After some quality games in prime time the last few weeks, NFL fans get the bottom of the barrel this Thursday as the woeful Jacksonville Jaguars host the underachieving Houston Texans. If the season were to end today the 2-10 Texans would have the first overall pick in the 2014 draft, just one season after finishing with the second best record in the AFC. Jacksonville would have claim to that top pick, but they dropped to number three in the draft order thanks in large part to their defeating the Texans in Houston two weeks ago, 13-6. The two teams own the two longest losing streaks of the year: the Texans are currently on a ten-game losing streak, while Jacksonville lost their first eight games of the season.
After beginning the season in which they appeared destined to not only go winless, but also set other records for futility, the Jaguars are actually on a bit of a roll: they have won three of their last four games. Jacksonville rallied for a 32-28 victory last week. Interestingly all three of their wins this year have been on the road; they have lost seven straight home games, dating back to a 5-point victory over Tennessee back on November 25 in week 12 of 2012.
The biggest reason for the turnaround can be attributed to better play from the defense. Jacksonville has forced eight turnovers in the last four games, and they limited Houston to just 218 total yards and six points two weeks ago. In addition their running game has shown some signs of life. The Jags have rushed for at least 100 yards in each of the last two games after failing to do so in their first ten. Maurice Jones-Drew has run for 161 yards in the last two games; in the first ten he averaged just 45.5 yards per game; as a team they rushed for 230 yards in the last two games after averaging 61.7 in the first ten.
When Jacksonville upset Houston for their first win of the season, Texan WR Andre Johnson referred to it as the lowest point of his 11-year NFL career and RB Ben Tate said that he was embarrassed and felt bad for the city of Houston; the Texans felt as if they had hit rock bottom. It turns out there was much more room for them to sink: the Texans now not only own the worst record in the NFL, they could realistically be swept by the very same team that caused them to express apologies for the shame they brought to their region.
Despite the second half meltdown against the Patriots, Houston did a lot of things right last week. The Texans matched their season high for points scored, they rushed for four touchdowns, and scored on all three red zone possessions. QB Case Keenum played relatively well, but he has thrown two picks and no touchdowns in the last two games. Keenum’s 54.2 completion percentage ranks 34th in the NFL (only Brandon Weeden is worse), and he had a season-low 169-yard performance in his last game against Jacksonville. The Houston defense can still be tough to move the ball on (they rank 3rd with 304 yards per game), but they just don’t force any turnovers (9, tied for least in the NFL with the Jets).
Right now Jacksonville is feeling confident with a 3-1 record since their bye, while Houston must have the sensation that they are endlessly falling while in a dream that they cannot wake up from. The Texans put forth plenty of effort against the Patriots; it will be interesting to see if they can match that intensity on a short week, or if they come out flat Thursday. I’m going to say that the latter is more likely.
Pick • Upset: Jaguars 27, Texans 24
Over 43½ (one unit)
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