After a decade of not making the postseason, the Jacksonville Jaguars resurged in 2017. Not only winning the AFC South, but also making it to the AFC Championship game. Although Jacksonville was very successful last season, that level of success won’t be duplicated in 2018.
The Jaguars have too many stars to fall back into being a below average team. However, when it comes to AFC contenders, Jacksonville’s name won’t be mentioned with the likes of the Pittsburgh Steelers or New England Patriots this season.
First, Blake Bortles is now the worst quarterback in the AFC South
This offseason the Jaguars extended Blake Bortles to a three-year, $54 million dollar contract. Instead of going after free agent Kirk Cousins, the Jaguars decided to keep Bortles as their starter. Bortles has yet to establish himself as a franchise quarterback.
The other three quarterbacks in the division: Deshaun Watson, Andrew Luck, and Marcus Mariota have shown just that. Luck has carried an inferior Colts roster to a Conference Championship appearance before. Luck has also made the playoffs every year he has played all 16 games. Bortles made his first playoff appearance last year in what was his fourth season as the Jaguars starter.
Watson, in just six games as a full-time starter, was leading the league in touchdown passes before he got injured. Also, over those six games, he averaged a QBR of 103. If Watson can bounce back from his ACL injury and return to how he was playing, he clearly will be better than Bortles.
Mariota did struggle last year, throwing more interceptions than touchdowns. 2017 was Mariota’s worst season as a pro. The expectation is the young quarterback will bounce back and not play as badly. Even amidst a down regular season, Mariota was able to get his team to the playoffs. In the playoffs, Mariota helped Tennessee come back from a 21-3 deficit on the road against the Kansas City Chiefs. Bortles was not able to score a touchdown in the second half of the AFC Championship game against New England.
Bortles is not awful, but he’s not on the level of the other quarterbacks within the AFC South. Not to mention Jacksonville was unable to retain two of Bortles most talented weapons in Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns. Robinson left to go play for the Chicago Bears, while Hurns left and signed with the Dallas Cowboys.
Jacksonville’s star-studded defense was very healthy last season
It’s known that the Jaguars have one of, if not the most talented defenses in the entire NFL. First or second team all pro players on all three levels of the defense. Yet, what is not as well-known is that these superstars on defense were able to avoid injury in 2017.
The only star defensive players that didn’t play all sixteen regular season games for the Jaguars were Marcell Dareus and Telvin Smith. Dareus only played 14 games because of the trade from Buffalo to Jacksonville and sat out both teams bye weeks.
Last season Jacksonville got the benefit of avoiding the injury bug, unlike teams like the New York Giants. In no way am I wishing injury upon any of these great players, but expecting them to play all 16 games again in 2018 isn’t realistic.
With Watson and Luck returning, the Jaguars schedule just got a lot harder
Not only did Jacksonville benefit from being healthy all season, but they also benefitted from the injuries of other teams in the AFC South. Jacksonville took advantage of Indianapolis and Houston not having their stars quarterbacks and went 4-0 versus those two teams.
It would be shocking if the Jaguars repeated going undefeated against the Colts and Texans, not losing a single game to them. Also, Tennessee swept the Jaguars last year in their two meetings.
In addition, outside the divisional games, the schedule doesn’t get any easier. Jacksonville faces the NFC East, which is always one of the best divisions in the NFL. The NFC East features the defending champion Philadelphia Eagles, who only improved this offseason. Not to mention, Washington, Dallas, and the New York Giants will be in the NFC playoff hunt all season.
Once again, the Steelers appear on the Jaguars schedule. Pittsburgh will most likely want to send a message that they can beat Jacksonville, even on the road. Furthermore, as early as Week 2, the Jaguars have to face Tom Brady and the Patriots. Any game against Brady and Belichick could result in a loss on the record.
The last difficult matchup on the Jaguars schedule is a matchup against the Kansas City Chiefs. Jacksonville will be in Kansas City for this game, which is one of the most difficult places to play in the entire NFL.
Kansas City has a chance to have a very explosive offense with gunslinger Patrick Mahomes under center and weapons the likes of Sammy Watkins, Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce, and Kareem Hunt around him.
Jacksonville will still be the first or second-best team in the AFC South, but it should come as no shock if they don’t make the playoffs, or advance far if they do make the postseason.