By Matt Citak
The Jaguars enter Week 17 in unfamiliar territory. Jacksonville has already clinched the AFC South and will be heading to the postseason for the first time since 2007. Led by the surprisingly strong play of Blake Bortles, the Jaguars are 10-5 and will enter the postseason as the AFC’s No. 3 seed, guaranteeing them at least one home playoff game. Over the last four games, Bortles has thrown for 1,285 yards, nine touchdowns, and three interceptions. All three picks came in Jacksonville’s Week 16 loss to the San Francisco 49ers, and were Bortles’ first turnovers since an interception in Week 12.
Despite Jimmy Garoppolo throwing for 242 yards and two touchdowns against them last week, the Jaguars still boast the league’s top-ranked pass defense. Jacksonville is surrendering a mere 173.5 passing yards per game, 20 yards fewer than the next-best pass defense, and have the second-most interceptions in the NFL, trailing only the Ravens by one. Led by cornerbacks Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye and safety Barry Church, Jacksonville is allowing opposing quarterbacks to complete just 56.8 percent of their passes, which is the second-lowest mark in the league. Aiding the stellar play of the Jaguars’ secondary is the team’s pass rush, which has collected a league-high 52 sacks through 15 games.
While the Jaguars have already sealed their postseason spot, the same cannot be said about their AFC South rivals. The Tennessee Titans have lost three in a row and are fighting for their playoff lives. The Titans currently sit at 8-7 and hold the AFC’s second Wild Card spot. However, a loss to the Jaguars at home in Week 17 would likely eliminate the Titans from playoff contention, as both the Los Angeles Chargers (8-7) and Buffalo Bills (8-7) have easy match-ups in their regular season finales. But with the game holding no significance for the Jaguars, the Titans may get lucky and see a lot of Jacksonville’s backups on Sunday.
If Tennessee wants to have any chance at beating the Jaguars this weekend, they will need improved play from quarterback Marcus Mariota. The third-year quarterback out of Oregon has been a big disappointment in 2017, throwing for 3,098 yards and just 12 touchdowns to go along with 15 interceptions. Mariota has only tossed multiple touchdowns in one of the last seven games, while tossing more than one interception in three games during the same span. During Tennessee’s 23-27 loss to the Los Angeles Rams in Week 16, Mariota completed only 56.4 percent of his passes for 275 yards, no touchdowns, and one interception. He added 24 yards on the ground, which was his highest rushing total since Week 10.
THE NFL TODAY analyst Boomer Esiason weighed in on this week’s Jaguars-Titans matchup, as well as other upcoming NFL ON CBS action in Week 17. THE NFL TODAY with Boomer, James Brown, Phil Simms, Bill Cowher and Nate Burleson airs Sunday at 12:00 PM ET on CBS.
Jacksonville Jaguars vs. Tennessee Titans – 4:25 PM ET Sunday – CBS
CBS Local Sports: How does the Jaguars’ defense get back on track after allowing almost 370 total yards of offense to Jimmy Garoppolo and the 49ers last week?
Boomer Esiason: The first thing is that Doug Marrone is not going to take anybody off the field. In other words, he wants to play to win the game, and that comes right down from Tom Coughlin in the front office. Last week was a little bit of a wake-up call. A.J. Bouye, Jacksonville’s cornerback, basically said that maybe sometimes you need to lose a game. Last week’s loss was a little bit stunning to say the least. Saying all of that, they want to go on the road and finish the season strong, even though [the game] doesn’t mean anything to them in regards to seeding. They’re going to try to win the football game. They do not want to take their foot off the pedal. They do not want to let their young team think that cruising into the playoffs is fine. I’m sure they are grinding them down there and working them hard in practice. I suspect they will give a great effort against a less-than-stellar offense, led by Marcus Mariota down there in Tennessee. Everything is on the line for Tennessee. If they lose, they’re out. And I believe they will lose this game. The Jaguars have something to prove here in this game, and really want to finish out the regular season strong.
CBS Local Sports: Mariota is enduring the worst season of his three-year NFL career in 2017. How can he put his season struggles behind him on Sunday against one of the best defenses in the league, to help lead Tennessee to its first playoff appearance since 2008?
Boomer Esiason: This is not going to be an easy game, no matter what. I wish the Titans didn’t have to play against a Jacksonville defense of this sort, because I do like Marcus Mariota and Mike Mularkey. They have a good, solid football team, but they have not played great. They are more of a .500 team than anything else, and that’s why it’s been such a struggle all season. From an offensive standpoint, when you take a look at the way they have played their last three games, it’s been almost hard for them to score. They have lost three in a row going into this week’s game, and this one is not going to be easy. They lost to the Cardinals, 49ers, and the Rams, and now have to play against the No. 1 defense in football, even though the Jaguars didn’t look like it last week. It’s going to be an extremely difficult task. Marcus Mariota may not be able to get his game back on track. This is more about next year, and what the future holds for the coaching staff in Tennessee.
Cincinnati Bengals vs. Baltimore Ravens – 4:25 PM ET Sunday – CBS
CBS Local Sports: Joe Flacco seems to step up his game each year once the calendar flips to December. How will he continue his strong late-season play against a stingy Bengals pass defense on Sunday?
Boomer Esiason: The one thing we saw last week is that the Bengals have not given up on Marvin Lewis. This may be Lewis’ last game as the head coach of the Bengals — 95 percent think that is going to be the case. So they will play hard for him. The Bengals always seem to play well. A.J. Green always seems to play well against the Ravens. Here’s the thing about the Ravens. They will win this game, but they are not that serious of a threat in the AFC, simply because of the fact that the teams they have beaten over the last five or six weeks are all paper tigers. They’ve faced a bunch of backup quarterbacks, teams that have been hurt, and teams that have not been playing well. Meanwhile the Ravens have been getting healthier as the season has gone on. They are more a product of their schedule than anything else. They should win this game, but it will be tight. It’ll be a 24-20-type game. The offense for the Ravens does not put up a lot of big plays. The Ravens will get the fifth seed, and will have to go on the road to the fourth seed, Kansas City, in the first round of the playoffs. And the Bengals will be looking for a new coach.
Oakland Raiders vs. Los Angeles Chargers – 4:25 PM ET Sunday – CBS
CBS Local Sports: After starting the year 0-4, Philip Rivers has led the Chargers on an improbable run back into the playoff hunt. They need a win and some help, but if Los Angeles makes the postseason, could you see this Chargers team causing trouble for some of AFC’s division champions?
Boomer Esiason: They lost games early in the season because of their kicking game and their field goal kicker. They were in every single game that they played in. What was really disappointing was their performance on the road at Kansas City. That was a big problem. They’re going to win this game against the Raiders, even though Oakland’s defense has been a lot better since John Pagano took over as defensive coordinator. The Chargers will get the sixth seed because the Jaguars will beat the Tennessee Titans. So we will see the LA Chargers on the road at the Jaguars in the first round of the AFC playoffs, if things hold to the way I see them. It’s been quite the up-and-down season for the Chargers, but they’re going to finish it off strong here and be celebrating come Sunday as they get into the playoffs.
Matt Citak is a producer for CBS Local Sports and a proud Vanderbilt alum. Follow him on Twitter or send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.