By Cedric Williams

As surprising as it sounds and as unlikely as it seems, with the team in the midst of a six-game losing streak and a remarkably depressing slide that includes losses in seven of its last eight games, the Atlanta Falcons are still mathematically in the hunt for one of the two NFC wild-card playoff spots.

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Atlanta is 6-7 on the season, and currently holds the No. 8 spot in the playoff standings. Only six teams get in, but if the Falcons can somehow find a way to turn things around, they do still have a shot to possibly steal a spot from either Seattle or Minnesota.

But if the Falcons have any shot at all at pulling that off, they’re going to have to start with a win this weekend against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Some might want to call them the lowly Jaguars, but believe it or not, the Jags head into this weekend’s action just one game back in the AFC South standings. And with everybody in that division holding losing records right now, there really is no reason not to believe Jacksonville couldn’t somehow be the team that comes out of the AFC South this season.

With that in mind, even though neither team has played particularly well this season, Sunday’s matchup between the Falcons and Jaguars is another big game with huge potential playoff implications.

“(Knowing) the belief I have in the system and players when it get challenged, I’m as motivated to get our football right as I’ve ever been in my entire life,” Falcons head coach Dan Quinn said during his weekly Monday press conference, “and I can’t wait to get back out here with this team. … It tests you in certain ways to make sure you want to play the exact style that the club envisioned that it’d have. So when you don’t, man, it tests you. I know what we’re capable of playing like, so when we don’t—yeah, it digs at you hard. And that’s why I’m so anxious to get back out there with them.”

Season Record

Jacksonville has a 5-8 record, but is coming off one of the biggest regular season wins in franchise history. Last week, the Jags blasted the Indianapolis Colts 51-16. It was perhaps Jacksonville’s most complete win under current head coach Gus Bradley, who took over in November of 2013. The Jags scored touchdowns on offense, defense, and on special teams in the same game for the first time since 2011.

Indianapolis and Houston are tied for first in the division with matching 6-7 marks, but those two teams play one another this coming weekend. That means that unless there’s a tie, one team will win and move to 7-7 while the other could fall into a second place tie with the Jags at 6-8—if Jacksonville can continue its winning ways against the Falcons this Sunday.

Jacksonville on Offense

The Jaguars have a number of talented young players on offense, including quarterback Blake Bortles, running backs T.J. Yeldon and Denard Robinson, and receivers Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns.

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Bortles is having a terrific second season with over 3,500 passing yards and 30 touchdown passes. Yeldon, a rookie out of Alabama, is leading the Jags in rushing, while Robinson (1,084 yards & 12 touchdowns) and Hurns (863 yards & 8 touchdowns) are quickly developing into one of the best wide receiver tandems in the league.

Jacksonville on Defense

Defensively, the Jags like to play an aggressive base 4-3 look that funnels everything towards middle linebacker Paul Posluszny and strong safety Johnathan Cyprien, who rank second and third, respectively, in total tackles for Jacksonville.

The Jags’ leading tackler is another talented young player, second-year weakside linebacker Telvin Smith, who leads the club and ranks third overall in the entire NFL with 122 total tackles (93 solo) this season.

Jacksonville’s pass defense has been particularly suspect, and might be an area Atlanta can exploit. The Jags give up 261.7 pass yards a game and have just seven interceptions all season—both numbers that rank among the worst in the league this season.

Jacksonville’s Players to Watch

Offensively, the player to watch for Jacksonville might be Yeldon, who left Sunday’s win over Indy early with a knee injury. The Jags were non-committal about whether Yeldon would even be able to play this Sunday against the Falcons.

If he can’t go, Robinson, the former University of Michigan quarterback, would get the start at running back for the Jags.

On defense, Smith has been a monster for Jacksonville in his second season out of Florida State. Not only is he third in the league in total tackles, but Smith also has 2.5 quarterback sacks, two forced fumbles, and seven passes defensed, one of which was a highlight reel worthy pick-six that earned him AFC Defensive Player of the Week honors back in Week 7.

Outlook

Neither of the Falcons nor the Jaguars have exactly been consistent this season, so it seems foolish to try to predict who might win. But both clubs need this win badly to have any shot at keeping their playoff hopes alive. So despite both teams having losing records, Sunday’s meeting figures to be a pretty good matchup.

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Cedric Williams, a lifelong St. Louisan and proud UMSL alum, has been a full-time reporter/photographer covering St. Louis area sports for nearly two decades. Most recently, he has been working as a credentialed beat writer covering the NFL, as well as college and high school sports for the St. Louis American, Patch.com, and other outlets from around the area. Please share any comments, questions, or feedback with Cedric at cedricwilliams510@gmail.com. His work can be found on Examiner.com.