Jags Trying to Keep Pace

The Carolina Panthers and the Jacksonville Jaguars both entered the NFL in 1995. That's about the only similarity between the teams this season.

The Jaguars will look to rebound from a loss and move closer to an AFC playoff spot, while the Panthers hope to build on a win that snapped a five-game losing streak when they meet in Jacksonville for the first time since 1996 on Sunday.

Oddsmakers from Bodog have made Jacksonville –10.5 point spread favorites (View NFL Football odds) for Sunday's game, the over/under has been set at 37.5 total points (Game Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 70% of bets for this game have been placed on Jacksonville –10.5 (View NFL Football bet percentages).

At times, it has looked like these franchise's have taken similar paths since joining the league.

Both lost in their respective conference championship games in just their second seasons and both went 8-8 last year after successful 2005 campaigns. Even their coaches are linked, as Jacksonville's Jack Del Rio served as defensive coordinator under Carolina's John Fox in 2002.

But this season, they've traveled different roads. Carolina (5-7) has struggled with injuries at the quarterback position, and had scored 17 points or fewer in five straight games before a 31-14 win over San Francisco last week. The Panthers are only a game out of the last NFC wild-card spot, but their four remaining opponents have a combined record of 35-13.

Jacksonville (8-4), on the other hand, has found its quarterback in David Garrard and scored at least 24 points in each of the last six contests. The Jaguars had won three in a row before a 28-25 loss at Indianapolis last week.

A win in that game would have tied them with the Colts atop the AFC South, but the Jaguars still lead the conference's wild-card race with three of their remaining four games against teams that currently have losing records.

A late Jaguars rally came up short against the Colts. Garrard threw his first interception of the season - on his 231st pass attempt - in the fourth quarter, and the Jaguars ran out of time after making it a three-point game in the final three minutes.

"In all likelihood, they'll win the division," Del Rio said of the Colts. "They still have to play it out, but they deserve it. We didn't quite get it done today, but I saw a lot of good things."

Among them were good games from Garrard - despite the interception - and Fred Taylor. Garrard, who is 5-0 all-time as a starter against NFC teams, was 24-of-29 for 257 yards and two touchdowns, improving his passer rating to 104.7 - the third-best in football behind New England's Tom Brady and Tony Romo of Dallas.

Despite the loss to Indianapolis, Del Rio is hoping Garrard will lead teams to consider the Jaguars among the league's best.

"In order to become part of that conversation, you have to have a quarterback playing at a high level," Del Rio said. "And we have that right now. That gives us a legitimate chance."

Taylor, meanwhile, had his second straight 14-carry, 104-yard game last weekend. He and Maurice Jones-Drew have sparked Jacksonville to the second-best rushing offense in the NFL at 141.0 yards per game.

Jacksonville's defense should get a boost this week with the return of defensive tackle Marcus Stroud, who missed the last four games due to a drug-related suspension. The Jaguars are still, however, without linebacker Mike Peterson, who was the team's leading tackler when he broke his hand against San Diego three weeks ago.

The defense gives up just 18.6 points per game, but has been prone to big pass plays this season, allowing an NFL-high 47 of 20 or more yards. The Jaguars allowed four touchdown passes to Peyton Manning last Sunday, including a 48-yard first-quarter strike to Reggie Wayne.

"That has become an area of concern and one that we're going to give a lot of attention to," Del Rio said. "We know that in order for us to have success in December, and potentially beyond, we've got to shore that part of our game up."

It looks like Carolina will again turn to Vinny Testaverde to lead its offense after the 44-year-old was 17-of-26 for 169 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions in the win over San Francisco.

The Panthers' quarterback situation has been unstable ever since starter Jake Delhomme went down for the year after elbow surgery in September. Three different players have started since then, including David Carr and Matt Moore, and Carr was demoted to third string last week.

But Carolina finally had a good offensive effort against the 49ers, showing some creativity when receiver Steve Smith took a snap in the shotgun and later pitched a ball to DeAngelo Williams on a hook-and-ladder.

"Last night coach Fox mentioned to the team, 'Hey just go out and have fun,'" Testaverde said. "We've pressed too hard and we've made too many mistakes. Not that today was perfect, but it seemed like the guys were having fun and making plays."

Smith had 64 yards receiving, his most since Carolina's last win Oct. 14, and the team ran for 166 yards, also the most since that victory. Carolina notched a season high in points with help from a 67-yard interception return for a TD by Richard Marshall.

Carolina is tied with four other NFC teams at 5-7, one game behind a group of three at 6-6. With the New York Giants at 8-4, only one wild-card spot would seem to be available for those eight teams.

Jacksonville, meanwhile, is a game ahead of Cleveland and Tennessee in the AFC. The Jaguars split two games with the Titans and don't play the Browns.

Jacksonville has won two of three against Carolina, but the Panthers won 24-23 at home on Sept. 7, 2003 in the most recent meeting. The Jaguars won 24-14 on Sept. 29, 1996 in the only matchup in Jacksonville.

Carolina has dropped its last two on the road after opening 4-0 away from home.

By: Staff Writers - Email Us

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