With all the seriousness leading up to the 2012 NFL Draft, I say lets take a step back and have some fun.
The release of the 2012 schedule did anything but anger Jaguars fans compared to last season. Instead, I have noticed a sense of calm and positiveness surrounding the team (or maybe I'm just drinking a lot recently).
Going into the 2012 season, the team has plenty to prove, but also has plenty of surprise in them.
The top three things that will need to see improvement are obvious: 1) Blaine Gabbert, 2) pass rush, and 3) injuries.
You can't win many games with over 20 players on IR, you can't win many games without pressuring the quarterback, and you sure as heck can't win many games without a consistent quarterback.
With that said, I have taken the liberty to discuss why i believe that this team has a chance to go 10-6 on the year and surprise everyone with at least a playoff birth, if not the AFC South title.
As John Oehser says, lets get to it...
Week 1: W @ Minnesota - There should be no surprise here. The Vikings have an inexperienced quarterback and proven running back. Sound familiar? The Jaguars have the advantage with their defense, and after the draft, should have a better pass rush and pass coverage team. The Vikings will possibly grab another playmaker in Justin Blackmon, or could go with Matt Kalil. Either way, they are due to grab a very solid prospect with their third overall pick.
Week 2: W vs. Houston - Surprise number one of the year! In Jacksonville, the crowd is pumped after a week one win, and Blaine Gabbert is finally ready to show some sort of consistency in back-to-back games. A close one indeed, but the Jaguars always play their division tough, and the Texans, in my opinion, are going into 2012 very overrated.
Week 3: W @ Indianapolis - Andrew Luck is the question mark here. How quickly will he get acclimated to the NFL? This team will definitely be better than last year, but that doesn't mean they are in for a good season. Luck will be good if not great, but too much rebuilding going on in Indy to make them much of a competitor this year.
Week 4: W vs. Cincinnati - Oh man, 4-0? That can't be! I sure think it's possible. The Bengals snuck by Jacksonville last year, and I think that it once again comes down to Gabbert showing up and playing a couple levels up this year. The Bengals have a great young offense, but they are nowhere near dominate. AJ Green is going to turn into one of the scariest WR's to play against, so he will need to be shut down for this to happen.
Week 5: L vs. Chicago - There we go, finally a loss. Chicago has a good passing game, running game, and defense. Question is whether or not they can all show up on the same day. With the addition of Brandon Marshall, this team becomes much better. If Jacksonville can slow Forte down and shut down Marshall at the same time (a lot to ask), then this could easily become a W, but for right now, I don't see it happening.
Week 6: Bye
Week 7: W @ Oakland - Oakland is a team I really feel bad for. If Carson Palmer does not pan out, they just set this franchise back another five years (no first round pick this year). McFadden is a playmaker, and the defense can play solid at times, but they are not a team I see doing much more than 7-9. Key to the game will be stopping McFadden and getting to Palmer. We all know he can be very impressive when given time in the pocket.
Week 8: L @ Green Bay - Going to be a great challenge, and with our secondary, I think the chances are increasing that we can pull off the upset. However, we are not there yet. The addition of Claiborne or Gilmore could improve chances drastically, but the pass first, pass second Packers will attack the air all day. Gabbert and MJD should be able to take advantage of a weak defense in GB, but the firepower that GB has is very impressive.
Week 9: L vs. Detroit - Back to back weeks of pure passing teams. Stafford and Calvin Johnson may give this team their biggest challenge of the year. If the Jaguars can find a way to calm their offense, MJD and Gabbert should be able to attack another poor defense. This game is in no way a definitive loss, but the Jaguars will need to play flawless ball in order to win.
Week 10: W vs. Indianapolis - Luck has matured a little bit by now and understands the speed of the NFL better than he did in week 3, but the team is yet to find its true identity. With no running game to help him out, Luck is bound to struggle in 2012 (not as badly as Gabbert, but probably not as great as the expectations he is going to be held to). Jaguars pull out another win, and Gabbert is proving to be the QB they wanted at tenth overall.
Week 11: L @ Houston - I may feel they are overrated, but they are good. Schaub, Foster, and Johnson make for a nasty group of offensive talent. Jaguars may be able to keep it close, but are likely to lose at least once against Houston. What do you know, another game that Gabbert will absolutely need to play well in order to give them a fighting chance.
Week 12: W vs. Tennessee - The Titans are a team that could really be either pretty darn good, or pretty darn bad. I'm not sure which one yet, but I'm leaning towards the opposite of good. Whether it is Hasselbeck or Locker, this team needs to get Chris Johnson's fire back or they are headed for another crappy year. Defensively, they are not going to be too good. Losing Cortland Finnegan and Jason Jones were head scratchers, and Kamerion Wimbley cannot be the only good pass rusher on the team if they want to win more than five games.
Week 13: W @ Buffalo - Buffalo has really made a name for themselves with the additions of Mario Williams and Mark Anderson, but they are still the Bills. A very strong start last year ended up in a very disappointing finish. Ryan Fitzpatrick is a good QB, but obviously doesn't possess the consistency (appears I like this word, huh?) needed to be a reliable, winning QB in the NFL. Fred Jackson and Steve Johnson make for a good offense, so I am interested in seeing what this team can do in 2012, I just don't think they will be as good as Jacksonville.
Week 14: W vs. NYJ - What? We got murdered by them a year ago, so why would we win now? This is a game that will be completely won because of the fans in Jacksonville. Tebow is in town, the Jaguars are having a good year, and the fans realize this franchise is back on the right track. The game will be considered a "game-changer" for the city, and I believe that the team will rise up to the challenge. Mark Sanchez, Shonn Greene, and Santonio Holmes are good, but they are not near the elite in the NFL. Mark this one down to watch.
Week 15: W @ Miami - Florida matchup where the better team is Jacksonville. Interesting to see if David Garrard will get the start vs. his old team, but Miami has had a horrible offseason, and an even worse time off the field with their GM. Miami is in for a rough year, which stinks for the fans of Miami after a couple nice games last year. Matt Moore showed promise, so I don't see Garrard getting the starting job. Reggie Bush showed why he is still a solid player last season, but the Dolphins defense will struggle with MJD and the improved passing game in Jacksonville.
Week 16: L vs New England - I already had a nightmare about this matchup, and I think it's from the AFC playoff game a few years back. Incase you don't remember, Tom Brady made our secondary look stupid and I cried for the entire offseason. I see the Jaguars being much more prepared to play this team this time around, but will still struggle with the two-TE set that Gronkowski and Hernandez can play. The Jaguars offense should be able to succeed with NE's poor defense, but the question will be whether or not the defense can slow down Brady.
Week 17: L @ Tennessee - The Jaguars end the year on a strong note and get ready to head into the playoffs, but the premature celebration is suddenly abrupt with loss to a divisional foe. Every week 17 brings a couple upsets for teams that seem to be more focused on the playoffs rather than their next matchup, and unfortunately it bites the Jags in the butt this year, ending their season at 10-6.
With that said, please let the critics speak..