Jacksonville (5-2) at New Orleans (3-4)
At first glance, you would think that Jacksonville is the only real story in this matchup. They are in the unenviable position of sharing a division with a Colts club that is blasting through the season with a 7-0 record, and sharing a conference with the astounding Patriots who have run to 8-0 and rewritten a substantial portion of the record books. All things considered the Jaguars have held it together pretty well. They are only one of 3 teams in the AFC with a 5-2 record which ties them for third place in the conference; only their AFC South division rivals the Titans, and the AFC North Steelers have equaled that mark. In all likelihood they will need to keep up that pace and finish the season with the best or second best record behind the division leaders in order to qualify for the playoffs. The biggest hurdle in their path is going to be the Titans whom they play in Week 11. A win could give both Jacksonville and Tennessee a 2-2 record within the division â€“ a loss could leave the Jaguars with a 1-3 division record while the Titans moved to 3-1. That could have huge consequences if the two of them are fighting each other for a wild card spot. In any case, their season record is the most important stat when looking looking to get a wild card berth for the playoffs, so every game, starting with this weeks match in New Orleans is big.
â€œThey don’t trust their quarterback to throw the football.â€ That statement about the Jaguars by Bucs cornerback Ronde Barber last week pretty much says it all. David Garrard, the Jaguars starting QB won’t be back for a few more weeks yet so backup quarterback Quinn Gray in his 4th year out of Florida A&M will be taking the snaps again this Sunday. Gray completed only 7 of 16 for 100 yards last week against Tampa Bay, usually throwing the ball out of the reach of his receivers. He did get a clutch TD however, tossing an 8 yarder to Matt Jones in the 4th quarter to give Jacksonville the lead. Gray and the Jaguars slipped past Tampa Bay by putting together a strong running game to put some points on the board, but the biggest factor in the Jaguars victory was the turnover margin. Bucs QB Jeff Garcia was intercepted 3 times and the Buccaneers wound up losing 24-23 after gaining 385 yards versus only 219 by Jacksonville.
New Orleans looks to be a much tougher test of the Jaguars offense. While Tampa Bay commonly gives up as much yardage as they did to Jacksonville last week the Saints are a lot stingier; in fact they are ranked 10th in the NFL against the run, allowing an average of 98 yards a game. Offensively New Orleans is really starting to come alive; after an 0-4 start they have won 3 straight. Last week Saints QB Drew Brees put on a passing clinic in San Francisco completing 31 of 39 for 336 yards and 4 red zone touchdowns, 3 of them going to the â€œPride of Hofstraâ€, 2nd year wide receiver Marcus Colston. The NFC South is wide open; division leader Carolina has only a 4-3 record. Look for the Saints to pounce on that by keeping the passing game wide open and throwing for more points than the Jags can run for.