HOUSTON -- The Jacksonville Jaguars have won a franchise-record eight consecutive road games -- the last of which gave them a two-game lead in the AFC South.
Now they can start eying something that the franchise has had just once before: the No. 1 seed in the AFC.
"It's just a step in the right direction, sort of solidifying ourselves," receiver Zay Jones said after the Jaguars beat the Houston Texans 24-21 at NRG Stadium on Sunday. "But we know the end goal goes beyond just our division, and I say that respectfully."
The Jaguars (8-3) are currently the third seed in the AFC behind the Baltimore Ravens (9-3) and Kansas City Chiefs (8-3). Jacksonville, at this point, owns the tiebreaker over the Miami Dolphins (8-3) because it has a better strength of victory. Only the top-seeded team in each conference earns a first-round bye and home-field advantage through the playoffs.
The one other time the Jaguars have had the top seed was in 1999 after a 14-2 regular season. They played host to the AFC Championship Game but lost to a division rival -- the Tennessee Titans.
It's not a reach to think the Jaguars could end up with home-field advantage throughout the playoffs this season. According to ESPN's Football Power Index (FPI), the Jaguars have the eighth-easiest strength of schedule remaining in the league, while the Chiefs have the fifteenth-toughest and the Ravens have the third-toughest. So the Jaguars might need some help, but they play host to the Ravens on Dec. 17 and that could become a huge game for tie-breaking purposes.
"We just keep winning [and] we don't have anything to worry about," quarterback Trevor Lawrence said. "We're going to find ourselves in a good spot."
Here's a look at three reasons why the Jaguars could earn the No. 1 seed and three things that could hold them back.
Three reasons why they can
Lawrence is getting hot
Lawrence went on a second-half tear last season to help the Jaguars rally from a 3-7 record with six consecutive victories to win the AFC South. And it looks like he may be starting to heat up again this season. In the past two games, Lawrence has completed 67.1% of his passes for 626 yards and three touchdown passes with one interception. He also rushed for three touchdowns, and only Jalen Hurts and Josh Allen have accounted for more total touchdowns among quarterbacks (seven) in the last two weeks.
The offense has scored 58 points and converted 44% of its third downs -- a higher rate than the first 10 weeks (35.3%, which ranked 25th in the NFL) -- in the victories over the Titans and Texans.
"He just seems to get better each week," coach Doug Pederson said.
Road winning streak
The Jaguars have won eight in a row on the road -- the longest current streak in the NFL. Four of those victories have been against division teams, but they also won in New York last season and in New Orleans and Pittsburgh and against Buffalo in London this season.
Their remaining road trips are in Cleveland, Tampa Bay and Tennessee. The Browns are 7-4 and have one of the NFL's best defenses, but QB Deshaun Watson and RB Nick Chubb are out for the season and rookie backup QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson suffered a concussion Sunday. The Buccaneers and Titans, on the other hand, are a combined 8-14.
"We weren't great on the road last year, especially early in the year for whatever reason, and that was a point of emphasis," Lawrence said. "I know in training camp that we talked about the things that we need to get better at and that was something that we thought we needed to get better at. There is something to, you get out of [town] a day early, you get to a hotel, you got time to prepare and do all your stuff. No distractions.
"... We've got to keep that going. You're going to play in big road games to finish the year that you're going to have to win."
Josh Allen's monster season
The Jaguars linebacker is fifth in the NFL with 12 sacks and tied for second with Nick Bosa with 66 quarterback pressures. He needs three more sacks this season to break Calais Campbell's single-season franchise record of 14.5 set in 2017. Allen's 2.5-sack performance against the Texans -- including 1.5 that cost the Texans 24 yards on their final drive, which ended with a missed 58-yard game-tying field goal attempt -- has put him on the cusp of entering the Defensive Player of the Year conversation. And over the final six games, he could build a strong case.
The quarterbacks the Jaguars face, in order, are:
Jake Browning, a journeyman who spent 2019-20 on the Vikings' practice squad and 2021-22 on the Bengals' practice squad before earning the job as Joe Burrow's backup. Browning has thrown 41 passes and two touchdowns with one interception and has been sacked seven times in three games (one start) heading into the Monday Night Football game at EverBank Stadium (8:15 ET, ABC/ESPN).
Thompson-Robinson, who the Browns drafted in the fifth round out of UCLA this spring and made him the starter when Watson underwent season-ending shoulder surgery. He has completed 53.2% of his passes with one touchdown throw and four interceptions. He left Sunday's game with a concussion, so his status for this week is unclear, but if he's unable to play against the Jaguars, the Browns could potentially start 38-year-old Joe Flacco, who signed with the team's practice squad last week.
Tampa Bay's Baker Mayfield, who is on his fourth team since the Browns took him first overall in 2018. He has thrown 17 touchdowns and seven interceptions in 11 starts this season.
Baltimore's Lamar Jackson, the best quarterback the Jaguars will face the rest of the regular season. He's 1-1 against the Jaguars in his career but is missing his best pass-catcher in tight end Mark Andrews, who is on injured reserve with an ankle injury.
Bryce Young, the Panthers' 2023 No. 1 overall pick. Young has struggled, throwing only nine touchdown passes with eight interceptions. He has been sacked 40 times -- only Washington's Sam Howell has been dropped more (55) -- and the Panthers are averaging 15.7 points per game.
Will Levis, a 2023 second-round pick. He took over for Ryan Tannehill in Week 8 and has led the Titans to a 2-3 record as a starter. The Jaguars held him to 158 yards in a 34-14 rout in Jacksonville on Nov. 19.
Three things that could hold them back
The offensive line
The unit has played well in pass protection the last two games -- just one sack and four quarterback hits allowed -- but still ranks 29th in the NFL in pass block win rate (47.9%).
And the Jaguars will face many legitimate pass-rushers over the next month. The Ravens (47) and Browns (34) are in the top 10 in the NFL in sacks. Cleveland's Myles Garrett is tied for third in the NFL with 13.5 sacks. Baltimore's Justin Madubuike and Jadeveon Clowney, Tennessee's Denico Autry, and Cincinnati's Trey Hendrickson are also among the league's better pass-rushers.
The Jaguars won't have starting left tackle Cam Robinson, who went down with a left knee injury against the Texans, potentially for the rest of the season. Left guard Walker Little, who started the first four games at left tackle when Robinson was suspended for violating the league's performance-enhancing drug policy, will move to left tackle. Taking Little's place at left guard will be Ezra Cleveland, whom the Jaguars acquired in a trade with Minnesota at the deadline.
"Quarterbacks feel comfortable when they're getting protection, so my hat's off to the offensive line," Pederson said on Sunday. "Proud of those two guys [Little and Cleveland] for taking on that role, and they did a great job, and really the whole offensive line did a great job keeping Trevor clean and upright."
Tough stretch of defenses
Baltimore, Tennessee and Cleveland are in the top 10 in scoring defense and Baltimore, Cleveland and Carolina rank in the top six in total defense -- with the Browns and Ravens at Nos. 1 and 2.
The Browns, Panthers and Ravens also rank in the top 10 in third-down defenses, which is an area in which the Jaguars have struggled all season. Even after going 7 for 13 (53.8%) against the Texans, the Jaguars are converting just 36.8% of their third downs, which ranks 22nd in the league.
They've been particularly bad on third-and-3 or less, converting on 51.2%, which ranks the fourth-worst in the league. Plus, six of 18 dropped passes have come on third down.
The Jaguars already lost to Kansas City this season, so if it came down to it, they would lose a tiebreaker against the Chiefs. A loss to the Ravens would mean they'd lose that tiebreaker, too. So, it's possible for all three teams to finish with identical records and the Jaguars end up the No. 3 seed, which makes the Dec. 17 game against Baltimore (8:20 p.m. ET, NBC) in Jacksonville critical.
The Jaguars have won five of their last six home games against the Ravens, including winning last year's matchup when Lawrence threw a 10-yard touchdown pass to Marvin Jones Jr. and a two-point conversion to Zay Jones with 14 seconds to play.