With a solid coaching staff in place that isn't going anywhere after this season (with the exception of coaches like Tucker getting looks for head coaching gigs, which is dependent on defensive performance this year) and a developing quarterback surrounded by young talent, I assert that a losing season and finishing 3rd or 4th in the division really wouldn't be that bad.
DISCLAIMER 1: I have not attended any training camp practices or pre-season games. I go by what I hear from this website, Paul Kuharsky of ESPN, and jaguars.com.
DISCLAIMER 2: I'm gonna be real real negative just for the sake of the argument.
First off, some reasons to be pessimistic:
1. The Offensive Line: we didn't have a whole lot of depth here to begin with and now we have less due to injury. Nowak seems to be doing ok in camp but would he hold up against tackles like Suh and B.J. Raji coming up the middle? We're just an injured Eben Britton (sound familiar?) away from him going in. And what about this Cameron Bradfield fellow? Is he trustworthy? I'm not convinced.
2. Blaine Gabbert. He'll be better this year. Impossible not to be. But how much better? How will he perform against killer pass rushes from the Texans, the Vikings, the Bills, and the Colts? (yeah they have a new scheme in place but it's still good ole Mathis and Freeney, giving us fits) behind that line? New, good habits take time and I wouldn't be surprised if we get inconsistency from him that costs us some games.
3. The receivers. Blackmon is going to take time to develop into a good receiver and he's already behind what with the hold out. Lewis is still a bit out of shape. Thomas is inconsistent. Shorts has shined in camp but didn't he do that last year?
4. MJD. Where is he???
5. Mularkey is a wild card. He might end up being bad at managing the clock, challenges, 4th and what have you calls, who knows. No coach is perfect. There could be some weaknesses not apparent now that make their way into deciding our final win count.
6. Lack of pass rush. We need to get to the other team's quarterback and we need to do it often, something we've failed at doing for a long time. Mincey had 8 sacks last year but most were against the awful Colts. Branch is unproven.
Ok so that's why we might suck. Why wouldn't it matter? Well think about this:
1. Draft pick. Imagine another top 12 or top 15 pick next year. I salivate when thinking of getting one of LSU's defensive ends or one of USC's wide receivers. Who knows who will be picked top 15 next year but there will be some stars and I'd love to land an amazing one. Not that it will put us over the edge, this isn't the NBA after all. But look what Miller did to the Broncos' defense. Look what AJ Green did to the Bengals offense. We could get an important piece for our developing team that would help push us into double digit wins in 2013.
2. More time for Blaine. He's the most important player on our team and no matter what happens this season, he'll be better in 2013. If so, why does it matter if we lose 9-10 games this year?
3. Stability. Our coaching staff, ownership, GM, they're all in this for the long haul. We don't have to worry about starting a rebuild if we have a sucky season. There's stability and a philosophy that will continue to be perpetrated.
So as we stand on the eve of this season, I personally believe we'll finish at 7-9. It's a tough schedule with a still-developing quarterback. Our defense will keep us in games but our offense will still have problems against good defenses. But that might still be a top ten draft pick (as it was in 2010) and it's a respectable total for a new coach rebuilding a broken offense. But if we do worse? Not worried. I believe we have a legitimate shot at a division title in 2013. We just need some patience.