The Jacksonville Jaguars find themselves in yet another must-win Week 18 game against the Tennessee Titans. Just a season ago, the two teams faced off to decide the AFC South winner, a game which the Jaguars ultimately pulled out for their first division crown since 2017.
While this year’s scenario isn’t exactly the same, the result for the Jags carries the same weight.
For that to happen, a few key pieces will need to step up and perform at a high level this afternoon. Here are the three biggest X-factors for a Jacksonville Jaguars victory.
Let’s get the obvious out of the way to start.
Trevor Lawrence is the unquestioned biggest X-factor in this game today.
After missing his first game as a pro last week, Trevor Lawrence is set to return in Week 18 with hopes of leading the team to a second consecutive season atop the AFC South. For that to happen, Lawrence has got to get back to the level of play that has become expected of him in year three.
In his last three games pre-shoulder injury, Lawrence completed 57% of his passes while throwing just five touchdowns and turning it over eight times. His struggles were a major part of the Jaguars dropping all three of those games, as their once commanding lead over the division has dwindled down to a must-win game today.
With the Steelers win, the Jaguars have just one path to the playoffs: an AFC South title.— Demetrius Harvey (@Demetrius82) January 7, 2024
It's all Jaguars HC Doug Pederson preached to his team this week. No other scenario mattered.
The good news is that if Lawrence can go out there and tough out a victory today, those struggles will be a thing of the past.
I expect a lot of the quick pass game early to get Lawrence back into a rhythm but if the Jags are going to go out there and take this division, the big plays downfield have to be made. Luckily, Lawrence’s favorite targets could be returning from injury as well in Christian Kirk and Zay Jones.
I’m expecting Trevor to answer the bell in the face of adversity this afternoon.
Do you know how good Derrick Henry has to be for him to be entering Week 18 with over 1k yards and 11 touchdowns and those be “down year” numbers?
That’s to say that no matter what Henry has done this season, he’s always a threat to turn back the clock and turn in a big time performance. Especially against the Jaguars, who he has famously wrecked over the course of his career.
In Henry’s last nine contests against Jacksonville, Henry has rushed for an unbelievable 1,138 yards and 13 touchdowns while averaging nearly six yards per carry (5.9).
That’s where Travon Walker comes in.
The former top draft pick has been on a tear rushing the passer lately, but it’s his ability in the run game that could prove to be an X-factor in the outcome of this one.
Walker’s physicality has shown up in previous matchups against Henry, and with a playoff spot on the line, I expect that physical play to continue today.
(the jaguars don't win this specific game with any of the other rookie EDGEs) pic.twitter.com/oCtFVoViou— John Shipley (@_John_Shipley) January 10, 2023
Just as Christian Kirk was activated from off the IR list, Jamal Agnew was added to said list after suffering a fracture in his leg last week.
Losing Agnew’s ability in the return game at such a crucial juncture is significant, which is why his backup, Parker Washington, could play a huge role in the outcome of this game.
The rookie out of Penn State has filled in for Agnew during a stretch already this season and performed admirably in those outings. In four games without Agnew, Washington has returned nine punts for 102 yards for an average of over 11 yards per return. However, he did fumble two of those, with one resulting in a turnover.
Those types of mistakes are to be expected from a rookie but this is not the game for any sort of growing pains for Washington. If he can avoid any mistakes and simply take what’s available, the absence of Agnew shouldn’t play much of a role in the outcome of this one.
Who do you think is the biggest X-factor for the Jags today?