The Jacksonville Jaguars weren't looking like a possible playoff team when they lost by 26 points to the Detroit Lions on Dec. 4.
But the final week of the regular season has arrived with the Jaguars in first place, and now they can wrap up a playoff spot when they host the Tennessee Titans on Saturday night with the AFC South title on the line in a winner-take-all showdown.
Jacksonville (8-8) holds a one-game lead over the Titans (7-9) after ripping off four consecutive wins. At the same time, Tennessee has endured a late-season collapse -- six straight setbacks -- after appearing to be a playoff lock in mid-November.
The two teams met on Dec. 11, with the Jaguars posting a 36-22 victory in Nashville, Tenn. That was the first victory in Jacksonville's late-season winning streak.
"We talked a lot about this season's going to come down to Week 18," Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence said. "We knew we had to take care of business these prior weeks, but we had a feeling we're going to put ourselves in position to where Week 18 was going to decide our playoff berth and where we head after that."
There is controversy about this pivotal clash being played on a Saturday.
Tennessee's previous contest was a 27-13 loss to the Dallas Cowboys on Dec. 29, a Thursday night. Jacksonville played three days later and routed the Houston Texans 31-3, so the Titans are significantly more rested.
"There are always opportunities to reach out and express your concern with that, especially with Tennessee playing a Thursday game," Jaguars coach Doug Pederson said. "At the end of the day, we're excited to be here, to be in this type of game. It's great for our players, great for our city, to host it here in Jacksonville this Saturday night."
Tennessee will start Joshua Dobbs at quarterback, coming off the first start of his six-year NFL career in the loss to the Cowboys. Dobbs completed 20 of 39 passes for 232 yards, one touchdown and one interception.
Regular starter Ryan Tannehill (ankle) is out for the season and third-round pick Malik Willis has been ineffective, so Dobbs has become the best bet to direct the Titans into the playoffs.
"There was some good decision-making and he was decisive," Titans coach Mike Vrabel said of Dobbs' outing against the Cowboys. "He did a good job progressing through when we gave him some time. ... He gives us the best chance to win right now."
Dobbs was signed from the Detroit Lions' practice squad on Dec. 21, so this showcase wasn't anything he could have imagined even a month ago.
"It's a tremendous opportunity," said Dobbs, who was a fourth-round pick by the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2017. "I know it's a big game, obviously. I haven't been here the entire year, but any time you have a chance to go to the playoffs, it is a tremendous opportunity, and I am excited for it."
Star running back Derrick Henry (hip) missed the Dallas game but is a certainty to play Saturday. He topped 100 yards in each of his last three appearances, including a 121-yard outing against the Jaguars, and ranks third in the NFL with 1,429 rushing yards.
Meanwhile, Lawrence has passed for 3,901 yards, 24 touchdowns and eight interceptions. Jacksonville linebacker Foyesade Oluokun (171 tackles) is looking to lead the NFL in stops for the second straight season; he led in 2021 as a member of the Atlanta Falcons.
Long snapper Ross Matiscik (back) was the lone Jacksonville player to miss practice on Wednesday. Defensive end Tarell Basham (back) and cornerback Davontae Harris (hamstring) sat out for Tennessee.
The Titans had won nine of 10 in the series prior to the December loss.
--Field Level Media