At the beginning of week 17 of the 2010 season, there were 7 teams in the AFC that were still playoff contention. Unfortunately, there are only 6 spots that can be filled, and as you know, the Jaguars were on the outside looking in. The Jaguars had put themselves in good position through the first 14 weeks of the season, but they lost their final 3 games to finish just 8-8. I don't think the Jaguars underachieved last year. Jack Del Rio has been quoted as saying that this is an "achieving team." It's important to note that they're not an over-achieving team. They've met the quota the past two years for what sound thinking people expected of them. The question is, can they continue to "achieve" in 2011?
In my mind there are many teams in the AFC that could make a playoff run in 2011. They are the Patriots, Jets, Steelers, Ravens, Chargers, Chiefs, Colts, and the Jaguars. The Raiders could surprise me, but they've been "a team on the rise" for over half a decade. That being the case, forgive me if I'm skeptical about them. As for the Texans, I see a team that has set themselves up for a lame duck coach and another 7-9 season. The Jaguars will have to beat out at least two of the other teams listed above to make the playoffs. The most direct route to the playoffs would be to win the division, but I don't know if the Jaguars will be able to make that happen just yet.
Possibly the easiest route to the playoffs would be via a wild card birth. Of the teams listed above, I think the Ravens and the Chiefs are the most vulnerable. The Ravens defense is getting older and older, and Joe Flacco is beginning to look like a big game dud. The Chiefs are incredibly young, and I think they vastly overachieved in 2010. Don't get me wrong, they're definitely on a heavy upswing, but I don't know that they're good enough to sit atop the division again.
The Jaguars will have a chance to play the Ravens next year. I would list that as one of the top three most important games of the year (right behind the two Colts games). If the Jaguars can pull out that win, they would put themselves in a great position to claim at least a 6 seed in the playoffs. The Jaguars should be able to win games against the Ravens, Bengals, Buccaneers, Browns, Panthers, and the Jets. There are a couple tough games there, but I think that the matchups in those games favor the Jaguars. That would put the Jaguars at 6 wins. In addition, they should sweep the Titans and split the Colts and Texans series. Now we're up to 10 wins. That alone might do it, but the Jaguars may have to win a game against the Steelers, Falcons, Saints, or the Chargers. Of those, the Steelers game and the Falcons game are the 2 that the Jaguars are best equipped to win.
It's very early to be making predictions about next season. It's too early to even determine whether there will be a season in 2011, but the way it's shaping up, the Jaguars could be biting their fingernails again in week 17. The difference will be in those final five games. The fate of the Jaguars in 2011 will be determined by their late season play, just as it determined their fate in 2010.