The AFC playoff picture is still very blurred but one thing is clear - the Texans can give their postseason prospects a huge boost with a win over the jaded Jaguars, write Mark Kirwan....
"They haven't been helped by a series of injuries - Will Fuller, Keke Coutee, Demaryius Thomas, Lamar Miller - but still make enough plays to keep them in any game. See Watson's heroics last week in almost turning a 13-point fourth quarter deficit into a Division title sealing win. Hopkins, meanwhile, vies with Antonio Brown and Michael Thomas for the best receiver in the league title from week to week."
Jacksonville Jaguars @ Houston Texans
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Texans playoff predicament
There's just no getting away from those Houston Texans.
While the playoff picture in the NFC is relatively clear, the AFC's is more complicated than the pattern on your average Christmas jumper, with the youngest franchise in the league central to the postseason permutations.
Last week's nerve-jangling two-point loss to the Eagles saw them slip back behind the New England Patriots and into the third seed having looked set for a bye. Nick Foles, somehow, worked his late season magic one more time to dig out a win that keeps the defending champs in the hunt for at least one more week, and that makes Houston's match up with Jacksonville full of consequence for Bill O'Brien's team.
Put simply, Houston are already guaranteed a playoff spot, but which one is anyone's guess.
With a win on Sunday, they could climb as high as the AFC first seed, and that would bring home field advantage and a bye next week.
A loss though, and the AFC's sixth spot is a possibility, meaning a Wildcard Weekend away day at a Division winner and a very tough path for any Super Bowl run.
And there are plenty of other landing spots in between those two extremes.
Making it simpler for them, they do know a win against the Jags secures the AFC South crown and, at the very least, a home game next weekend.
They also know that, should they lose, they're almost 100% certain to drop from the division's top spot, as Indy and Tennessee meet on Sunday night and the winner would jump ahead of Houston if they lose. Only a tie in that game would save them from slipping into the Wildcard spot.
All of which is to say the Texans have about as much motivation as any team are ever likely to have to win on Sunday.
That counts for a lot in week 17 when you're betting, as you should get maximum effort from this team on their home turf, against a divisional rival who has little to play for beyond bragging rights and knocking back their opponent's playoff hopes.
Blake back in the shake up
One Jaguar may have a bit more at stake. Just when you thought it was safe to write off Blake Bortles, he's back in the line-up thanks to Cody Kessler's putrid play since taking over starting duties in week 13.
This will almost certainly be his last appearance in the teal and black, but Bortles will want to impress propective employers, and he is, in all honesty, a better option than the former Cleveland Brown at quarterback.
Kessler collected two wins in his four starts, though that had more to do with the Jags defence shutting out Indianapolis for a 6-0 win than the offence he led.
Bortles could also get one back at the organisation that's finally set to cut ties with him - a win would take the Jaguars to 6-10 for the season and lift them that little bit higher in the 2019 draft. Last week's win over Miami didn't help in that respect either.
There are some big calls to be made in the off-season in northeast Florida beyond the QB position. Coach Doug Marrone ought to be feeling the heat after taking the team from the verge of a Super Bowl to nowhere in under a year.
Leonard Fournette's health and fitness remains an issue and casts further doubt on the decision to draft him fourth overall ahead of some quarterbacks who are actually good, the one they're facing on Sunday among them.
Jalen Ramsey's mouth hasn't been backed up by his play this season, and other defensive pieces will depart in 2019, while the front office should be set for an overhaul too.
None of these factors suggest a team ready to pull out a performance to skewer their rival's January aspirations.
As well as having all the reason in the world to go all out for the win here, Houston have two great playmakers in Deshaun Watson and DeAndre Hopkins on offence.
They haven't been helped by a series of injuries - Will Fuller, Keke Coutee, Demaryius Thomas, Lamar Miller - but still make enough plays to keep them in any game. See Watson's heroics last week in almost turning a 13-point fourth quarter deficit into a Division title sealing win.
Hopkins, meanwhile, vies with Antonio Brown and Michael Thomas for the best receiver in the league title from week to week.
The Jaguars do have a secondary that could take him away, and if he's limited, you wonder where their offence will come from, but I'd expect a star like Hopkins to blow up when it counts. The Jags have nothing to play for, and that makes the Texans appeal even more, especially when they're being asked to cover less than a touchdown at 2.01/1.
Bortles is a better option than Kessler, but that's not saying much. Fournette was limited in practice again this week. The Jags haven't been heavy scorers all season, and the Texans D will be up for this. They have injuries in the secondary, which makes me more cautious, but if there's a total play in this game, it's under on the Away Team Points at 5/6 on the Sportsbook.
With so many injuries at receiver, there are opportunities for less heralded names to get in on the touchdown action for Texans. Vyncint Smith's an undrafted rookie name who was bandied about in the preseason as one to watch. It hasn't happened for him since the real football started, but last week he turned his one catch into a score, and with Thomas gone now, he'll likely see a bit more action, especially if Keke Coutee remains out.
1pt on Houston Texans -6.5 on the Handicap market @ 2.01/1 on the Exchange
0.5ptpt on Under 16.5 points on the Away Team Total Points market @ 5/6 on the Sportsbook
0.2pt on Vyncint Smith on the First Touchdown market @ 25/1 on the Sportsbook
0.33pt on Vyncint Smith on the Any Time Touchdown market @ 15/2 on the Sportsbook