins and Odell Beckham Jr. as “1a and 1b” when it comes to the best receivers in the NFL. Watching both Ramsey and Hopkins is truly seeing the pinnacles of their positions squaring off against each other and is worth the price of admission alone. Hopkins has been battling a nagging ankle injury but should be fine for Sunday.
Yannick Ngakoue vs. Julien Davenport
Ngakoue needs two sacks to get to consecutive double-digit sack seasons, and I’m wagering he gets them against Davenport. Ngakoue may be used more as a stand up linebacker on delayed rushes this week against the mobile Watson, and Ngakoue may be the beneficiary of some panic scrambles this week. Davenport has allowed over 60 pressures on 581 pass block snaps this year and had eight (!!!) pressures allowed just last week, so he’s not exactly getting better as the season goes along.
Calais Campbell vs. Kendall Lamm
It’s really a travesty that Calais Campbell wasn’t named to the Pro Bowl along with Jalen Ramsey. Campbell is PFF’s highest-rated edge defender in the NFL this season and is low-key having just as good a season (especially as a run defender) that yielded first-team all pro honors last year. Protect Calais at all costs, Jaguars.
Calais Campbell is the highest graded edge defender in the NFL. pic.twitter.com/BkfEz4WXSZ— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) December 26, 2018
Ereck Flowers vs. Jadeveon Clowney
The Ereck Flowers future Jaguars swing tackle audition continues, and it’s going to get real this week with Jadeveon Clowney lining up across from him. Clowney has had an exceptional season in a contract year and is looking at some big money in free agency this offseason. Opposite Flowers, former swing tackle Josh Wells is shockingly looking doubtful to play after suffering a concussion in his first game being activated from IR last week, which means we may see Corey Robinson (?) or Patrick Omameh at right tackle. Omameh stepped in last week with Robinson inactive and Chris Reed slid in at left guard, but wow this is a lot of shuffling and Sunday will be bad.
Quenton Meeks vs. Vyncint Smith
Who? A.J. Bouye was a “did not participate” in practice all week with a toe injury, which could spell good news for Quenton Meeks stans. With Demaryius Thomas and Will Fuller on injured reserve, that means he will be covering another undrafted free agent in Vyncint Smith from Limestone College. Smith saw his first meaningful stats of the season last week and scored his first career NFL touchdown, so this will be an intriguing match up to keep an eye on this week.
Blake Bortles vs. Justin Reid
Reid has had a stellar rookie season and is hungry to bounce back after a poor collective showing from the Texans secondary last week. Reid has three interceptions on the season and will be looking to add another off the hand of Blake Bortles this week. Bortles will likely be throwing on the move a lot on Sunday and has to be extremely aware of where Reid is on the field if Scott Milanovich decides to move the pocket.
Out of my hope to maintain good draft positioning, I’m going with the Texans winning at home. With that being said, why do I have a terrible feeling in the pit of my stomach that Blake is going to mess around and have a wild game?
"It was like holy shit, I miss this," #Jaguars QB Blake Bortles said. "I wanted to play. I wanted to get another opportunity. ... It just kind of feels like you're back where you belong." https://t.co/eDljrFNpne— Phillip Heilman (@phillip_heilman) December 24, 2018
Best case scenario is the Jaguars play the Texans close, but it’s up to Bortles to lead a two-minute drive for a win and he comes up short (again). It’s not because I don’t like Blake, it’s because I don’t want to go through the next four months debating whether the Jaguars should just keep him around as the bridge. It’s been five years. Move on.
Texans win 27-20.