"The Jacksonville Jaguars will win the AFC South."
This kind of thinking used to get you mocked to the end of the Internet. And rightfully so.
In 2016, however, it doesn't sound nearly as crazy as it once did. Is it finally safe to have expectations for the Jaguars? Expectations that do not include draft talk in October? Yes.
There are still many in the "show me" camp, and no one can blame them. Most every Jaguars fan has lived through tremendous disappointment because he or she believed "this year is the year" and then proceeded to watch every game of a 5-11 (2008), 7-9 (2009), 8-8 (2010), 5-11 (2011), 2-14 (2012), 4-12 (2013), 3-13 (2014), and 5-11 (2015) season.
Collectively, the Dark Ages hurt a lot of people. It hurt me. But this year, let your expectations run wild! It's okay to have expectations this year, because it's finally not crazy, blind optimism. Unlike recent years, a positive season outlook for the Jaguars can be reasonably based in reality.
Let's start where "it" starts. It starts with the quarterback. Blake Bortles is the quarterback. He threw 35 touchdown passes in 2015. Only Tom Brady threw (one) more. He has shown an ability to make plays, and gosh darnit, people like him! We're no longer putting our eggs in a Blaine Gabbert basket. Blaine was not good. We hoped he would be. He wasn't. Thinking he would be good was blind optimism. Plus, no one liked him.
Expecting the Jaguars to be a good football team with Blaine Gabbert running the show was crazy. Expecting the Jaguars to be a good football team with Blake Bortles leading the offense is reasonable.
The rest of the offense is also good. (What?) The Jaguars had five (5) players in the NFL top 100 this year. Four of them are from the offense: Allen Hurns, Allen Robinson, Chris Ivory, and Blake Bortles.
Does the NFL Top 100 mean anything in terms of wins? No. Does it allow for lofty Jaguars expectations to be less mockable? Heck yes!
When was the last time the Jaguars had one player anyone would consider worthy of being in the top 100? Maurice Jones-Drew and Daryl Smith? My goodness. Gone are the days of hoping Chastin West or Kassim Osgood will take advantage of finally getting their opportunity. No more debating whether the offense could thrive if Jordan Todman got more carries. The Jaguars have legit superstars (according to their peers) at both receiver positions, running back, and quarterback. Julius Thomas also has a history of being actually good and even if it didn't show on the stat line, he made an impact last year.
The draft. Oh the draft. Can we go back? By way of some sort of teal miracle, the Jaguars landed the ultimate BOFA when they drafted both Jalen Ramsey and Myles Jack. It's still hard to believe.
Ramsey and Jack were arguably the two best football players in the draft, and the Jaguars drafted both of them. Have either of them played a single snap in the NFL? No. Is it crazy to expect them to both make an impact on defense early in the season? No way!
These were two top-five talents. Top-five talents are typically expected to make an immediate impact regardless of their position (save maybe a quarterback or two) and the Jaguars drafted two of them to play at positions of need. Add a third top-five talent in Dante Fowler at another position of need, and its not crazy to expect the defense to be much better this year. A rapid influx of top, young talent on defense makes it reasonable to expect the Jaguars defense to be much improved in 2016.
Free agency! The Jaguars went out and tried to sign every free agent in the world and landed two pretty good ones on defense in Malik Jackson and Tashaun Gipson.
Gipson (who is my preseason vote for MVP of the defense this season) is the sideline-to-sideline, ball-hawking safety we have been pining for since forever. Jackson is the interior disruptor who was the crown jewel of our 2016 class. Add these two with Telvin Smith (the only defensive player in the NFL Top 100), Jalen Ramsey, Myles Jack, and Dante Fowler, and it's not crazy to expect the Jaguars defense to have six really good, really impactful players on defense. It's (finally) not crazy to expect the Jaguars to be good. Will they be good? That's not what we're talking about right now.
Expectations for the Jaguars in 2016 are not based only in hope and blind optimism like they used to be. Cecil Shorts III is not our best player anymore. The offense is not relying on Jason Hill's ability to take the top off the defense. Aaron Ross is on an actual vacation as a current free agent. Those days are over.
Instead, one could reasonably make the argument that it would be crazy to not expect the Jaguars to be good this year. Sure, Gus Bradley is still the head coach. And that is a legitimate reason to pump the brakes and to hold back any excitement until the Jaguars actually show that this is not all fool's gold. But finally, having expectations for the Jaguars that include a potential home playoff game isn't crazy talk. It's real talk. It's not crazy. For the first time since 2008 it's not crazy.
Will we be let down tremendously like we were in 2008? Maybe. Maybe not. That depends on if you have high enough expectations. I won't call you crazy.