The Jacksonville Jaguars entered the season as prohibitive favorites to win the AFC South and trendy picks to return to the AFC Championship Game.
Yet, after a pair of impressive wins to open the season, the Jaguars have stumbled and find themselves in a three-way tie atop the division entering Sunday's matchup against the visiting Houston Texans.
Jacksonville is coming off back-to-back lopsided defeats -- a 30-14 setback at Kansas City in Week 5 and a surprising 40-7 drubbing at the Dallas Cowboys last weekend.
While the Jaguars came back to the pack, the Texans are on a roll. Houston overcame a three-game slide to open the season by ripping off three straight victories to move into a tie with Jacksonville and Tennessee atop the AFC South.
"It's a tough division," Texans head coach Bill O'Brien told reporters. "Three of the teams are sitting there at 3-3 and it's anybody's division."
Jacksonville quarterback Blake Bortles threw for a season-low 149 yards in the rout at Dallas and was intercepted four times at Kansas City, negating his season-best 430 yards passing. Jaguars head coach Doug Marrone thinks Bortles is among a number of his players who are trying to do too much.
"He, along with a lot of other players. It is not just him," said Marrone. "It is a receiver catching the ball and trying to extend or spin or trying to make these unbelievable plays. I have had that happen with players my whole career. Great players, too.
"You can go down the line at every position. ... I am not going to say that you can't overcome things or you might not get a pick or you might not make that play. Those things occur. If you continue and you play like that and you force those things and not just go out there and play, then bad stuff happens."
Despite Bortles' recent struggles, O'Brien is wary of the fifth-year quarterback, who guided Jacksonville to a season sweep of Houston last season by a combined total of 60 points. Bortles has thrown for at least 376 yards in half his starts this season and provides another element with his ability to run.
"There's a lot of these guys that we're facing, including Blake, that can not only throw the ball, but they can make a lot of plays with their scrambling ability, their ability to extend plays, which is really -- you see that throughout the league with a number of guys," O'Brien said. "It's very hard to defend."
O'Brien has such a quarterback in Deshaun Watson, who had his streak of four consecutive 300-yard games end in last week's 20-13 win over Buffalo. Watson rushed for at least 40 yards in four of the first five games but stayed in the pocket against the Bills while dealing with a chest injury last week.
Watson, who has been sacked a league-high 25 times, made his NFL debut in relief against the Jaguars last season and missed the rematch with a knee injury. He may have to be on the run against a Jacksonville defense that registered 14 sacks in last season's sweep.
"A lot of lines struggle against these guys," O'Brien said of Jacksonville's pass rush. "Very challenging defense to go against."
Texans defensive end J.J. Watt is tied for the NFL lead with 7.0 sacks -- all coming in the past four weeks -- and has feasted on Jacksonville in his career. In 11 games against the Jaguars, Watt has amassed 14.5 sacks, knocked down nine passes, posted 58 tackles and recorded one safety.
One of the best individual matchups of the game will pit Houston wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins against Jaguars Pro Bowl cornerback Jalen Ramsey. Hopkins is third in the league with 657 yards on 44 receptions. He scored in each game against Jacksonville last season and totaled 11 catches for 135 yards.
The Jaguars again could be without star running back Leonard Fournette, who has been limited to parts of two games this season due to a hamstring injury. Fournette has missed the past two games and was unable to practice Wednesday.
Marrone said Fournette will be evaluated further Thursday and Friday. T.J. Yeldon, who also did not practice Wednesday, will get the nod if Fournette sits again.