- Associated Press - Thursday, December 14, 2017

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) - Veteran tight end Marcedes Lewis understands the position the Jacksonville Jaguars are in, maybe even better than anyone.

Lewis is the lone holdover from Jacksonville’s last playoff team a decade ago. Lewis and the Jaguars lost 102 of 144 games over the nine seasons between 2007 and 2017.

So the 12th-year pro has a genuine appreciation for being oh-so-close to returning to the postseason. The Jaguars (9-4) have a clear path to the playoffs: They can clinch a spot by beating Houston (4-9) at home Sunday.

No help needed. No scoreboard watching necessary. No confusing scenarios.

Win and they’re in.

“You’ve got to take advantage of these situations,” Lewis said. “It doesn’t just happen. When you have the opportunity to do something like this, you want to be paying close attention to details and just trying to make sure that you’re doing everything that you have to do to get it done because you won’t be able to get it back.”

Jacksonville has won six of its last seven games, including an eye-opening, 30-24 victory against perennial playoff contender Seattle last week. The Jaguars controlled the game throughout, and aside from a few big plays by quarterback Russell Wilson late, were nearly flawless.

Now, they’re atop the AFC South and closing in on a playoff berth.

“It feels good to be playing for something in December and to still be getting better,” Lewis said. “We still haven’t played our perfect game yet, and that’s scary. I think we’re getting better at the right time.”

Jacksonville’s surprising season started with a 29-7 victory at Houston.

The Jags used a 10-sack performance to dominate the Texans in the opener and set the tone for the season. Injury-ravaged Houston will look far from the same in the rematch.

Third-string quarterback T.J. Yates will make his first start since Dec. 20, 2015, at Indianapolis. Yates is replacing Tom Savage (concussion), who regained the starting role after dynamic rookie Deshaun Watson (knee) was lost for the season.

“Yeah, there’s no doubt that our game plan this week, in many ways, will be different than maybe what you’ve seen the past few weeks,” Texans coach Bill O’Brien said. “There’s going to be a lot of differences to it. … There’s all kinds of things that we have to deal with, but we’ll definitely try to put together as good a game plan as we can to deal with all that.”

The top priority is finding a way to block the Jaguars, who lead the league with 47 sacks. Houston has allowed 41, fourth most in the NFL.

“It’s definitely going to be a point of emphasis for us,” Yates said. “We know what type of defense we’re going up against and how talented they are up front and in the back end, so we have to be sharp. Definitely the ball has to come out quick.”

Here are some other things to know about the Texans and Jaguars:

CLOWNEY’S WORK: Houston defensive end Jadeveon Clowney has put together the best season of his career. It comes with stars J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus out for the season. The top overall pick in the 2014 draft has shaken off the injury-filled start to his career and is second in the NFL with a career-high 20 tackles for losses. He also leads the Texans with a career-best nine sacks.

“He’s a great player, one of the best players in the league at his position, and he can literally, by himself, take over a game,” Jaguars coach Doug Marrone said. “He can change the course of a game.”

KEY MATCHUP: Texans receiver DeAndre Hopkins and Jaguars cornerback Jalen Ramsey are the matchup to watch. Ramsey shadowed Hopkins in the opener, holding him to seven catches for 55 yards and a touchdown, and is expected to do the same Sunday.

“Highest-paid receiver, so that should mean you’re one of the top receivers in the league,” Ramsey said. “I would agree and say he is. He’s been balling, doing his thing.”

TOUCHDOWN HAUL: Hopkins leads the NFL and has tied a career high and franchise record with 11 touchdown receptions despite playing with three quarterbacks. The QB carousel is nothing new for Hopkins, who has played with nine different guys at the position since he was drafted in 2013.

“It’s a challenge for me to be able to go out and play with a quarterback who hasn’t played with us often just to show the world that it doesn’t mean that you have to have a Pro Bowl quarterback or a 100 percent-rated quarterback to get the job done at the wide receiver position,” he said. “So to me it’s a challenge, and I love it.”

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For more NFL coverage: http://www.pro32.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP_NFL


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