NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The Titans face the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday at Nissan Stadium.
The Titans are coming off a 27-23 loss to the Los Angeles Rams, and the team is now 8-7. The Titans are faced with a win-and-in playoff scenario.
The Jaguars, meanwhile, are coming off a 44-33 loss to the San Francisco 49ers. The Jaguars are 10-5, and they've already secured the AFC South title. The Titans beat the Jaguars 37-16 earlier this season.
This week, I caught up with Ryan O'Halloran, who covers the Jaguars for the Florida Times-Union. You can follow Ryan on Twitter @ryanohalloran, and join over 24,500 others.
Here's how our conversation went…
Wyatt: Hey Ryan. I appreciate you doing this again. This is obviously a huge game for the Titans. The Jaguars, meanwhile, are locked in as the No.3 seed. I saw where Jaguars coach Doug Marrone said yesterday: "Make no mistake about it ... when the players come in tomorrow, we're going to play to win this game. Period." What do you think the team's approach will be for Sunday's game?
O'Halloran: Well, I guess I was a little surprised Doug was so strong in his wording on that, being it's so early in the week. But I think there will be some hidden caveats. I don't think they are going to push anybody who is already injured – so I wouldn't expect to see Marqise Lee with the ankle. And I think the key thing is you're going to see a lot of their veterans start the game, but they may go a little deeper in the rotation at defensive line or tight end, and at receiver they'll play everybody. I think that is the right mindset for the Jaguars to have, and I think a lot of it has to do with just how poorly they played against San Francisco. This is a young team, and you don't want to go in the playoff with a two-game losing streak. So I think a lot about this week is about regaining some of the momentum they had during the previous win streak.
Wyatt: I know Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles has faced intense scrutiny over the course of his career, but he's had a solid year – 3,529 passing yards, with 21 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. The Jaguars are known for their No.3 ranked defense and No.1 ranked rushing attack, but how much credit does Bortles get for the team's turnaround?
O'Halloran: I think Blake deserves credit because he has thrown for over 300 yards a couple of times, and he's posted a 100 passer rating a couple of times, and when you are putting up numbers like that, you are more than a game manager. They have had to throw it a little bit more often in the last month because their running game hasn't been great. But his completion percentage has improved, and up until last week he had not thrown a pick-6, which was a problem earlier in his career. Up until last week he was having a great month of December, and I think it is important for him to get back on track this week.
Wyatt: How surprised are you with the team's overall team success? This is Jacksonville's first AFC South title, and their first division title since the 1999 season.
O'Halloran: Very surprised. I had them going 6-10, and I thought I was being optimistic. There were so many unknowns on the roster, combined with a new coaching staff. But their defense jelled together a lot quicker than I thought they would – they played well right away. And the offensive line has held up in pass protection. And their quarterback has been better than anticipated. So they've found the perfect storm a little bit. After starting 3-3 they got hot, they lost a game, and then they got hot again. They seem to be a well-rounded team, with defense, takeaways and sacks, the offense with the run game, and special teams.
Wyatt: I want to ask you about Jaguars cornerback Jalen Ramsey, who grew up in the Nashville area and played at Brentwood Academy. How has he been in Year 2?
O'Halloran: Ramsey is a fantastic player. He can cover inside, he can cover outside, and about a month into the season the Jaguars coaches made the decision to just let him go with the other team's best receiver the majority of the time. So they put him on A.J. Green, they put him on Doug Baldwin, they had him on Marquise Goodwin last week in San Francisco. He's faced T.Y. Hilton of Indianapolis. And he's been up to the task. And I think he rises to that challenge because he wants the ball thrown his way. He wants to face the best each week. He is a Pro Bowl starter, and that is very much deserved.
Wyatt: So who has been the MVP of this relentless defense?
O'Halloran: I'll go with (defensive end) Calais Campbell because of the impact he's made. He leads the team in sacks (14.5), and is in the top two or three in the league in sacks, and he is a very durable player. He has played well against the run, and he has brought a lot off the field. He has brought a winning mentality from Arizona to here, and I think that has helped the locker room a lot.
Wyatt: OK, last thing here. These two teams go way back. There's a rivalry that dates back to 1999, when the Titans beat the Jaguars three times and went to the Super Bowl. The Titans beat the Jaguars down there in Week 2 of this season, after the Jaguars ended Tennessee's playoff hopes last year with a win in Week 16. How much do you think the Jaguars would love to end Tennessee's season win a win on Sunday?
O'Halloran: Well, I haven't heard that talk yet. But if I'm a Jaguar person, I don't want to face a team two straight weeks regardless of who they are, especially if that team has won the week before. So if you want to eliminate a division rival, maybe it is an added bonus. But what's most important for the Jaguars this week: Can they put together a solid game on Sunday that they can go into the playoffs not having to address a lot of issues and they feel like everything else is ready to go.
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