The Jaguars will likely take care of the what-ifs on Sunday, as they are 13 point favorites over the cross-country traveling Raiders. Assuming that the Jaguars indeed go on to qualify for the "tournament," they will travel to either San Diego, Pittsburgh, or Cleveland. We are now going to preview each potential match-up and try to ascertain which city would be the most beneficial for the Jaguars to travel to advance for the first time in eight years.
A. San Diego- The Jaguars faced the Chargers just five weeks ago, at home in Jacksonville, and dominated San Diego in a 24-17 victory, that was not nearly as close of a game as the score reflected. Although the Jaguars defeated L.T. and the Chargers soundly, this time they would have to travel across the country and play in a very difficult stadium, a place in which the Jaguars have never tasted victory. As well as the long flight, the Jaguars would have to face a team that is peaking right now, and has won four straight since the loss in Jacksonville. In those four games, San Diego has outscored their opponents by total of 130-55.
B. Pittsburgh- The Jaguars just traveled to Pittsburgh last week and beat up the physical Steelers on their home field, in the snowy weather, at their game. Despite the Jaguars nearly outgaining the Steelers by a 2:1 margin, they found themselves in a tie game with six minutes left, thanks to an unforced error, and some big throws by Ben Roethlisberger. Although the Jaguars were physically dominant last week, it's very difficult to beat a team twice at their stadium in less than a month.
C. Cleveland- This is the only team out of the three that the Jaguars haven't faced this season. Cleveland currently has a 9-5 record, and are tied for first place in the AFC North. The Browns have a fantastic offense led by this season's biggest surprise at quarterback, Derek Anderson. Braylon Edwards, Kellen Winslow, and Joe Jurevicious give Anderson some great targets, and Jamal Lewis is having a fine season rushing. The Browns have a Pro Bowl return man in Josh Cribbs, and their offensive line is more than solid. Where the Browns have issues is on the other side of the ball, as their defense is ranked dead last overall, and 28th against the run. That's not a recipe for extended play in January.
D. None of the above- The Jaguars lose their final two games and the teams that need to win to take their place... well, do. Seeing that there is a 2.2% chance of this, it's possible, but not probable.
The next best match-up for the Jaguars would be with San Diego (A). The Chargers are as talented as any team in the NFL, as referenced by their eight Pro Bowl selections, but they have a quarterback with an average to below average arm, that has never won a playoff game. The Chargers have a below average coach in Norv Turner, and a history of choking in big games, as they haven't won a playoff game in nearly 13 years, despite having some very talented teams.
The worst match-up of the three for the Jaguars would be a return trip to Pittsburgh (B). Although the Steelers were manhandled, they have a quarterback in Ben Roethlisberger that has a flare for the dramatic, and has a 5-1 career playoff record including a Super Bowl ring. The Thursday night loss of Willie Parker would make the matchup a little more favorable for the Jaguars, but the Steelers still don't look like a team that will go one and out in the playoffs.
The playoff picture may clear up a little over the next few days, as the Steelers would clinch their division with a Cleveland loss. Pittsburgh finishes with Baltimore at home, a game which will likely be an easy victory. Cleveland finishes by traveling to Cincinnati, before returning home against the San Francisco 49ers. San Diego has already clinched the AFC West, and closes with Denver at home, before traveling up to Oakland.
Charlie Bernstein is the Editor-in-Chief of JagNation.com, and a regular syndicated contributor to FoxSports.com, Sirius NFL Radio, MySpace Sports and Sportsillustated.com. Charlie is also a member of the Pro Football Writers Association, and is a columnist for the New Smyrna Observer. Feel free to contact him -HERE- with questions or comments.
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