It’s only Week 3, but the Jaguars-Titans game on Sunday looks very pivotal in the AFC South race.
The Jacksonville Jaguars moved to 2-0 with a nice win over the New England Patriots in Week 2, and the Tennessee Titans put a mark in the win column with a 20-17 victory over the Houston Texans last week. Now they’ll battle in Week 3 for some early supremacy in the AFC South.
The Jaguars were one of the surprise teams in the NFL last year, with a 10-6 record, a division title and a trip to the AFC Championship where they had the Patriots on the ropes into the fourth quarter. But they lost both of their games to the Titans, including a 37-16 setback in Week 2 last season.
Each team has a notable injury question going into Sunday’s game.
Marcus Mariota suffered an elbow injury in Week 1, so Blaine Gabbert started under center for the Titans and he managed the game (13-for-20 for 117 yards) to a victory. On Monday head coach Mike Vrabel suggested Mariota’s status has not changed, and if that means he’s still having issues gripping the ball he’ll surely miss another game this week.
The Jaguars did just fine without Leonard Fournette (hamstring) last week, as T.J. Yeldon (10 carries for 58 yards) led a solid rushing attack (24 carries for 104 yards). But Yeldon is dealing with an ankle injury, and was not expected to practice on Wednesday, while Fournette was expected to participate as he seems to be trending toward a return.
A Titans win on the road Sunday would give they and the Jaguars matching 2-1 records atop the AFC South, with the Colts possibly there too if they somehow upset the defending Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles. A Jacksonville win, on the other hand, would put them at 3-0, possibly two games clear of every other team in the division and with a game already in hand over 1-2 Tennessee.
Blake Bortles should be brimming with confidence after his big performance against New England, and the prospect of having Fournette back only helps. The Titans will have either a still severely limited Mariota under center, or they’ll be trying to limit Gabbert’s pass attempts and run the ball to keep the game close.
Talent for talent across the board, with or without Mariota available and/or at full strength, the Jaguars have a distinct advantage over the Titans. The key will be avoiding a letdown after last week’s big win over the Patriots, though playing a division opponent should help prevent a lack of focus and motivation shouldn’t be lacking.
Tennessee will have the same core group of players from 2017’s regular season sweep, even with some notable absences (Mariota?, Delanie Walker), so they’ll surely go into Sunday with some confidence of their own. Division games are always hard to pin down, but the Jaguars have to assert themselves early and they can take serious charge in the AFC South with a decisive win on Sunday.