Can they really do it? Here’s the Jaguars’ path to the playoffs

NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE - DECEMBER 11: Ryan Tannehill #17 of the Tennessee Titans and Trevor Lawrence #16 of the Jacksonville Jaguars hug after the game at Nissan Stadium on December 11, 2022 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images) (Wesley Hitt 501-258-0920, 2022 Getty Images)

JACKSONVLLE, Fla. – I think we’re going to be looking back on last Sunday’s game against the Titans as a game that is even more important for the long-term future of the Jaguars than it is for the short-term success. Here’s why;

First, I think we’ll be referring back to this win as the day the division changed.

Whether the Jaguars win the AFC South this season or not, it’s pretty clear the trajectories of the two teams are heading in much different directions. The Titans fired their general manager last week. Derrick Henry had 100 yards in the first half, but they still lost. And how much more does Ryan Tannehill have in the tank? They drafted Malik Willis out of Liberty this past April but he has played sparingly, throwing only 34 passes this year while making two starts in place of Tannehill.

To me, this game was a passing of the torch event, even if the division title banner doesn’t come to Jacksonville this year. More on that in a moment.

If you look back on the Jaguars’ history, you can see when the AFC Central turned. It wasn’t really in 1996 when the Jags overcame a 4-7 record to make the playoffs. It was the following year when the Jaguars beat the Steelers on Monday night. You remember the blocked field goal, the return by Chris Hudson and the Bill Cowher feigned punch on the sideline. That’s when the Jaguars proved that they were the team to beat in the AFC Central. They won the division that year and the next two before the salary cap caught up with them.

When you beat the champions the way the Jaguars did on Sunday, you send a huge message to the entire division.

Now, let’s talk about the short term. The win by the Jaguars over the Titans kept a path to the playoffs alive for the Jaguars. Here’s how the Jaguars can make it into the postseason.

First, winning out would be great, but it’s not essential. If the Jaguars beat the Cowboys, Texans and Jets they would get to 8-8 on the season with the Titans coming to Jacksonville for the regular season finale.

Tennesse faces a cross-country trip to play the Chargers this week, then back-to-back home games against the Texas teams, Houston and Dallas. If the Titans lose two of those three, then the Jaguars would play a single game for the division title and a spot in the playoffs. But the Jaguars don’t even really need to win all of their remaining games. Here’s why;

As a result of the win in Nashville, the Jaguars can sweep the Titans, which is the first tiebreaker. So even if the Jaguars lose one of their next three against the Cowboys, Jets and Texans, they can still head to a game against the Titans at 7-9 on the season. If that happens, and the Titans are 8-8 heading into the final week, the Jaguars could earn the division title and a playoff spot with a win because in that case, both teams would be 8-9, but the Jaguars would own the tiebreaker over Tennessee.

While a losing record isn’t something to write home about, the way the Jaguars would have finished the season and still made the playoffs, it would be a major step forward in Doug Pederson’s first year and it would give Trevor Lawrence some valuable postseason experience, regardless of the outcome.