I think it's fair to call Thursday night's matchup vs. Tennessee the most important home game for Jacksonville since 2010 as the Jags are in the AFC South Division race despite a 3-6 record.
Jacksonville hasn't made the playoffs since 2007, hasn't finished with a winning record since then and hasn't won more than five games since 2010. But this team is showing signs it is finally on the right track -- will Coach Gus Bradley be around when the Jaguars are finally really good? That remains to be seen as he's still on shaky ground because while the offense is improving, the defense is still pretty bad. That's Bradley's side of the ball as he was formerly Seattle's defensive coordinator. If Jacksonville wins this game against Tennessee, and Indianapolis (with backup QB Matt Hasselbeck) loses Sunday in Atlanta and Houston (with backup QB T.J. Yates) loses at home vs. the Jets then the Jaguars would find themselves in a tie for first in the South. And check out the Jags' schedule after this game: vs. Chargers, at Titans, vs. Colts, vs. Falcons, at Saints, at Texans. That's about as easy as you can ask for. Only Atlanta has a winning record and it has been slumping. San Diego can barely put a full team on the field with so many injuries and that's one of those tough 10 a.m. Pacific time starts for the Bolts. Indianapolis still might not have Andrew Luck back by the time it faces Jacksonville. New Orleans is one of the NFL's worst defensive teams. Houston may well be eliminated from playoff contention by Week 17. The Jags are +500 on NFL odds to win the South.
This matchup with the Titans also could be a preview of really good individual duels going forward between Jacksonville quarterback Blake Bortles, the No. 3 overall pick in 2014, and Tennessee quarterback Marcus Mariota, the No. 2 overall pick in 2015. The AFC South won't be a laughingstock for long.
Blake Bortles 'Over/Under' 22.5 Completions, 259.5 Yards, 1.5 TD Passes, .5 INTs
Bortles looked overwhelmed as a rookie last season but is really showing promise in 2015. He has thrown for 2,381 yards and 19 touchdowns (tied for seventh in NFL). Bortles has at least one touchdown pass in every game and at least two in seven, including five in a row. He does need to work on his completion percentage, which is 30th in the NFL at 55.3 percent. And he still throws too many interceptions, ranking fourth with 11. But no question there has been improvement. Last year in 14 games, Bortles had only 2,908 yards, 11 TDs and 17 picks. His combination of athleticism and arm talent allows him to make pinpoint passes rolling to his right or left. Pressure still rattles him, however. In a game at Tennessee last season, Bortles threw for 336 yards, a touchdown and an interception, but the Jaguars lost. In a home win vs. the Titans, Bortles threw for only 115 yards with a touchdown. This year's Titans defense is much better under first-year coordinator Dick LeBeau, the long-time former Steelers coordinator. Tennessee ranks fifth in total defense (27th last year) and No. 3 against the pass. The Titans are allowing 214.0 yards per game and have given up 16 TD passes and picked off nine. LeBeau was the Steelers’ defensive coordinator last year when the Jaguars lost to Pittsburgh 17-9. Bortles threw for 191 yard and two interceptions, one returned for a touchdown.
Allen Hurns O/U 4.5 Catches, 57.5 Yards
Allen Robinson O/U 5.5 Catches, 79.5 Yards
Might Jacksonville's Allens be the best receiving duo in the NFL this season? They are in the conversation -- I'd argue the best is Green Bay's Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb, but Nelson is out for the season. Robinson has been targeted 93 times and has 45 catches for 758 yards and seven scores. He's only 22. Hurns has been targeted 68 times and caught 41 balls for 697 yards and seven scores -- he has a TD in seven straight games, a team record and longest current streak in the NFL. Hurns, who was undrafted out of Miami (Robinson was a second-round pick), is only 24. Those 14 combined TDs are the most of any receiving tandem in the NFL.
NFL Free Picks: 'OVER' both on receptions and on Robinson's yards, 'under' on Hurns' yards.