The 2018 Jaguars find themselves in relatively uncharted territory for this young and talented ball club. As one of last year's surprise teams, one that got more than an occasional pat on the back from the national media, the Jaguars have emerged as somewhat of a feel-good story and media darling.
But not the kind that gets picked to hoist the Lombardi Trophy. No, that is far too high of an honor for the Jaguars. Instead, they continue to receive the ceremonial patting on the back, for coming as far as they have come. For emerging from the doldroms of the Gene Smith era and its aftermath, to become a young and talented and exciting team that's at least capable of beating anybody on any given Sunday.
This is uncharted territory because last year set the standard by which all future Marrone-led Jaguars teams will be measured. Expectations...high expectations...are something that no current Jaguar has dealt with for an entire NFL offseason before. At least not as a Jaguar.
So what should your expectations be?
Here's why the Jaguars will make the Super Bowl and "steal the show".
1. They Arrived Early Last Season
The 2017 Jaguars were a surprise team, not because of a lack of talent on the roster, but for several reasons. 1) Much of the talent is/was young and inexperienced, 2) Doug Marrone, though previously the interim, was still a new head coach, and 3) the offseason and preseason included enough Blake Bortles interceptions to cause a Chad Henne quarterback controversy. Last August, the future did not look so bright.
Then the Jaguars proceeded to do what nobody thought they would do. They beat JJ Watt's Texans 29-7 in Houston in their emotional home opener following Hurricane Harvey. They demolished the Ravens in London by a whopping 37 points. They picked off Big Ben 5 times and Fournette emerged at Heinz Field for a win by 3 touchdowns. Josh Lambo got his revenge against the Chargers in a miracle finish at EverBank. And then three straight wins off the bye against the Colts, Seahawks, and Texans and the Jaguars were going to the Playoffs. You know the rest.
The point is that all of that bodes well for this year. Of the 20 teams to make the Super Bowl in the last 10 years, 14 of them (70%) were coming off playoff seasons the year prior, and 18 of them (90%) won at least 8 games the year prior. Better yet, 3 of the last 6 Super Bowl Champions (50%) lost in the AFC Championship Game the year before their Super Bowl season.
- 2012 Ravens - lost year before in AFC Championship Game 20-23 @ Patriots
- 2014 Patriots - lost year before in AFC Championship Game 16-26 @ Broncos
- 2016 Patriots - lost year before in AFC Championship Game 18-20 @ Broncos
- 2018 Jaguars? lost last year in AFC Championship Game 20-24 @ Patriots?
2. Offseason Additions
I will spare you the beating of a dead horse, and please note 1) I know if you're reading this you probably already know who we signed and drafted, and 2) every team adds talent every offseason. However, I will offer my quick takes on the Jags' 2018 additions:
- Andrew Norwell - went from sub-par (Omameh) to arguably #1 in the NFL at the LG position
- Austin Sefarian-Jenkins - could be X-factor in passing game and security blanket for Bortles
- DJ Hayden - not elite, but competent veteran to fill nickel spot after Colvin's departure
- Donte Moncrief - may have overpaid, but immediately upgraded raw talent in WR room
- Taven Bryan - not a position of immediate need, but superb athlete with high ceiling
- DJ Chark - interested to see his role as a rookie in suddenly crowded position group
- Ronnie Harrison - value pick, outstanding potential in the future, could be used early in modified sets (3rd safety in box as hybrid/linebacker responsibilities in modified 4-3/4-2-5)
- Will Richardson - hopefully he stays out of trouble and provides solid depth as swing tackle
- Tanner Lee - confusing; physical tools? check; accuracy/consistency/decision-making? all no
- Leon Jacobs - could be a diamond in the rough; could possibly contribute early at SAM
- Quenton Meeks - may or may not make roster, but enough technique and size to compete
- Allen Lazard - also debatable, but his size (6'5, 225) and ball skills in the air make him unique (and different than all the WR's in front of him on the depth chart)
3. Player Development
How quickly we forget that players we rely on are young. Here's just a short list of 10 talented players 25 or younger (who have great chance to still make strides as players or mature as professionals or both):
- Leonard Fournette - 23 coming off of rookie season
- Keelan Cole - 25 coming off of rookie season
- Dede Westbrook - 24 coming off of rookie season
- Cam Robinson - 22 coming off of rookie season
- Yannick Ngakoue - 23, played 2 seasons
- Myles Jack - 22, played 2 seasons
- Jalen Ramsey - 23, played 2 seasons
- Blair Brown - 24, played 1 season
- Dawuane Smoot - 23, played 1 season
- Dante Fowler, Jr. - 23, played 2 seasons
4. The Defense
A lot has been made about whether the Jaguars' elite defense from 2017 can improve, or even remain the same in a repeat performance. As much young defensive talent as we have, we also have veterans such as Calais Campbell, Barry Church, Malik Jackson and Marcell Dareus - and contract situations with several defensive players - that make a long-term sustained run of elite play unlikely.
However, I believe this defense is at least comparable to Seattle's Legion of Boom, the Bucs' D of the early 2000's, and the Broncos' stout defense a few years ago (2014-2016). If they are, that means we get at least 1 more year of elite (top 5) defensive play.
I think on paper this is reasonable, too, because the "old man" Calais is only 31 and coming off of a career Pro Bowl year, the looming contract situations are not yet here to cause significant strain, and the only losses (Poz, Colvin) seem to have been at least adequately replaced.
I think the young players growing into Todd Wash's system make this year's defense even more stout. Less defensive touchdowns? Most likely. But more consistent in limiting opponents? I think so.
5. Blake Bortles
If I knew what to say to prevent a Bortles debate I would have said it years ago. But for this brief moment, to both camps I beg of you: do not make this a Pro-Blake or Anti-Blake debate. Let's just agree on the facts.
1) "Blake is the QB until he isn't."
This is my signature line, and let me explain. It's not because I love Blake and defend everything he does (far from it). But it's because - unless you have been living under a rock since 2014 - he is the Jaguars' franchise QB until either he or Caldwell are gone (perhaps both), or we sign or draft someone serious. We didn't sign Kaepernick. We didn't go after Kirk Cousins. We didn't draft Deshaun Watson or Patrick Mahomes. We extended Blake Bortles. That should tell you everything you need to know.
Could we move on as soon as next April in the Draft? Sure. But I'd only expect that if Bortles has a major regression and we are selecting in the Top 10. In other words, don't hold your breath.
2) He did improve in 2017 (you can qualify it however you want)
Call it marginal, blame it on the coaching, blame it on the scheme, blame it on the defense, or blame it on the running game (all of which contributed), but Blake did improve in 2017.
- higher completion percentage (60.2% was career high)
- fewer interceptions (13 was career low)
- lower INT% (2.5% was career low)
- higher quarterback rating (from 78.8 to 84.7)
- higher QBR (from 42.8 to 55.5, a career high)
- fewer sacks allowed (24, a career low)
- career-high net yards per pass attempt (NY/A) and adjusted net yards per pass attempt (ANY/A)
- reduced total turnovers (INT's + fumbles lost) from 22 to 16 (a career low)
- 12-7 W-L record (career high)
6. The Schedule
There are no real "gauntlets" on the slate (unless you count the four-week stretch in October of @ Chiefs, @ Cowboys, Texans, and Eagles in London).
But even if that's a gauntlet, the Bye Week is perfectly placed immediately after it, in Week 9. That's right, our bye is at the mid-way point of the season.
There are no brutal cold-weather games on the schedule. The only candidate is @ Bills on November 25th, but it figures to be in the low 40's. Even so, our defense and run game should be such that cold weather might actually benefit us, but who knows.
No trips to the West Coast!
3 of our first 4 games are at home. We play two other AFC contenders (Patriots, Steelers) each at home. Our first game against the Titans and our first game against the Texans are both at home.
And did I mention our bye week placement?
7. The AFC
Since 2003, the AFC has been won by Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, or Ben Roethlisberger in 14 of the last 15 seasons.
While Manning has retired, Brady and Roethlisberger continue to soldier on. Roethlisberger, however, has at least pretended to mull retirement lately (and also had 7 turnovers in 2 losses to the Jaguars at Heinz Field last season).
May I repeat again, THE JAGUARS GET THE PATRIOTS AND STEELERS AT HOME.
This run of Brady/Manning/Roethlisberger in the AFC has to end some time. Why not this season?
Why not us? When a great defense and running game can beat Brady and Roethlisberger and secure homefield advantage throughout the Playoffs?
- Calais Campbell
- Malik Jackson
- Malik Jackson afer Bortles’ new contract
- Marcedes Lewis
- Brandon Linder
- Marqise Lee
So Bortles is far from great (probably not even good), and has not been worth the 3rd overall pick of the 2014 Draft. However, at this moment, for this team, he might be the right guy for the job to help this franchise to its first-ever Super Bowl. The defense loves him, and the team plays hard for a guy like Blake, and that means something.
Throw in the additions of Norwell, Austin Sefarian-Jenkins, Moncrief and Chark...and add in the improvements of Fournette, Cole, and Westbrook (coming off of their rookie seasons) and Blake is more than ready to lead this offense.
Is he a great player? Probably not. Can he win the Super Bowl this year with this team? Yes.