1:00 PM ET, December 13, 2009
EverBank Field, Jacksonville, FL
For a team that can't sell out its stadium, the Jacksonville Jaguars are enjoying an awfully nice home-field advantage of late.
A sixth straight home win Sunday would allow the Jaguars to keep a leg up in the AFC wild-card race, but the Miami Dolphins can bolster their own playoff hopes as they visit Jacksonville Municipal Stadium for the first time in more than six years.
The Jaguars (7-5) haven't sold out a home game in their 67,164-seat venue this season, averaging more than 21,000 empty seats and seeing a season-low 42,079 fans in the stands for their game against Houston last Sunday.
The sparse crowds haven't hurt Jacksonville on the field, however. The Jaguars have won five in a row at home after David Garrard's 238 yards passing and two touchdowns led them to a 23-18 win over the Texans.
That victory has Jacksonville in sole possession of the AFC's No. 6 seed -- one game behind 8-4 Denver, but with four teams -- including 6-6 Miami -- chasing it for that final spot.
"It feels good," said receiver Mike Sims-Walker, who has a team-high 752 yards and six touchdowns but was held to one catch for 12 yards against Houston. "We're happy to be in a position to play in January. There's not many teams that have hope to be thinking about the playoffs right now. We control everything. We're in full control of whatever we want to do. It feels good, but we're not content."
The Jaguars boast a 6-2 conference record, which could be a huge difference-maker should that final spot come down to a two- or three-team tie-break scenario. They'll know much more about their chances of making a third postseason appearance in five years after visits from Miami on Sunday and undefeated Indianapolis on Thursday night.
With Jacksonville's playoff prospects looking promising, fans appear to be taking notice. Only 9,000 tickets for this game were left unsold as of early this week, and the team is optimistic at least one of the final two games will be sold out. That would lift the NFL's local television blackout of the game for the first time this season.
Regardless of who's watching, the Jaguars don't need any extra incentive, particularly against one of their wild-card competitors.
"It's going to be an in-state rivalry. It's going to be like a best-friends brawl," running back Maurice Jones-Drew told the Jaguars' official Web site. "Watching them play on tape heightens everybody's sense of awareness."
Jones-Drew, who's battling a knee injury, and Miami running back Ricky Williams will likely be the focal point of their respective offenses considering the Dolphins rank fourth (150.4 yards per game) and the Jaguars seventh (130.5) in rushing yards.
But Williams, who's averaging 5.0 yards per carry and is tied for fourth in the league with nine TDs, took a backseat to quarterback Chad Henne and the passing game last Sunday against New England. The Dolphins were forced to throw the ball after falling behind 14-0 early in the second quarter and Henne responded, passing for a career-high 335 yards and two scores in the 22-21 comeback victory.
"The guy just keeps bouncing back," Dolphins coach Tony Sparano said. "I love the kid because his demeanor doesn't change at all. He could throw a touchdown pass, he could bring it down the field in the fourth quarter, or he can throw one to the other team -- whatever, this guy's demeanor just doesn't change. He's rock-solid that way."
Despite each team's preference for its ground game, this contest may come down to whichever quarterback can make more plays downfield. Jacksonville's defense is 23rd against the pass (242.1 ypg) and Miami's is 24th (242.9).
The Jaguars may be more likely to succeed through the air, largely because of Garrard's play at home. He's thrown nine of his 10 touchdown passes in leading Jacksonville to a 5-1 record at home, and he has a 95.4 passer rating at Jacksonville Municipal Stadium.
Though the Jaguars have been tough to beat at home, Sparano is just happy to have his team in the mix for a postseason berth after an 0-3 start.
"I like knowing that you have a chance, and like knowing there are some teams right now not playing for very much, and we have a chance," Sparano said. "We are going to try to do everything in our power to make this the best run we can make it."
The teams last met in 2006, a 24-10 Jaguars win in south Florida. They haven't met in Jacksonville since a 24-10 Miami victory three years earlier.
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|Avg Points Allowed||23.5||22.1|
Team Averages & NFL Ranks
|TEAM OFFENSE||TEAM||PER GAME AVERAGE|
|TEAM DEFENSE||TEAM||PER GAME AVERAGE|
|Pass Yds Allowed||MIA|
|Rush Yds Allowed||MIA|
Head to Head Matchups (Since 2001)
|Miami leads 2-1|
|Dec 3, 2006||MIA 10, JAX 24|
|Oct 12, 2003||MIA 24, @JAX 10|