Jaguars playing starters at Texans, going 'full steam ahead'

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Doug Pederson insists there’s no such thing as a meaningless football game.

So Pederson has his Jacksonville Jaguars going “full steam ahead” as they prepare to play at rival Houston on Sunday, a game that means little to the team’s postseason chances.

The Jaguars (7-8) have won three in a row to move atop the muddled AFC South. They can clinch the division and the conference's No. 4 seed by beating Tennessee (7-8) at home in the regular-season finale.

The scenario means Pederson could rest some starters against the Texans (2-12-1) and get banged-up guys as healthy as possible before a game that’s essentially the start of the AFC playoffs.

But he made it clear Wednesday that he won’t.

“There’s never a meaningless game,” Pederson said. “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 and the Jaguars also don’t want to lose the momentum they’ve created by winning five of their past seven games, including victories against four teams in the playoff mix: Baltimore, Tennessee, Dallas and the New York Jets.

“We’re playing really good team ball,” quarterback Trevor Lawrence said. “Why would you want to jeopardize that at this point in our season? We’re kind of hitting our stride.”

Although Jacksonville’s season likely will come down to a winner-takes-the-division finale against Tennessee, the Jaguars still could make the playoffs with a win against Houston and a loss to the Titans. It’s a small possibility that also would include Miami losing twice, the New York Jets losing to Seattle, Buffalo beating New England and Pittsburgh losing one of its remaining games.

A much easier path would be to sweep the Titans for the first time since 2005.

The Jaguars already have ended several losing streaks this season, including an NFL-record 20-game skid to NFC teams and an 18-game road skid.

“We’ve had a lot of firsts this season, which obviously has been good," Pederson said.

They have another one at stake against Houston. The Texans have won nine in a row in the series, including a 13-6 victory in Week 5 in Jacksonville in which Lawrence threw two interceptions. Houston has swept the series every year since 2017.

“Where we’re going right now, how we’re feeling, they’re just in the way of where we need to get to,” Jaguars pass rusher Josh Allen said. “I have never beat them. ... I think we left a lot out there the last time we played them.”

Another reason for Jacksonville to play everyone in Houston: the team hasn't won four consecutive games since 2007. In fact, the oft-futile franchise has managed winning streaks of four or more games six times in 28 seasons.

“You got to finish strong and that’s the message,” Lawrence said. "We get to finish with two division games, so it’s a great opportunity for us. ... For me, it’s a game I definitely want to win and our whole team feels that way.

“It's another opportunity just to show who we are, to put our best foot forward, to play another complete game, to keep this momentum that we have. If you go out there and lay an egg, no one’s feeling good about that, especially heading into the last week.”

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Mark Long, The Associated Press