The Jags are 3-3 in London. More importantly, they're 4-4 in 2019, just one game back of the Texans, who beat them in Week 2, 13-12. Much has changed since then. Jalen Ramsey is gone. J.J. Watt is out. Gardner Minshew's mustache has been shaven. (Just kidding.) But the rookie quarterback's emergence has turned Jacksonville's season around.
The AFC South showdown, which will air exclusively on NFL Network and kick off at 9:30 a.m. ET, is the league's last in London this season. It certainly isn't least. This is only the fifth matchup out of 28 in which both teams are at least .500. Both teams need the win in a playoff race where 10 teams are within 2.5 games of one other, and in a division where only one win separates all four teams.
A bullseye on Watson
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney first elicited the Jordan-Watson comparison, memorably stating prior to the 2017 NFL Draft that passing on Watson would be akin to passing on Jordan. The city of Chicago, now home to Mitchell Trubisky, is laughing and crying at the same time. Watson, who went No. 12 overall behind the Bears' QB and Patrick Mahomes, is in the short conversation for MVP halfway through the season.
His 21 touchdowns lead the league, and he's managed to improve his accuracy while reducing a dramatically high sack rate from 2018. After leading the Texans to a comeback win over the Raiders last week, Jon Gruden said his athleticism was reminiscent of Jordan's. Watson doesn't have a "Flu Game" on his resume, but his eye was swollen shut last week after he was kicked in the face -- naturally, while throwing a touchdown. He's been practicing with a visor and might wear one versus the Jaguars. It's a team he's 3-0 against, though he's not thrown more than one touchdown in any of the meetings.
Minshew Mania marches on ... for now?
Minshew made his first career start in Week 2 in Houston. Will Sunday in London be his last of the season? Nick Foles is scheduled to come off injured reserve next week, and there are $30.7 million reasons why he'd be reinserted as the starter once he's ready. Minshew has made a compelling case in his absence, however.
The Mike Leach disciple has arguably been the NFL's best offensive rookie while leading Jacksonville to four wins in six games since losing to the Texans. Moreover, his pristine 13:2 TD-INT ratio is the fourth-best in the league, behind guys like Wilson, Rodgers and Mahomes. Rookie QBs have historically struggled in international games, with none of the six starters throwing more than one touchdown. Minshew has thrown at least two five times this season. He's played so well that Jags coach Doug Marrone figures to have a tough decision to make after next week's bye, whether Minshew guides them to a third consecutive win or not.
Power versus power outage
The Jaguars' rushing offense ranks fifth in the NFL. So does the Texans' rushing defense. The latter will be without Watt, whose numbers weren't on par with previous seasons but his presence still commanded constant double teams. The Texans, as you would expect, haven't been nearly the same team over the years when the perennial All-Pro is out of the lineup. Houston will likely lean on a committee of defenders to fill the void.
Watt's torn pectoral muscle came at a particularly bad time, as Leonard Fournette is in the midst of a renaissance season. The Jaguars bell cow is second in the NFL with 791 rushing yards. He also remains one of the toughest players to tackle, leading the league in yards after contact (626), per Pro Football Focus. The Texans have yet to allow a 100-yard rusher. Things could get especially interesting in the red zone, as Fournette has just one touchdown.