Amid an electric three-game win streak, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have emerged as a true playoff contender. With a record of 7-7, the Bucs currently lead the NFC South and control their path to the No. 4 seed and a home playoff game.
Thigns have been going so well that the Bucs have more than one path to the playoffs they can follow. Winning the NFC South remains the easiest path, but a Wild Card spot is very much on the table.
Regardless of whichever virture Tampa Bay will make the playoffs by, they need to finish the final three-game stint of the regular season strong. That will begin on Christmas Eve against the Jacksonville Jaguars, who have also gone through a season of highs and lows but still find themselves in the thick of the playoff picture.
Starting with a 31-21 season-opening victory versus Indianapolis, Jacksonville began the 2023 season with a 6-2 record to claim the No. 1 seed in the AFC at the midseason point. Similar to the Buccaneers, the Jaguars struggled mightily after returning from their bye week, losing four of their next six games to drop to 8-6, but still lead the AFC South.
Scouting the Jacksonville Jaguars ahead of Week 16
Around the league, Jacksonville has had one of the NFL's better passing offenses, with season averages of 22.8 PPG (11th in NFL), 342.0 YPG (12th in NFL), and 244.0 PYPG (9th in NFL). This can be partially attributed to the varying play of third year QB Trevor Lawrence, who has posted mix results in his third NFL season.
This season, Lawrence has completed 65.9 percent of his pass attempts for 3,525 yards, 18 touchdowns, and ten interceptions, which is good for a 60.1 QBR and 90.5 passer rating. Although Lawrence has thrown multiple touchdown passes in five games, the 2020 No. 1 pick has thrown an interception in seven games, including two games with multiple picks.
Based on this season's production, there's no doubt that Jacksonville has surrounded Lawrence with the best receiving core of his career. The deep pass catching group has been led by star WR Christain Kirk, who has caught 57 passes for a team-leading 787 receiving yards and three touchdowns in 12 starts. Per NFL Network's Cameron Wolfe, however, the Jaguars placed Kirk on injured reserve for the remainder of the season with a lingering groin injury.
Due to Kirk's absence, offseason acquisition WR Calvin Ridley and TE Evan Engram have emerged as major receiving threats for Lawrence this year. Managing to play in all 14 games, Ridley has recorded 60 receptions, 781 receiving yards, and a team-high five touchdowns, while Engram has added 88 catches for 729 receiving yards and three touchdowns.
Although Jacksonville averages just 98.0 RYPG (25th in NFL), the Jaguars still have a solid rushing attack in the backfield. This is starts with star RB Travis Etienne, who has recorded 229 carries for 837 rushing yards and nine touchdowns, which each rank fourth, ninth, and eighth in the league, respectivly. In addition, Etienne has managed to catch 48 passes for 411 receiving yards and one touchdown, detailing his versatility as a do-it-all RB.
It's worth noting that Lawrence has also been a key contributer to Jacksonville's rushing attack. Entering week 16, Lawrence has notched 63 rushing attempts for 300 rushing yards, four touchdowns, and 4.8 YPC, and just 35 more yards to post a career-best rushing season.
Although the Jaguars have one of the NFL's top passing attacks, they have struggled just as much to defend the pass on defense. This season, Jacksonville has given up 360.1 YPG (26th in NFL), 256.6 PYPG (28th in NFL), and 22.4 PPG (24th in NFL), in large part to the offseason departure of CB Shaquill Griffin.
In Griffin's absence, it has been veteran Darious Williams that has filled the void nicely, with 46 tackles, two tackles for loss, 19 passes defended, four interceptions, and two forced fumbles. Similarly, SS Rashawn Jenkins has posted 84 tackles, five tackles for loss, eight passes defended, and two interceptions, while FS Andre Cisco has 56 tackles, four passes defended, and three interceptions.
Jacksonville's defense has been just as, if not worse at getting pressure to the opposing QB. As a team, the Jaguars have just 30 sacks, the fifth-fewest mark in the NFL, and only have two players to record more than three sacks this season.
Those players include superstar Josh Allen and Travon Walker, with both the former and latter having excellent seasons: Allen has complied 54 tackles, 13.5 sacks, 13 tackles for loss, one pass defended, one interception, and two forced fumbles; Walker has notched 39 tackles, six sacks, six tackles for loss, and two passes defended.
Through their concerning struggles with pass rush and pass coverage, Jacksonville has enjoyed the benefits of having star Foyesade Oluokun and Devin Lloyd defend the middle of the field. For reference, Oluokun has posted 148 total tackles, 2.5 sacks, eight tackles for loss, five passes defended, a 24-yard interception returned for a touchdown, one forced fumble, and two fumble recoveries. Not to be outdone, Llyod has 110 tackles, seven passes defended, and two fumble recoveries.