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There’s a possibility the playoff-bound Jacksonville Jaguars will be one of three AFC South teams in the postseason. The last-place Houston Texans are all too aware of how tough their division has been.
The Jaguars may give many of their starters some rest Sunday in their final tuneup before the postseason when they visit the Texans, who are hoping to avoid losing all of their division games.
Jacksonville (11-4) owns the fifth-best record in the NFL, but will settle for second place in the South behind defending Super Bowl champion Indianapolis. The Jaguars are locked in as the No. 5 seed in the AFC and will open on the road at either San Diego or Pittsburgh - two division champions that Jacksonville has already beaten this season.
“It doesn’t matter who we play,” Jacksonville defensive tackle John Henderson said. “If we go out there and play the football we know how to play, we can beat anybody. They know we’re going to compete, and that’s a challenge.”
With nothing at stake in this trip to Houston, Jacksonville coach Jack Del Rio may choose to rest some of his regulars. He’s given no indication so far of his intentions.
“I know the big question will be how much are you going to play guys and stuff like that,” Del Rio said. “We’ll work diligently to put together a plan to go down there and compete knowing that the following week, we can’t really change the fifth seed. So we’re going to go down there and compete, regardless.”
Third-place Tennessee will join Indianapolis and Jacksonville in the playoffs if it beats the Colts on Sunday night.
If that happens, Houston (7-8) would be the only AFC South team to miss the playoffs. The Texans are 7-3 in non-division games, but have been unable to approach the same kind of success against their South rivals.
A second loss to Jacksonville this season would cap an 0-6 division slate for Houston, which fell 38-15 at Indianapolis last Sunday.
“That’s a tough pill to swallow, but that could very well happen if we don’t play better this week,” Houston coach Gary Kubiak said. “Nobody has to tell us how good our division is and how we struggled in it this year. All we have to do is look in the mirror to see that.”
Houston has enjoyed more success versus Jacksonville than against its other division rivals, going 6-5 and only being swept once. The Texans, however, weren’t too competitive in a 37-17 road loss to the Jaguars on Oct. 14.
Kubiak doesn’t expect to face a weakened Jaguars squad Sunday.
“I don’t see Jacksonville changing,” Kubiak said. “They’re an excellent football team. You can only suit 45 guys, so it’s not like all of a sudden they’re going to go find a bunch of new guys to put on that football field. I’m sure they have some players that they want to make sure are healthy, but we’re going to face a big, physical football team that runs the ball extremely well, that is dominating a lot of opponents lately.”
The first meeting with Jacksonville marked backup quarterback Sage Rosenfels’ first action this season in relief of Matt Schaub. Rosenfels had won all three of his starts this year before last week’s loss.
Although Rosenfels has played well, Schaub may see some action Sunday for the first time since injuring his shoulder Dec. 2 in a 28-20 loss to the Titans. The shoulder has been healing, and Kubiak would like to see him get some snaps.
“I think it’s important he gets back out there,” said Kubiak, looking to help Houston post the first non-losing season in franchise history.
Jacksonville may consider giving David Garrard some rest in favor of backup Quinn Gray, who started three times this season when Garrard was injured. Garrard is one of just three quarterbacks in the league with a passer rating over 100, along with New England’s Tom Brady and Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger.
Garrard has thrown 18 touchdown passes and just three interceptions, and doesn’t think sitting against the Texans would hurt him for the playoffs.
“I’m not going to think that if I do miss some time in this game that the passing game is going to be off. It shouldn’t be,” Garrard said. “I think we’re professionals and we know how to play.”
Behind Garrard, the Jaguars have scored at least 24 points in nine consecutive games and produced at least 400 yards in five straight.
Veteran tailback Fred Taylor, likely headed to his first Pro Bowl in place of injured Pittsburgh star Willie Parker, has turned in five straight 100-yard efforts, but also could get some down time against Houston.