It's not about who you play in the NFL, it's about when you play them.
The Jacksonville Jaguars figure to be catching the Atlanta Falcons at a really good time.
Atlanta has gone from a share of first place in the NFC South to out of the WIldcard picture, as they've dropped six straight games.
It would take a miraculous turn of events for Atlanta to make the postseason and pretty much the same can be said of Jacksonville. Both teams need to win out and then get some help that isn't likely to come.
“One thing is that they play hard," Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles said of the Falcons. "I think they’re still mathematically in it so by no means are they going to quit or lie down for us. They’re going to come out and play as hard as they can and give us everything that they got.”
The Jaguars were in this situation a few weeks ago when then 2-8 San Diego rolled into town. The Chargers were losers of six straight games and "upset" the Jaguars at home.
“They were another team that lost some games, but was a talented team," Bortles said of the Chargers. "Philip Rivers playing quarterback and their defense was talented as well, so it wasn’t a change in mindset at all.”
San Diego has considerably less talent than Atlanta and they both have good, accurate quarterbacks who can shred opposing defenses if they get time in the pocket. The Falcons also have one of the league's best young rushers in Devonta Freeman and perhaps the best talent in the NFL at wide receiver in Julio Jones.
Jaguars head coach Gus Bradley knows just how much of a threat Jones poses.
“Very, very talented obviously, uses his body very well, great speed, judges the ball very well. Just one of the best," Bradley said of the Falcons Pro Bowler.
The last time Jacksonville faced a similar type of talent, Houston's DeAndre Hopkins had a career day by catching 10 passes for 148 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
“Every receiver is different, every receiver’s style is different so I think that’s the big thing," Bradley explained. "You try to look at their styles and they have other good threats too, so it’s not like you can skew things too much towards him. He just has a different style. You’re right; he’s a bigger receiver like some of the ones we’ve faced but just how he uses his body and some of the route combinations that they use him on.”
Despite being instilled as an early favorite, the Jaguars will be trying to win and stay in the AFC South race without one of their best weapons in running back T.J. Yeldon, who injured his knee in Sunday's 51-16 blowout victory over the Indianapolis Colts.
Bradley was asked if Yeldon had a shot to play on Sunday.
“I don’t know. We’ll see. In my mind it’s more day to day. We keep challenging our guys when they have injuries to compete and be surprised if you’re not up and ready to go. Like I said, he’s had a groin injury before where he came back and he played, so he’s recovering quickly. I don’t know what to tell you other than it’s day by day.”
Getting off to a quick start will be imperative for the Jaguars on Sunday. When struggling teams get down early their confidence could waver. The Falcons see themselves as a better team than the Jaguars and if Jacksonville lets them stay in the game it will be very difficult.
“We really don’t talk about that," Jaguars offensive coordinator Greg Olsen said when asked about playing a team that's lost six straight games. "We just talk about every opponent is different and you have to prepare for every opponent kind of the same. You try to get in a winning routine in how you prepare for this week for a home game in December. It may change in how you prepare for a home game in September. There’s a bit more awareness of taking care of your body throughout the week at this time in the season. Try to get them to understand a routine so it doesn’t change so you’re not affected by a team’s won-loss record or where they’re at in the schedule. Just trying to talking about winning routine. Let’s talk about how you prepare best so you can play your best on Sunday. It changes from week to week.”
This is a "stepping stone" or "banana peel" type of game for the Jaguars. The nation is talking about the explosive offense and if they want to legitimize themselves more, they'll need to beat a struggling team when favored. Jobs aren't on the line in this one, but the confidence and hopes of the fan base is.
The Jaguars simply need to take care of business against a team that is struggling and they should defeat.