For the Jacksonville Jaguars, 2013 is going, more or less, to script. Fans probably hoped for more than one win through 10 games, but the season was expected to be a struggle. The team is rebuilding for the future, and in this case the bumps in the road weren't unforeseen.
The Houston Texans never saw 2-8 coming. Matt Schaub and the offense were not supposed to struggle as much as they have, and Gary Kubiak was not supposed to be fighting to keep his job nearly one year after leading the Texans to a 12-4 regular-season record and a loss in the divisional round of the playoffs.
The Texans are heavy favorites over the Jaguars at home this Sunday, but after eight straight losses, few would dare guarantee victory. Sunday's game is Houston's chance to introduce a bit of light into a dark season. Lose, and things are going to get ugly, quickly.
Meet the Texans
The Texans are coming off a 28-23 loss to the Oakland Raiders that seemingly pushed the team to the breaking point. Kubiak pulled Case Keenum during the third quarter, and fans and players alike responded with a collective "huh?" Keenum hadn't been playing particularly well up to that point -- 13-for-24 for 170 yards, one touchdown and one interception -- but few were ready to see Schaub back behind center after his early-season struggles.
No one more, perhaps, than Andre Johnson, who engaged Schaub in a sideline argument in front of cameras before storming off into the locker room. After the game, Johnson made comments suggesting that he isn't particularly happy in Houston.
The drama on offense has masked what has been a solid defense at times, though Matt McGloin's three-touchdown performance last week proved the secondary is vulnerable once ennui sets in.
Meet the Jaguars
The Jaguars enter the week perhaps slightly more upbeat. At least they've won a game in the last two weeks. Coming off their win over the Tennessee Titans in Week 10, they went back to their old ways and fell to the Arizona Cardinals, 27-14, last Sunday. The defense did a fine job on the ground, limiting the Cards to 14 yards rushing, but had no answer for Carson Palmer, who had 419 yards passing for two touchdowns.
The offense was as bad as it has often been this season. Chad Henne threw two interceptions and one touchdown, and Maurice Jones-Drew was bottled up for 23 yards on 14 carries. The Jags' defense has greater potential to step up and change the complexion of Sunday's game, but that isn't saying much. Though the front seven can stop the run at times, it ranks 31st in the NFL with just 15 sacks this season.
Local Takes: Texans
Perhaps I'm being too harsh. Perhaps instead of questioning Case's intelligence, Kubiak was talking about Keenum's lack of experience. Well, I don't buy that either. How is a change in protection something that doesn't come up during the week's preparations leading up to the game? How is this something that's not practiced? It's not like it was a shock to see the Raiders bring the house against Case. Every other team he's played has done the same thing. In the short book that is Case Keenum: Starting NFL Quarterback, the best way to defend him is pretty well known. How could the coaching staff so vigorously fail to prepare Keenum to make adjustments in response to how a team was virtually certain to attack him?
Local Takes: Jaguars
Despite being without linebacker Paul Posluszny, the Jaguars saw good play from their linebackers and a good day from rookie Jonathan Cyprien in run support. Defensive tackle Roy Miller was able finally to piece together a consistent day stopping the run.
"We talk about celebrating those victories, that was really a good sign. I think with (Cardinals RB Andre) Ellington we went into the game, we felt like they were trying to get him going in the games that we watched on tape, Bradley added. "We made a conscious effort to not let him get going in our game. It was cool that we did that with him as far as the running game, out in space, some of the mismatches they used, we felt like we did a good job of taking those things away."
Follow the Fun
Add these fine follows to your Twitter timeline:
@McClain_on_NFL -- Texans beat writer
As frustrations mount, Texans' Kubiak says he's not losing team: http://t.co/iv3hsFsT7b— John McClain (@McClain_on_NFL) November 18, 2013
@ryanohalloran -- Jaguars beat writer
Posluszny said on doctor's advice, he watched #Jaguars game against Arizona at his house.— Ryan O'Halloran (@ryanohalloran) November 20, 2013
SB Nation's panel of experts likes the Texans to win, though the game could be close. Two members were willing to take the Jags to score their second win of the season. Playing at home should help the Texans, but there is too much internal strife to expect the team to perform up to its capabilities. Houston wins, but fails to cover.
Prediction: Texans 24, Jaguars 20
Despite the meager one-win difference on the season, the Texans opened the week as 10-point favorites over the Jaguars, according to Odds Shark. The line has since moved to as high as 11.5 points at some sports books.
The Jaguars will be on the road next Sunday to face a Cleveland Browns team still hoping to scrap out a playoff spot. The Texans will host the New England Patriots for what would be an incredible morale-boosting upset.