What: Jacksonville Jaguars (9-4) vs. Houston Texans (4-9)
Where: EverBank Field, Jacksonville
When: 1 p.m.
Latest line/Over-under: Jaguars -11/38
Why you should watch
This could an historic day for the Jaguars. A victory in this one will guarantee them their first playoff berth since 2007. Truth be known, the Jaguars don’t even have to win today to guarantee themselves a playoff berth. They could tie or lose to the Texans and still guarantee themselves a spot in the playoffs as long a few other things go their way. But nobody in Jacksonville wants to back into the playoffs. The Jaguars have been one of the best teams in the league all year and their hope now is to finish strong. They certainly have the ability to do that, even with running back Leonard Fournette hurting again and now ruled out for the game. The last thing the Jags need to do now is stumble into a slump, so they have to take the beaten-down Texans seriously and treat them like the division title contenders they were expected to be. If they can do that it will be a sign the Jaguars are on track for a strong showing in the playoffs as well. If they don’t, it may be a sign this team is about to turn back into a pumpkin.
Key on: Jaguars cornerbacks Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye
Ramsey and Bouye took turns tracking Texans wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins during the last meeting between these two teams. They’ll probably do the same again this time. After all, the ploy worked to near perfection last time. Hopkins caught just seven of the 16 passes that were thrown his way for 55 yards in the first meeting and while he did score a touchdown he wasn’t much of a factor in what proved to be a 29-7 Jaguars victory. Just as many expected they would, Ramsey and Bouye have grown into one of the best cornerback duos on the league and they can further solidify their place in that conversation by shutting Hopkins down yet again. Hopkins hasn’t had too many days like the one he had against the Jaguars in the season opener this year so he’ll be looking for some revenge in what is fast becoming one of the better rivalries between a receiver and a pair of cornerbacks in the league.
The Texans will go into this game with the worst pass-blocking offensive line in football, according to Pro Football Focus. After ranking 27th overall with a cumulative pass-block rating of 74.0 last year, the Texans have fallen to 32nd with a rating of 66.4 this year. The drop of 7.6-percent is the largest since PFF began crunching numbers and it figures to drop a bit more today as a result of trying to hold off the likes of Jaguars pass rushers Calais Campbell and Yannick Ngakoue. Those two have combined for 119 total quarterback pressures and a 12.6 pass-rush productivity mark that is the fifth-highest in the league among 4-3 defensive ends. The Texans would be wise to install a lot of quick hitters into their offensive attack to keep the Jags pass rushers at bay, but let’s be honest. Opponents have tried doing that against the Jaguars all year and it has seldom made much of a difference. It probably won’t make much of a difference today either.
Jaguars DE Yannick Ngakoue hinting he’s gone again?
One of the key free-agent questions for the Jaguars continues to be whether or not they’re going to allow their best pass rusher, Yannick Ngakoue, to test the free-agent market coming up? And, once again, the player may be giving a clue that he’s going to do just that.
Ngakoue tweeted Wednesday morning the following phrase, which seems to indicate, yet again, that he will be playing somewhere else in 2020:
— Yannick Ngakoue (@YannickNgakoue) February 26, 2020
This goes along with something that we wrote earlier in January. That’s when just a couple of days after the season Ngakoue posted essentially a goodbye message to Jaguar fans. This came on the heels of him having held out for a new contract for the first few days of training camp last August, but not receiving a new deal during the season, etc.
Ngakoue, whose 37.5 career sacks are the most by a Jaguars player after 63 career games, is sure to be a sought-after player from many different teams. GM Dave Caldwell said at the end of the season when asked about re-sgning his star pass rusher, “He is a tremendous player and even a better person. How he handled his business this year was tremendous. But, I would say that’s priority No. 1, to make sure he comes back to Jacksonville. Hopefully, we can get that done. ″
It’s also worth noting that at Tuesday’s NFL Scouting Combine at media availability in Indianapolis, coach Doug Marrone repeated that he wants Ngakoue to remain in Jaguars teal and white:
Doug Marrone: ‘’No doubt where I stand or the coaches.”
—They want Yannick Ngakoue back. pic.twitter.com/vOorH4hH95
— John Reid (@JohnReid64) February 26, 2020
However, it remains to be seen if Marrone and Caldwell are willing to “pony up” huge money for him or even potentially, put the franchise tag on him before free agency begins next month?
Ngakoue figures to want a contract close to what the top ends are getting paid right now. Demarcus Lawrence and Frank Clark both signed five-year, over $100 million deals in 2019 and received guaranteed money that exceeded $62 million. That is massive for Jacksonville.
If the Jags opt for the “franchise tag,” then the talented end will be making around $19 million dollars, which is the current average of the top five players at his position. The Jaguars could also put the tag on him and then work on a longer term, salary cap friendly, deal that would replace the tag later in the off season.
Jaguars confirm they are declining option on DT Dareus
At Tuesday’s media session at the NFL Scouting Combine, Jaguars GM Dave Caldwell made official what had been rumored for the last couple of days regarding defensive tackle Marcell Dareus: he will not be brought back for a fourth season in Jacksonville.
Caldwell confirmed the Jaguars are not picking up DT Marcell Dareus' option.
— John Reid (@JohnReid64) February 25, 2020
Dareus only played briefly in 2019, as he suffered a core muscle injury that sidelined him after only six games and he was placed on injured reserve. The former number one pick of the Buffalo Bills had played for coach Doug Marrone for a couple of seasons in Western New York.
Marrone and Caldwell traded for Dareus during the 2017 season and he helped them with their rise to the AFC South title and two playoff wins. This included Darius registering two sacks and four other tackles-for-loss in the Jaguars three playoff games that year.
Dareus made the Pro Bowl twice in Buffalo in 2013-14.
However, he has not lived up to his hefty contract that was reworked Jacksonville last February. Last season, Dareus made over $8 million dollars and the team would have been on the hook for $20 million this year had they picked up the option. That obviously wasn’t going to happen.
Dareus also has had legal troubles off the field, including a civil suit against him in Tampa for alleged sexual misconduct. As we wrote previously, a woman alleged that Dareus had sexually assaulted her in January of 2018 at a North Tampa Florida home, while Dareus was in town for the Alabama-Clemson College Football Playoff Championship Game.
However, that suit filed in Hillsborough County court was “dismissed with prejudice” last April, which means it cannot be re-filed.
Dareus, if healthy after the core muscle injury rehab, may have some value as a defensive tackle on the free agent market.
As for the Jaguars, they have former #1 pick defensive tackle Taven Bryan to play more in the middle and are trying to decide if free agent-to-be, DE Yannick Ngakoue, can be afforded for their 2020 salary cap?