NFL Preview - Washington (5-9) at Jacksonville (8-6)
By Lyle Fitzsimmons, Contributing NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - For one team, it's playoff drama. For the other, it's just drama.
The Jacksonville Jaguars host the Washington Redskins this Sunday having lost their previous stranglehold on the AFC South division lead, but still holding out hope that things will fall their way.
Head coach Jack Del Rio & Co. led the four-team group heading into a Week 15 showdown with second-place Indianapolis, but suffered a 34-24 loss to the Colts and now find themselves tied for the division's top spot and needing help in order to secure a first playoff slot since 2007.
The Jaguars host the Redskins before finishing the season at Houston, whom they beat, 31-24, on a last-second pass in November. Indianapolis, meanwhile, is at Oakland this Sunday and will return home next week to meet Tennessee, whom it defeated by a 30-28 count on Dec. 9.
The Colts would win the tiebreaker if they prevail in both their two remaining games.
Neither running back Maurice Jones-Drew nor wide receiver Mike Sims-Walker were present for Jacksonville when the team began practice this week due to nagging injuries, though Del Rio said neither is in immediate jeopardy of not playing on Sunday.
Jones-Drew and Sims-Walker have both been playing through injuries this season. Sims-Walker has missed two games with a high right ankle sprain. Jones-Drew hasn't missed any games, but was somewhat limited against the Colts.
"We're going to find out," Del Rio said of his ailing weapons. "It didn't look too good last week, so hopefully we can get going here in the next couple days so we can get [both players] out there and run around, see how it feels.
"As it is this time of year, you're dealing with guys, trying to make that determination as you go through the week. The longer I've been doing this as a head coach, I really am very reluctant to make true game-time decisions. There are not a lot of those that go well. Player tries to talk his way to doing something then he's not really able to play that well."
For the Redskins, the biggest news revolves around who'll be healthy -- and still not playing.
Big-ticket quarterback Donovan McNabb, who came over from division-rival Philadelphia in the offseason, was unceremoniously benched for the rest of the season by head coach Mike Shanahan heading into last week's 33-30 loss to Dallas.
Former Chicago Bear and University of Florida standout Rex Grossman took snaps in McNabb's place against the Cowboys and was prolific, throwing for 322 yards and four touchdowns. The four scoring strikes matched a career high for the eighth-year man, while the 322 yards were his second-most in 32 career NFL starts.
McNabb said he felt "disrespected" by Shanahan's actions when asked in recent days, but maintained this week that he wants to remain in Washington.
As for Shanahan, he compared Grossman's prospects to those of former Denver quarterback Jake Plummer, whom the coach brought to the Broncos amid controversy after a subpar track record in Arizona.
"I understand this game, and I understand how it works," Shanahan said. "When I had Jake Plummer, he had a winning percentage of 36 percent [in Arizona]. Everybody said we were crazy. He had 90 touchdown passes and 114 interceptions. 'How can you bring a guy to the Denver Broncos that had won 36 percent of his games?' And four years later, he'd won 72 percent of his games, which was the best in [those] four years."
Washington owns a 3-1 lead in its all-time series with Jacksonville, including a 36-30 overtime victory in the last such meeting, in 2006 at FedEx Field. A 68-yard touchdown pass from ex-Jag Mark Brunell to Santana Moss in the extra session provided the Redskins with the win. Jacksonville won the previous meeting, a 26-7 home decision in 2002. The Redskins' lone win in Jacksonville came during the 2000 season.
Del Rio is 0-1 in his career against the Redskins, while Shanahan is 4-5 all- time against Jacksonville, including playoffs. Del Rio leads the personal series with Shanahan, 3-1.
WHEN THE REDSKINS HAVE THE BALL
In spite of the quarterbacking issues, Washington has been prolific -- at least statistically -- through the air, ranking ninth in the league with 244.5 passing yards per week. The Redskins struggle everywhere else, however, ranking just 25th in points (19.1 ppg), 17th in total yardage (338.4 ypg) and 28th in rushing (93.9 ypg). The Jaguars are a bottom-tier team on defense across the board, allowing 26.1 points per game (28th), 371.5 total yards per game (26th), 255.6 passing yards per game (27th) and 115.9 rushing yards per game (18th).
Washington running back Ryan Torain has 546 scrimmage yards (109.2 per game) and four touchdowns (two rushing, two receiving) in his past five games. He had a career-high five catches and 48 receiving yards with a score last week. Another runner, Keiland Williams, is tied for third among NFL rookie backs with five touchdowns (three rushing, two receiving) and is the only rookie with multiple rushing and receiving scores. Wideout Anthony Armstrong has 40 receptions for 772 yards and averages 19.3 yards per catch, second-highest in the NFC. Armstrong had five catches for 100 yards last week, his first career 100-yard game. Veteran wide receiver Santana Moss had two touchdown catches last week and aims for a third game in a row with a score. He had four catches for 138 yards (34.5 avg.) and three touchdowns in these teams' last meeting and has recorded a career-high three receiving scores in a game three times. Moss looks for a third game in a row versus Jacksonville with a touchdown. Tight end Chris Cooley ranks second among players at his position with 67 receptions this year.
Linebacker Daryl Smith leads a shaky Jacksonville defense with 81 tackles.
WHEN THE JAGUARS HAVE THE BALL
Running the ball has been the bread-and-butter approach for Jacksonville, which is third-best in the NFL with an average of 151.4 rushing yards per week. The Jaguars are 15th in the league in scoring at 22.8 points per game, 15th in total yards (343.0 ypg) and 27th overall in passing yards (191.6 ypg). They'll meet a willing foe in a Redskins' defense which yields 24.5 points (23rd overall), 397.6 total yards (32nd), 263.3 passing yards (31st) and 134.4 rushing yards (27th) per game on the season..
Jaguars quarterback David Garrard has a single-season franchise record with 22 touchdown passes. At home this season, Garrard has completed 108-of-172 passes (62.8 pct.) for 1,242 yards with 12 touchdowns against six interceptions with a 93.2 passer rating. He ranks first in the NFL with a 115.8 fourth-quarter rating. Running back Jones-Drew aims for a fourth consecutive game with 100- plus rushing yards at home and averages 97.4 yards per game on the ground at home in 2010 (682 total). Jones-Drew (1,324 rushing yards) needs 68 rush yards to surpass his career-high of 1,391 set in 2009. In his past four games, backup running back Rashad Jennings is averaging 8.8 yards per carry (25 attempts, 219 yards). He has a rushing touchdown in three of his past four games and had career bests in receptions (seven) and receiving yards (64) last week. Sims- Walker tied a career-high with two touchdown receptions against the Colts and tight end Marcedes Lewis (9 TD) needs one touchdown catch to become the second player in club history with 10 scoring receptions. Another wide receiver, Mike Thomas, had a 78-yard punt return touchdown last week.
Washington linebacker Brian Orakpo has 8 1/2 sacks in seven career games against the AFC, while end Phillip Daniels, who had a sack and an interception in the teams' last meeting, was one of two Redskins starting linemen placed on injured reserve this week, along with nose tackle Maake Kemoeatu. Elsewhere, veteran linebacker London Fletcher has 18 tackles and a sack in his past two encounters with Jacksonville.
It's not a good team, but Washington boasts at least intriguing plays in Grossman, Torain, Moss, Armstrong and Cooley, while the Jaguars offer Garrard, a slam dunk in Jones-Drew and attractive options in Sims-Walker, Lewis and kicker Josh Scobee.
Last week's uprising against a mediocre Dallas team notwithstanding, the Redskins are a ways from being a contender. Jacksonville, on the other hand, went toe-to-toe with the perennially successful Colts and remains within a half-step of them heading down the stretch. Given the postseason as a motivation and home field as a benefit, look for Del Rio to keep the Jaguars relevant for another week.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Jaguars 21, Redskins 20
12/23 11:18:16 ET