The Jacksonville Jaguars find themselves in an unusual position heading into their Week 17 game against the Houston Texans. If the Jaguars win the contest, it doesn't matter. If they lose the contest, it doesn't matter.
That's right, the game is meaningless, at least as far as the standings are concerned. Both the Jaguars and Tennessee Titans sit at 7-8 entering Week 17. The two teams play in Week 18 and the winner of that game will determine which team wins the AFC South and heads to the playoffs.
Though Week 17 will have no impact on the division race, Jaguars head coach Doug Pederson intends to play all his starters during the contest against the Texans, per NFL.com.
"There's never a meaningless game," Pederson told reporters Wednesday. "Never, ever, ever, ever. You play to win every game. The only way I rest players is if they're hurt and can't go."
Pederson added that he's extra motivated to beat the Texans since they beat the Jaguars back in Week 5. The Texans have won just two games in 2022.
Titans head coach Mike Vrabel hasn't revealed his plans for Week 17 yet. The Titans will take on the Dallas Cowboys on "Thursday Night Football," and the short week could affect how Vrabel approaches the contest. Star running back Derrick Henry has appeared on the injury report leading up to the game, and this could be a way for Vrabel to get Henry some rest before a winner-take-all Week 18 matchup.
That might wind up being Vrabel's strategy. A number of Titans were ruled out of the team's Week 17 contest on Wednesday's injury report.
Ruled OUT for the #Titans vs Cowboys:
QB Ryan Tannehill
DL Jeffery Simmons
T Nicholas Petit-Frere
S Amani Hooker
OLB Bud Dupree
LB Zach Cunningham
LB Dylan Cole
DB Josh Thompson
RB Derrick Henry
CB Kristian Fulton
OLB Denico Autry
— Jim Wyatt (@jwyattsports) December 28, 2022
Henry was listed as questionable due to a hip injury.
How does the Week 18 game between the Titans and Jaguars determine the AFC South?
The Jaguars and Titans are in unique positions in Week 17. If both teams win in Week 17, they enter Week 18 with an identical record. The team that wins that game will finish the season with one more win, vaulting it to first in the AFC South standings. The same thing happens if both teams lose in Week 17. The Week 18 matchup will determine which team finishes the season with more wins.
Things get complicated if one team loses and the other team wins in Week 17, but here's why those scenarios don't matter. If the Jaguars go into Week 18 coming off a loss to the Texans, Jacksonville would be 7-9. If the Titans win in Week 17, they would have an 8-8 record going into Week 18. If the Jaguars manage to defeat the Titans in Week 18, both teams would have identical 8-9 records in the regular season. The Jaguars, however, would win the division because they beat the Titans in Week 14. Jacksonville would hold a 2-0 record over Tennessee on the season, giving the Jaguars the division tiebreaker.
But let's say the opposite occurs in Week 17. If the Jaguars enter Week 18 at 8-8 and the Titans enter Week 18 at 7-9, the Titans would get into the playoffs with a win. Both teams would once again have 8-9 records at the end of the regular season, but they would be 1-1 against each other in 2022. The NFL's next tiebreaker is win-loss record in the division. If the Titans beat the Jaguars in Week 18, Tennessee would have the better record in the division and would head to the playoffs. Even if the Jaguars beat the Texans in Week 17, the Titans would still have a better division record if they win in Week 18.
Got all that? Good.
And if not, well, it's much easier to say, "The Week 18 game between the Jaguars and Titans determines which team wins the AFC South." You don't need to know the uber-specific details or the obscure NFL tiebreakers as long as you know that statement is true.