NASHVILLE — The Jacksonville Jaguars already have fallen quickly this year, going from being a win away from their first Super Bowl berth in January to last in the AFC South division standings in December.
The Tennessee Titans desperately want to avoid joining them in being a team that misses the playoffs a year after making the postseason for the first time in a while.
"That's something we can't allow to happen," Titans defensive lineman Jurrell Casey said. "We want to keep them where they're at — at the end of the division — and leave them there. We've got to make sure we take care of our part. At the end of the day, we can't worry about them. We have to worry about ourselves, because we ain't played so hot this year ourselves."
The Titans (6-6) host the Jaguars (4-8) tonight with an 8:20 kickoff and Fox and NFL Network televising the game.
Tennessee had to rally from 16 points down to beat the New York Jets 26-22 this past Sunday at home and snap a two-game skid. The Titans likely need to win out and get some help with four teams between them and the second AFC wild-card berth, which is the playoff spot they earned last season.
The Jaguars are not mathematically finished just yet, and they might even bring a little encouragement after snapping a seven-game skid with a 6-0 shutout of quarterback Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts (6-6) last weekend. Cody Kessler now has a start under his belt at quarterback, and running back Leonard Fournette will be back from suspension, too.
But the Jaguars have lost five of their past six and three straight in the series against Tennessee. The Titans won 9-6 in Jacksonville on Sept. 23.
"Three straight times?" Jaguars linebacker Telvin Smith said. "Dang. We're going to go out and make sure we get the win. That's all we've got to focus on."
Fournette is back after a one-game suspension without pay that cost the second-year pro nearly $100,000. Getting that extra time off could pay dividends considering most everyone else on the field played four days earlier.
The Titans might be a good opponent for his return, too, after they allowed 281 and 156 rushing yards over the past two games, with the win against the Jets following a 34-17 road loss to the division-leading Houston Texans (9-3).
"Fournette should be very fresh and have a little pep in his step, and hopefully he can give us a spark that we need," Jaguars defensive tackle Calais Campbell said.
The Titans' top two running backs, Derrick Henry and Dion Lewis, have been mostly underwhelming this season. Henry's 474 rushing yards rank 27th in the NFL, with Lewis (464) ranking 30th.
Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota has burned the Jaguars with his feet in the past, though, including an 87-yard touchdown run in 2015. Mariota has a combined 135 rushing yards in Tennessee's three-game winning streak in the series, including 51 in the September victory. Mariota also led the Titans with 43 rushing yards against the Jets on Sunday, when he threw for 282 yards.
"Super challenging," Jaguars cornerback Jalen Ramsey said of defending against Mariota. "You just have to cover for even longer. It's kind of like a scramble drill. It will turn into backyard football with made-up routes to try to get open and help their quarterback out, so it makes it tough on us."
Offense might not get the spotlight tonight anyway. These are two of the NFL's best defenses, with the Jaguars having just posted the league's fourth shutout this season. They rank third in both fewest overall yards allowed and passing yards. They are the NFL's fifth-best scoring defense, just a spot ahead of the Titans, who have allowed only 26 touchdowns, which is tied for third-fewest in the NFL.
The Titans lead the NFL in red zone defense, having held opponents to touchdowns on just 44.1 percent of trips inside their 20-yard line.
Jaguars rookie Ronnie Harrison provided one of several defensive bright spots for his team last week. He had three tackles, including a sack on a fourth-down play, in his first career start. Harrison will remain in the starting lineup against the Titans.
"His game, his awareness, he never let the moment get too big for him," fellow Jacksonville safety Tashaun Gipson said. "He stepped in and seized the moment. Obviously, he had a big, huge play for us at the end. You can't script a better first start for a guy like that."
The Titans hope their schedule down the stretch will be an advantage.
The Titans have won 14 of their past 17 games at Nissan Stadium, and they're hoping to lean on that edge with two more home games — against the Washington Redskins (Dec. 22) and the Colts (Dec. 30) — before the regular season ends. Their only remaining road game on the schedule is against the New York Giants.
Tennessee linebacker Brian Orakpo made a plea to fans to turn out and be loud from the start tonight.
"We need that help," Orakpo said. "We need that energy, we feed off our crowd. I know it's been times where we don't give them nothing to cheer about. But if they come ready, they come loud, they come prepared just like we're going to be prepared, it's going to be a long day and a hard day for the Jags and give us that true real home-field advantage."