Jacksonville Travels West, Seeking AFC South Title

With A Win At San Francisco, The Jacksonville Jaguars Can Secure It’s First Home Playoff Game Since 1999: What To Watch

The Dolphins offensive line works to protect Dan Marino during the final game of the legendary quarterback’s career, a 62 to 7 Playoff loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars in Alltell Stadium, Jacksonville, FL, January 15, 2000. (Photo by Brian Cleary/www.bcpix.com)

Santa Clara, CA — Last week the Jaguars clinched its first playoff berth since 2007, due to their 45-7 victory over the Houston Texans. As the season grows, each game presents more opportunities for Jacksonville (10-4).

This week’s challenge, the upstart San Francisco 49ers (4-10). 49ers’ quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo has played every bit as well as Jags’ quarterback Blake Bortles over the last three weeks.

Four weeks ago, this game looked like layup, however, Garoppolo makes San Francisco a tough out. Over the past three weeks, Garoppolo averaged 336 yards through the air, completing 67.6 percent of his passes, and going 3-0.

Sunday’s matchup will feature an unlikely quarterback battle, as Bortles has been the best signal-caller over the same time span. Completing 71 percent of his passes for 903 yards, seven touchdowns, zero interceptions, an NFL-best 128.6 passer rating, and a 3-0 record for December.

What’s At Stake

The AFC South Crown, and a home playoff game are at stake. The last time Jacksonville had a home playoff game was 1999 vs. the Miami Dolphins and Dan Marino. A team led by then head coach Tom Coughlin, who serves as Jacksonville’s current EVP of Football Operations.

The Jaguars will keep an eye on the New England Patriots and Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday. If Jacksonville wins out, they’ll have a shot at the number one seed in the AFC. But they’ll need the Steelers and Patriots to lose at least once, either this week or next week.

San Francisco Is A Completely Different Team

PHOTO: SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS

It’s tough to gauge the 49ers based on their record and season-long statistics. The addition of Garoppolo has changed the dynamic and the trajectory of the franchise. First-year head coach Kyle Shanahan is almost done installing his offense, now featuring the former New England Patriot.

The 49ers now dominant time of possession, averaging over 35 minutes per game over the past three weeks. With Garoppolo’s competence in the passing game, San Francisco can feel the effects of the turnaround throughout the team.

San Francisco’s defense is more efficient with the rest their getting via the offense’s production. They’ve given up just 80.6 yards on the ground while yielding only 181 yards through the air over the past three weeks. Those marks would be good enough for second best in the NFL, over the 15-game span thus far.

Bortles Continues To Grow

PHOTO: JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS

Bortles is in contract year, his play on the field this season will determine how much he will get paid going forward. Jacksonville can keep him around for one more year on a “prove it” deal; they can sign him to a long-term deal, or waive him and go a different route.

“I have a couple people that I have to prove right for putting me in the position that I’m in, and as long as I’m doing that and we’re finding ways to move the ball and score points, I’m happy with what I’m doing and where I’m at,” said Bortles.

Offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett has fully integrated his quarterback-friendly west-coast offense. Bortles is confident, he sees the field better and has cut down on his turnovers drastically.

Rookie Receivers In The Spotlight

PHOTO: JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS

Already without top receiver Allen Robinson, this year’s leading receiver Marquis Lee is ruled out with an ankle injury. Allen Hurns is questionable (ankle) for Sunday, after missing the past five games.

Bortles will have to rely on three rookies receivers to navigate San Francisco’s much improved-defense. Receivers Dede Westbrook, Keelan Cole and Jaydon Mickens will have to step up once again. They’ve combined to catch 44 passes for 705 yards and six touchdowns in the last five games.

Cole provides the big-play threat, Mickens is shifty and can separate really well, while Westbrook is all-around and can score from anywhere on the field.

Prediction

  • Sunday’s matchup will be a low-scoring defensive battle and will come down to who can make a play when it counts.
  • It’ll be tough sledding for Jags running back Leonard Fournette, who missed last week’s game due to a quad injury.
  • Bortles will have to be patient with the passing game and not try to win the game but play within the offense.
  • Ultimately, the Jacksonville defense will prove too much for the 49ers’ offense, who aren’t much outside of Garopollo.

Jacksonville 21 – San Francisco 13

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