Sunday, October 23rd: a day that could be defining for these Jacksonville Jaguars.
The Oakland Raiders are set to visit Everbank Field this week, looking for their fifth win of the season. The Jaguars are hoping to fend them off, and in the process, improve to a .500 record on the year. But this game goes beyond the win-loss record for the Jags, and could be a defining event in multiple ways.
The story line for this game basically writes itself. One of the top headlines will undoubtedly be Jack Del Rio’s return to Jacksonville as a head coach. There’s also the fact that these two teams have somewhat mirrored each other in their personnel process over the last few years. But for the Jaguars, these stories need to take a backseat to the implications this game could have on their future, both in the short and long term.
Why is this game so important? How can a singular game, only the sixth one of the year, be season-defining let alone career-defining? For starters, the result of this game will have a big affect on the team’s win-loss record. A loss puts them at 2-4 on the season, which isn’t necessarily damning, but would prove an extremely difficult hole to climb out of. A win, however, puts the Jags at .500 for only the second time under Gus Bradley. The first and only other time that happened was week two last year; the Jags beat the Dolphins to go to 1-1 on the season, and proceeded to get blown out by New England the next week. Jacksonville never came close to getting back near a .500 record after that.
Beyond the overall record, there is also the implications this game could have on momentum moving forward. The Jaguars already have some decent momentum building, with their win in Chicago this past Sunday giving them both a rare road win and a rare winning streak. It also proved to the team that they could get down early in a game, and still find a way to come back and win. A loss to Oakland could sap away all of that momentum, but a win would be pouring gasoline on this proverbial fire. In addition to building on their current win streak and putting the team at an even record, a win against the Raiders would be considered a ‘legitimate’ win. The Raiders aren’t flawless, but they are also not a cellar-dweller. Beating Oakland would be considered by many to be the first big win this team has had under this regime.
Titans, Texans, Browns, Texans, Browns, Giants, Titans, Dolphins, Bills, Ravens, Titans, Colts.— Matt Hoffman (@JaxMatt) September 22, 2016
The #Jaguars 12 wins under Gus Bradley.
Oh boy. You guys ready for a bomb? NONE of these teams finished with a winning record. Gus Bradley has never beat a winning team. Ever. Zero— Matt Hoffman (@JaxMatt) September 22, 2016
Add another AFCS win, and a win against the Bears with a backup QB. https://t.co/9o4FmXzudl— Matt Hoffman (@JaxMatt) October 18, 2016
Speaking of momentum, a win would spark that drive in another way: the Jaguars face the Tennessee Titans on Thursday Night Football the next week. Can you imagine the confidence and energy this team would be rolling into Nashville with if they were going into the game with a .500 record and on a three game winning streak? All of that added momentum could help them beat a division rival on national television heading into a ‘mini-bye week’, while simultaneously providing them with something they've never had under this regime: a winning record.
Just being one game above .500 could prove to be huge at that point of the season, concerning the Jaguars chances to win the AFC South. You never know what’s gonna happen in the NFL week to week, but you can always take your best guess. The Texans head to Mile High to take on the Broncos on Monday Night Football. I expect the Broncos to win that game, which would put the Texans at 4-3 on the year. The Colts play the Titans this week, so at least one other AFC South team is sure to lose(or at least tie). I know the Colts have struggled, but I expect them to beat the Titans. That would put the Colts and Titans both at 3-4, and the Jaguars would be ahead of both of them with a chance to put another game between them and Tennessee the following week. With four other divisional games remaining towards the end of the season, this stretch could prove vital to determining the AFC South champion.
Beyond the 2016 season, this game could possibly define the careers as Jaguars for several people. If the Jags were to lose, and not be able to climb back out of that hole, Gus Bradley would surely be fired at the end of the year. It would probably also mean that Blake Bortles was never able to get back on track, which could cloud both his future and Dave Caldwell’s. Obviously, a singular loss in week seven does not mean that the team will be dreadful the rest of the year, and an onslaught of firings would occur.
It’s more so that a win would be very beneficial in steering the ship another direction besides that one. It would also give us a clearer picture on who this team is. Are they the same team they have been, who continually under-performs relative to their talent, and can only beat bad teams? Or are they the team that is two plays away from beating Green Bay and Baltimore and being 4-1 on the season? Is it somewhere in-between? The Raiders will provide an excellent measuring stick that should give us a better indication of which of these options the Jaguars really are.
Obviously a lot of things can happen that will affect every game, let alone the rest of the season. However, there’s no doubting that Sunday’s game against the Raiders provides a crossroads for the Jaguars. A loss puts them two games below .500, and pretty much right back where they’ve been, needing to treat their Thursday night game as a must-win just to stay afloat. A win provides a much more positive reality: a .500 record, a legitimate win, and all the momentum in the world heading into a divisional matchup on primetime television, with a ‘mini-bye’ to follow. The stakes have never been higher, and the Jags need to go all in.
Get excited, fellow fans. This one’s gonna be a doozy.