The 49ers will go for their first win against an opponent from the AFC South this season, when they host the Jacksonville Jaguars this Sunday at Candlestick Park.
The Jaguars are tied for the lead in AFC Wild Card race at 6-4 with the Pittsburgh Steelers and Denver Broncos, and are coming off three consecutive wins. Most recently, they beat the Buffalo Bills 18-15 at home.
While the 49ers started the season 2-0, on the other side of the country, the Jaguars have turned their season around despite starting 0-2. On Sunday, both teams will be looking to keep their playoff hopes alive, as every game at this juncture of the season becomes even more crucial.
Most NFL teams are led by the play of the quarterback, but in the case of the Jaguars, running back Maurice Jones-Drew is the focal point of the offensive attack.
Thanks to the Bay Area native's aggressive running style, the Jaguars have the NFL's sixth-best rush offense, averaging 136.3 yards per game. Jones-Drew ranks fifth in the NFL with 926 yards on the ground, but leads the league with 13 rushing touchdowns.
He's even scored rushing touchdowns in each of his last five games and has visited the end zone in eight out of ten games this season.
Another remarkable aspect of Jacksonville's success on the ground is the fact that it comes behind two rookies at the tackle positions. With the No. 8 overall pick in the 2008 Draft, the Jaguars selected left tackle Eugene Monroe and then followed 31 picks later in the second round to take Eben Britton to play right tackle. Despite the lack of professional experience at arguably the two most important positions on the line, the Jaguars have only allowed 24 sacks this season.
With Jones-Drew being such a threat to opposing defenses, quarterback David Garrard has quietly gone about his business, managing games and making plays when it's needed. The eight-year veteran has completed 61.8 percent of his passes (199-of-322) for 2,303 yards, with eight touchdowns and six interceptions.
Garrard performed considerably well in the clutch last Sunday, leading his team to a come-from-behind win over the Bills. He did so by engineering a 12-play, 68-yard touchdown drive that was finished with a 3-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Mike Sims-Walker.
Garrard also tacked on the 2-point conversion to give the Jaguars a 3-point lead with a 1:02 remaining in the game. Even at the age of 31, Garrard is still a duel-threat quarterback rushing 50 times for 218 yards with two touchdowns this season.
Sims-Walker has become Garrard's No. 1 target, hauling in 47 passes for 694 yards and six touchdowns. The team signed veteran wideout Torry Holt in the offseason from the St. Louis Rams, and he's been held out of the end zone for the first time in his 11-year career in which he's scored 74 times. But Holt has been reliable, catching 38 balls for 516 yards. Jones-Drew also helps out in the passing game and is third on the team with 36 catches for 238 yards.
Tight end Marcedes Lewis (22 catches for 348 yards, two touchdowns) and rookie wide receiver Mike Thomas (25 catches for 223 yards) also are weapons in Jacksonville's passing game.
The strength of the Jaguars defense is their run defense, which ranks as the league's 17th best unit against the run. But Jacksonville has only registered a league-low 10 sacks.
Outside linebacker Daryl Smith leads the team with 65 tackles, with inside linebacker Justin Durant second on the team with 61 stops. Durant did not play last week because of a concussion, but head coach Jack Del Rio announced his third-year linebacker is cleared to play Sunday.
The team's third-leading tackler is free safety Reggie Nelson who has 48 tackles, 44 of which were solo stops. Nelson has yet to intercept a pass this season, but has playmaking ability when in coverage.
The defensive line's best player is veteran John Henderson. The defensive tackle is also their best pass rusher, leading the team with 3.0 sacks. Defensive Derrick Harvey, a former first round pick has yet to record a sack on the season. Jacksonville's other defensive end Bryan Smith was placed on injured reserve on Monday with a shoulder injury, opening the door for Quentin Groves to re-join the starting lineup. Groves, another high draft-pick (No. 52 overall in '08 Draft) has been benched twice previously in the season. The Jaguars also have undrafted rookie Julius Williams and former 49ers lineman Atiyyah Ellison as other options at the defensive end position.
Without a consistent pass rush, the Jaguars have the league's 25th pass defense allowing 244.0 yards per game. The secondary has come up nine interceptions, with cornerback Rashean Mathis leading the way with three, followed by fellow cornerback Derek Cox's two.
But Mathis was unable to play against the Bills because of a groin injury and might miss Sunday's game against the 49ers. If that's the case, backup Tyron Brackenridge will get his second start.
Both teams have numerous injury concerns heading into Sunday's contest. But no matter who lines up for each team, the focus will be solely be on winning the game. With six weeks remaining in the season, every game becomes a playoff-like atmosphere.