Before I begin, I want it acknowledged that I was fully willing to write the "Pro" argument, and still would if someone wants to see it. I think 8 wins is not an unreasonable prediciton for the coming season, though if you put me on the spot, I'd have to say 7 wins.
However, since it falls to me to represent the "Con" side of the argument, I will do so to the best of my ability.
For those who don't know, this is the initial "con" argument of the question posed by Unhipcat: Will the Jaguars win more or less than 8 games?1) Offseason distractions. There may be some who think that a team being in the news in the offseason doesn't affect play. I am not of that opinion. Football, for a game that is so physical, also has a very strong emotional/cerebral element. It's not enough to have the talent, you also need to, as Coach Sullivan said hear "elevator music" to perform at your best.
If you've been following the Jaguars this offseason, you've probably heard a lot more about contract disputes, holdouts, DUI's and punters. (I'll expand on each of these in later arguments). That's not even mentioning Terrance Knighton's night club incident. Really, I see these extracurriculars as something that makes it difficult for a team to focus on football, and that affects play.
2) Completely changed offensive system. The arrival of a new coaching staff doesn't just mean a new name on the door. In this case specifically, Mike Mularkey is bringing a completely revamped, short-passing based offense to Jacksonville. Granted, we are rapidly approaching the age where the running game will disappear, but it is still important to match your gameplan to the players you have on the roster.
For a short passing offense, you need a lot of quick receivers with reliable hands, pass-blocking offensive linemen, smaller but quicker TEs that can get up the seam and threaten a defense deep, and a cerebral field general QB. The QB discussion will come later. For now, let's talk about the rest of the offense.
The Jaguars have, for the past 5-10 years been a run-first team. Because of this, the team has selected larger, stronger offensive linemen in lieu of lighter, more agile blockers. Eugene Monroe is turning into a top 5 LT, but the line as a whole is not a pass-blocking unit. Last year's rookie Guard Will Rackley struggled heavily early in the year with pass blocking, and even when he was fully healthy Eben Britton was never a good pass blocker.
Marcedes Lewis is a very good Tight End when he catches the ball :>/, but is he a stretch the field, down the seam guy? Not especially, no.
So do the Jaguars have the players to keep Gabbert on his feet and comfortable in a pass heavy offense? For a QB who struggled with pocket presence ever since college, this is a big question, and I'm not confident at all that the answer is yes.
3) Turnover/uncertainty on the Defensive line. Last year's defensive line was a solid group. Terrance Knighton, Tyson Alualu, and breakout player Jeremy Mincey were good, and Matt Roth added good effort at the other DE position. Of course, this year the lineup will have to be different.
For one thing, Knighton had his unfortunate night club incident and has been out for OTAs and training camp recovering. If you remember from last year, Training camp was a key time for Knighton, when he showed up almost 20 pounds over his target playing weight. He's showed up over-weight more than once in his career, and without a training camp this year, it could very well happen again. That's not even mentioning that he might not even return at full strength until the season is close to starting.
Also, the Jaguars have Mincey at DE, but who else? An unproven 3rd year player in Austen Lane and John Chick, who is coming off a torn Achilles and may never get his speed back (unfortunately). The Jaguars added a pass rush specialist rookie in Andre Branch, but you don't plug a DPR rookie in place of Matt Roth and assume that everything is hunky-dory.
4) Holdouts. Quick! Who is the best player on the Jaguars? If you know anything at all about the Jaguars you said Maurice Jones-Drew. And where is MJD right now? He's in a contract dispute with the Jaguars. Even worse than that, it seems that the team would be almost willing to go on without MJD should it come to that. I don't know about you, but I don't want my best player holding out, and I certainly don't want the offense to turn away from him at all. It's almost certain MJD will be back for the season, but it never helps to have a star player out of practice and missing an opportunity to fit into the offense.
Edit: Apparently, I'm not the only one who thinks MJD's holdout will affect the Jaguars' 2012 season. See this NFL.com video. A selected quote: "If history has taught us anything, it's that the road in Chicago, Baltimore and Jacksonville will be bumpy."
Less important, but equally relevant for the distractions it brings is the Josh Scobee holdout. After last year's punting fiasco, I think we all know that the kicking game can really affect the team.
5) As goes Gabbert, so go we all. I've touched on this here and there in this article, but it would be impossible to write an article questioning the Jaguars' chances to win games without talking in depth about the Quarterback. Blaine Gabbert, as we all know, struggled last year. Every now and then, he looked like an NFL quarterback, but still he was outclassed by NFL defenses on a regular basis. His issues were many, and they were a combination of physical and mental difficulty in adjusting to the pro game.
Often quarterbacks take a year or two before they reach their potential. Gabbert has a year in the NFL under his belt, but he never had an opportunity to focus on learning the fundamentals of the position. This offseason being his first full offseason, I wouldn't be surprised if he looks like a rookie.This would be an improvement over last year, but to expect a guy to go from 34th in the league in passing to even middle of the road is a stretch.
He will play better this year (since he could hardly play worse and keep his job), but will he play well enough to lead the Jaguars to a winning record? If I had to bet on it, I'd say no.
Also, as I discussed during point 1, protection will be key for Gabbert. If he can get time to scan the field and get comfortable in the pocket, he'll do well, but the Jaguars haven't had a good pass blocking line in recent years. That will hurt his performance, in my opinion.
Also, for all the complaining about Chad Henne, he completed 7% more of his passes and averaged more than two full yards per play better than Gabbert. If Henne is ineffective and unreliable, what does that make Gabbert?
6 Schedule. I'll keep this one short: Bengals, Bears, Packers, Lions, new look Bills, Patriots and two potential homecoming games for Tim Tebow and David Garrard (who btw is getting first team reps in Miami's crowded QB situation). That plus a 4-2 division record (which is pretty darn good) already accounts for about 7 losses assuming we can beat one or two of the teams listed above.
I'm not going to go into the questions about the new WR group or Gene's 2012 draft (specifically the picks of a receiver without ideal height in the top 5 and a punter in the third round), but those are also things that will affect the Jaguars performance this season.
Really, between a few high profile holdouts, Justin Blackmon's 2nd DUI in 20 months, Gabbert's thus far stunted development, and a big question mark over the effectiveness of the offense, I'm having a little trouble seeing a winning record for the Jaguars. That doesn't mean the Jaguars won't be better, but 6-10 or 7-9 seems more likely at this stage than 8-8.