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How Jaguars got to cusp of first playoff appearance in a decade

Three weeks remain on the regular-season schedule and there’s still much to be determined in terms of playoff participants, division winner and who gets home-field advantage throughout the postseason.

With that, here’s a look at our NFL High Five for Week 15:

The Jaguars will play their biggest game in more than a decade when they host the Texans on Sunday. A win by the 9-4 Jaguars will clinch the franchise’s first playoff berth since 2007.

“We haven’t accomplished anything right now,’’ Jaguars coach Doug Marrone told reporters this week. “All we have accomplished are nine wins and we have four losses.”

Still, those nine wins already have clinched the first Jaguars’ winning season since 2007 and a strong finish could elevate them to the No. 2 seed in the AFC. And surprisingly, a significant part of that success has been quarterback Blake Bortles.

We’ve expended a few words in this space this season leaking on Bortles, whose career entering this season has been defined by rampant inconsistency. We’ve talked about the fact that the Jaguars and their stout defense, which is ranked No. 1 in the NFL in points allowed, were in danger of being held back by their quarterback’s play.

Well, it’s turned out, the Jaguars have been doing just fine with Bortles, who outdueled Seattle quarterback and NFL MVP candidate Russell Wilson in a win last week, throwing for 268 yards and two TDs.

In the past two games, Bortles has 577 passing yards and completed 71 percent of his passes with four TDs and no INTs.

“Blake is balling … week in and week out, helping us get victories,” cornerback Jalen Ramsey said.

“These last couple of games he’s playing amazing,” defensive end Calais Campbell told reporters. “He looks like Tom Brady these last couple games. I know Tom Brady does it all the time, but these last couple games, Blake was out there leading the team, playing confident and having fun.”

The Rams (9-4) can take a major step toward clinching the NFC West with a win Sunday in Seattle. The 8-5 Seahawks (8-5) won the first meeting in L.A. in Week 5.

A Rams win would give them a two-game lead with two games to play. A Seahawks win would give them the edge, tying the division but with a sweep of the season series giving them the tiebreaker advantage.

The Seahawks have won the NFC West three of the past four seasons and have made the playoffs in each of the past five years.

One element of this game to watch is the Rams’ use of running back Todd Gurley, who leads the NFL in rushing TDs with 13 and is second in yards from scrimmage with 1,637.

The Rams have a 7-0 record when Gurley gets more than 20 touches and 2-4 when he doesn’t. He had season-low 16 touches in last week’s loss to the Eagles. Part of the problem was the Rams running just 45 offensive plays, but L.A. coach Sean McVay recognizes the issue.

“I’ve got to do a better job of making sure that he gets enough touches to get into the flow, especially when we were getting some good movement,” McVay said. “At the end of the day, however you want to cut it, I’ve got to get him going, give him more opportunities with the way he was running it and have a better feel for the flow of the game. That was something that I didn’t think I did very well [last Sunday].’’

So much focus in Dallas has been on how valuable running back Ezekiel Elliott is to the offense and how much he’s missed when he isn’t.

Same for Cowboys’ linebacker Sean Lee, who’s the Elliott of the Dallas defense — as in the most indispensible piece to the unit.

Coaches credited Lee with 20 tackles in the Cowboys’ win over the Giants last week.

“He is so damn productive,” coach Jason Garrett said. “He makes plays on the ball in the running game, in the passing game. He just always seems to be around it. Also, his leadership and the impact he has on our football team is really significant. It’s great to see him back out there.”

The key for the 7-6 Cowboys, who play the Raiders on Sunday, is keeping Lee on the field. He’s missed five games this season and has yet to play 16 games in a season. The Cowboys’ coaches actually rested him for 14 of the 80 plays against the Giants in an effort to keep him fresh.

“Coming back from an injury, just making sure I’m fresh and ready,” Lee said.

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said, “I think it’s very apparent whether you have a game that we don’t have him out there or have him out there what he means.”

If the 6-7 Dolphins are going to keep a pulse in the AFC playoff race, they’re going to have to beat the 7-6 Bills on Sunday. And if they’re going to do so, they’re going to have at least slow down Buffalo running back LeSean McCoy.

The Bills enter the weekend holding the second wild-card spot in the AFC. The Dolphins are seeking a third consecutive victory after Monday night’s upset of the Patriots.

McCoy, who needs just 39 rushing yards to reach 10,000 for his career, stands in the way as the Bills most dynamic offensive player.

“He’s going to make somebody miss — you can write that one down now,” Dolphins defensive coordinator Matt Burke told reporters this week speaking about the Bills’ five-time Pro Bowl back. “Someone is going to miss a tackle in this game.”

He just hopes a lot of his defenders don’t.

McCoy is coming off a season-high 156 rushing yards and a TD in the Bills’ overtime win in the snow over the Colts last week.

“It’s going to be a team effort, obviously,” Burke said. “I think he’s the best in the league at making people miss.’’

The Bills are hoping to have starting quarterback Tyrod Taylor back. Taylor has been out with a knee injury he sustained on Dec. 3, but has practiced all week.

Backup Nathan Peterman, who suffered a head injury last week, was limited in practice during the week as he remained the concussion protocol.

As the 0-13 Browns scrounge for their first victory this season when they play the Ravens on Sunday, they’ll do so with quite a bit of unrest and uncertainty in their front office.

The Browns’ newly hired general manager John Dorsey somewhat contradicted comments made by team owner Jimmy Haslam, who said last week when he fired Sashi Brown, that head coach Hue Jackson would return in 2018.

Dorsey, asked during the week about the return of Jackson, who’s 1-28 in two seasons, was noncommittal.

“I’ve always said I live in the present and I build for the future,” Dorsey said.

Dorsey did, however, unnecessarily rip Brown’s player personnel choices, saying in a radio interview, “You gotta get a guy like [Jackson] players … they didn’t get real players. I’m going to do my darndest to get Hue players.’’

Jackson, who didn’t want to comment on the players Brown chose for him, did compliment Dorsey, saying, “He has some really good ideas on how to do things. The back and forth is appreciated because I think that is what it takes to build a relationship between me and him. We are doing that each and every day.’’

Source: https://nypost.com/2017/12/16/how-jaguars-got-to-cusp-of-first-playoff-appearance-in-a-decade/

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