The Jacksonville Jaguars were the biggest surprise in the NFL last season. In Doug Marrone’s first full season as the Jaguars head coach, he led them to a 10-6 record and the AFC South division title. But it didn’t end there. The Jaguars also won two playoff games, including a shocking upset in Pittsburgh to reach the AFC Championship Game. Alas, the Jags couldn’t quite hold off the Patriots in Foxboro, falling one game short of the Super Bowl.
Of course, reaching the conference title game has caused expectations in Jacksonville to skyrocket. With a young team and one of the best defenses in the NFL, the Jaguars are expected to be even better in 2018 and once again challenge for a spot in the Super Bowl.
Oddsmakers list the Jaguars as +2250 to win the Super Bowl. Those are great odds for a team with such a dominant defense. However, that bet is less enticing if you’re still not sold on Blake Bortles as a top-10 or even top-15 caliber quarterback. The Jaguars are also projected to win 8.5 games, which is the most of any team in the AFC South. However, that division will look a lot different than it did a year ago, so taking the over may not be a sure thing.
Jacksonville’s greatest strength a year ago was running the ball, usually behind power back Leonard Fournette. Marrone and company figure to follow a similar formula this season, with T.J. Yeldon and Corey Grant also being viable backfield options. The Jaguars may actually be a little better at running the ball this year, as they signed offensive guard Andrew Norwell to a big contract to help improve the team’s run blocking and create running lanes for Fournette and the others.
Meanwhile, Bortles is back at quarterback after signing an extension during the offseason. He was fine if unexceptional for most of last season, but he limited his turnovers in the postseason and was able to make a few plays with his legs. His biggest challenge this year may be working with a new set of receivers.
Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns are both gone, leaving young receivers like Dede Westbrook and Keelan Cole to help fill the void. Donte Moncrief was also signed in free agency, although he’s not exactly a proven no. 1 receivers. The Jaguars will need Marqise Lee to be a steady presence, as he has the most experience working with Bortles. Jacksonville could also benefit from second-round pick D.J. Chark contributing right away.
Defensively, the Jaguars should look similar to the group that allowed less than 17 points per game last season. The defensive line can go two-deep at each position, especially with the addition of first-round pick Taven Bryan. Myles Jack and Kelvin Smith are two of the fastest linebackers in all of football. The Jaguars also return all four starters from what most considered the best secondary in football in 2017.
Mentally, things are different for the Jaguars after last year’s success. They have to deal with the expectations that come with playing in a conference championship game. However, running the ball and playing great defense carried them a long way in 2017. If the Jaguars can do that again, and maybe have Bortles become a little more consistent, the 2018 Jaguars can be every bit as good as they were a year ago.
|Sep 9||@ New York Giants||1:00 PM|
|Sep 16||New England Patriots||4:25 PM|
|Sep 23||Tennessee Titans||1:00 PM|
|Sep 30||New York Jets||1:00 PM|
|Oct 7||@ Kansas City Chiefs||1:00 PM|
|Oct 14||@ Dallas Cowboys||4:25 PM|
|Oct 21||Houston Texans||1:00 PM|
|Oct 28||Philadelphia Eagles||9:30 AM|
|Nov 11||@ Indianapolis Colts||1:00 PM|
|Nov 18||Pittsburgh Steelers||8:20 PM|
|Nov 25||@ Buffalo Bills||1:00 PM|
|Dec 2||Indianapolis Colts||1:00 PM|
|Dec 6||@ Tennessee Titans||8:20 PM|
|Dec 16||Washington Redskins||1:00 PM|
|Dec 23||@ Miami Dolphins||1:00 PM|
|Dec 30||@ Houston Texans||1:00 PM|
With success comes a tougher schedule, as the Jaguars have seven games against teams that were in the playoffs last year. That includes a neutral-site clash with the champion Eagles and playoff rematches against the Bills, Steelers, and Patriots.
Week 1: at Giants – Win
The Jaguars will open the season as road favorites against the Giants, who should be much-improved from a year ago. However, whether New York’s offensive line has been sorted out remains a question. The Jacksonville defense should be able to pressure Eli Manning, which will help them escape with a win.
Week 2: vs Patriots – Win
The Patriots got off to a slow start last year, and they may not enjoy the Jacksonville heat in mid-September. As an early 2.5-point underdog at home, the Jaguars will get some semblance of revenge on Tom Brady and company.
Week 3: vs Titans – Win
The Jaguars lost both head-to-head meetings with the Titans last season, and it no doubt drove Marrone crazy over the summer. He’ll have a better plan for containing Marcus Mariota this time around, helping Jacksonville start the year 3-0.
Week 4: vs Jets – Win
The Jaguars let one slip away last year when they visited the Jets, but that won’t happen two years in a row. The Jacksonville defense will get the better of whoever the Jets choose to start at quarterback. As 9.5-point favorites, the Jags should win this easily.
Week 5: at Chiefs – Win
Going to Arrowhead Stadium isn’t easy for any team, but the Chiefs are only one-point favorites in this game. We don’t know much about Patrick Mahomes, but is he really ready to face the Jacksonville defense? The Jaguars score a huge road win to start the year 5-0.
Week 6: at Cowboys – Loss
The Jags will finally come back down to earth in Week 6. Dallas will give them a taste of their own medicine by running the ball up the middle at Jacksonville’s fast but undersized linebackers.
Week 7: vs Texans – Loss
The Jaguars were dominant in two meetings with the Texans last year. But Deshaun Watson will run circles around an over-aggressive and over-confident Jacksonville defense, dropping the Jags to 5-2.
Week 8: vs Eagles – Win
The NFL accidentally moved this attractive matchup to London. The Jags beat the Ravens 44-7 when they went to London last season, so apparently, Marrone knows a little something about playing abroad. The jetlagged Eagles will get steamrolled by Jacksonville’s defense and running game.
Week 9: Bye
Week 10: at Colts – Win
Marrone is a smart coach and has a great track record when he has extra time to prepare for games. As road favorites, the Jaguars will take care of business with a game plan that keeps Andrew Luck under wraps.
Week 11: vs Steelers – Loss
Despite last year’s playoff win over the Steelers, the Pittsburgh offense scored quite a few points. An overhyped Jaguars team will struggle on Sunday night, as the Steelers get their revenge.
Week 12: at Bills – Win
This will be Marrone’s much-anticipated homecoming to Buffalo. He’ll say it doesn’t mean anything, but deep down he wants to win this game, and he’ll find a way. After all, if Buffalo’s offense couldn’t do anything against the Jags in the playoffs, they’ll struggle again amidst the late-November weather in upstate New York.
Week 13: vs Colts – Loss
The Jaguars will be due for a letdown at some point. Remember, this is still a relatively young team. Luck will be more aware of the strengths of Jacksonville’s defense this time around, and he’ll make the adjustments necessary to lead the Colts to a road win.
Week 14: at Titans – Loss
This is a Thursday night game, so the Jaguars have to go on the road in a short week. That’s a lot to ask, and it’ll cause Jacksonville to lose for a second straight week.
Week 15: vs Redskins – Win
Bortles vs Alex Smith is more or less a wash. But Jacksonville’s power running game and defense are far superior to anything Washington can do on either side of the ball. The Jags are early 8-point favorites in this game, but they should win by an even greater margin.
Week 16: at Dolphins – Win
Home-field advantage may be the only edge the Dolphins have in this game. The vaunted Jacksonville defense will travel well and take care of an overmatched Miami offense.
Week 17: at Texans – Loss
For whatever reason, Marrone and the Jaguars just can’t seem to figure out Watson. There figures to be a lot on the line in this game, but Jacksonville will come up short on the road and will have to settle for 10-6 for a second straight season.