The Jacksonville Jaguars were a trendy Super Bowl pick on NFL betting sites prior to last season. The Jags had given the Patriots a run for their money in the 2017 AFC Championship Game, and behind a fierce defense, most expected them to be even better in ‘18. Needless to say, things didn’t go according to plan for the Jags a season ago.
Jacksonville stumbled their way to a 5-11 finish a year ago, which was good for last place in the AFC South. The Jags got inconsistent quarterback play out of Blake Bortles once again, while bell cow Leonard Fournette dealt with injury issues. The defense’s 316 points allowed was actually still among the best marks in the AFC, but the team was unable to overcome its woeful offense. Jacksonville mustered just 245 points of their own, which was the second-worst mark in the league, ahead of only Arizona.
So, Bortles was finally jettisoned. The Jaguars cut bait with the former No. 3 overall pick, and they forked over the cash necessary to lure former Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles away from the Eagles. Foles certainly isn’t some superstar, but he’s pretty clearly an upgrade over what Jacksonville has been running out there for the last handful of years. Is this the year the Jaguars finally get over the hump?
As mentioned, Foles put pen to paper on a four-year deal worth $88 million to become the Jaguars’ new starting quarterback. Foles will receive in excess of $50 million in guaranteed salary, and incentives can take the maximum value of the contract up over $100 million. It’s safe to say he’s finally being fairly compensated for his performances over the past couple of seasons.
With quarterback taken care of, the Jags also addressed a couple of other areas of need. They signed tight end Geoff Swaim away from Dallas, while offensive lineman Cedric Ogbuehi was brought over from the Bengals. The Jags were in need of a right tackle, and Ogbuehi is the favorite to earn that starting spot out of training camp. Ogbuehi has been a bust during his four years with the Bengals, but the Jags are hoping that he can channel some of the talent that made him a former first-round pick now that he’s gotten a change of scenery.
Swaim became the Cowboys’ top tight end last season following the one-year retirement of Jason Witten. He didn’t put up monster numbers (26 catches for 242 yards with a touchdown), but he contributed in all facets of the game and he’ll instantly become the most accomplished tight end on Jacksonville’s roster. Ben Koyack is the only other tight end on the roster to have caught a pass in the NFL to this point.
Jacksonville also signed former Chiefs wideout Chris Conley to a contract. The Jags lost Donte Moncrief to the Steelers in free agency, and Conley is at worst a lateral move at the position. Jacksonville’s most noteworthy departures are defensive tackle Malik Jackson and safety Tashaun Gipson, who left for the Eagles and Texans, respectively.
The Jags used their first-round pick to take Kentucky pass rusher Josh Allen before nabbing an offensive tackle in Jawaan Taylor early in the second round. Josh Oliver was the team’s third-round pick, and he’ll compete for time at the aforementioned thin tight end spot. Jacksonville failed to address the wide receiver position in the draft, which was a head-scratcher.
The team also agreed to bring John DiFiliippo into the fold. DiFilippo has a history as a “quarterback whisperer,” but he was fired as Minnesota’s offensive coordinator halfway through last season. DiFilippo and Foles worked together for the Super Bowl champion Eagles a couple of seasons ago, so their history together should pay dividends.
|Points per Game||Passing Yards per Game||Rushing Yards Per Game|
|15.3 (31st)||194.3 (26th)||107.7 (19th)|
|Points Allowed per Game||Passing Yards Allowed per Game||Rushing Yards Allowed per Game|
|19.8 (4th)||194.6 (2nd)||116.9 (19th)|
|1||Sun, Sep. 8||vs. Kansas City Chiefs||1:00pm||CBS|
|2||Sun, Sep. 15||at Houston Texans||1:00pm||CBS|
|3||Thu, Sep. 19||vs. Tennessee Titans||8:20pm||NFL Net.|
|4||Sun, Sep. 29||at Denver Broncos||4:25pm||CBS|
|5||Sun, Oct. 6||at Carolina Panthers||1:00pm||CBS|
|6||Sun, Oct. 13||vs. New Orleans Saints||1:00pm||CBS|
|7||Sun, Oct. 20||at Cincinnati Bengals||1:00pm||CBS|
|8||Sun, Oct. 27||vs. New York Jets||1:00pm||CBS|
|9||Sun, Nov. 3||vs. Houston Texans||9:30am||NFL Net.|
|11||Sun, Nov. 17||at Indianapolis Colts||1:00pm||CBS|
|12||Sun, Nov. 24||at Tennessee Titans||4:05pm||CBS|
|13||Sun, Dec. 1||vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers||1:00pm||FOX|
|14||Sun, Dec. 8||vs. Los Angeles Chargers||4:05pm||FOX|
|15||Sun, Dec. 15||at Oakland Raiders||4:05pm||CBS|
|16||Sun, Dec. 22||at Atlanta Falcons||1:00pm||FOX|
|17||Sun, Dec. 29||vs. Indianapolis Colts||1:00pm||CBS|
The Jaguars don’t get their bye week until Week 10. Before that, they’ll square off with legitimate Super Bowl contenders like New Orleans, Kansas City and Carolina. The Jags will also get 2 games against Houston prior to the bye, including a meeting in London in Week 9. The post-bye schedule features just two opponents that made last year’s playoffs (Colts and Chargers), and we know Indianapolis is wounded following Andrew Luck’s shocking retirement.
All in all, it’s a favorable schedule for the Jaguars. Jacksonville gets to face also-rans like the Bengals, Broncos, Jets, Raiders and Buccaneers, though it is worth noting that three of those games will take place on the road. If Jacksonville is able to navigate the first half of the schedule without completely falling out of the playoff race, it’s not unfathomable to think that they could finish the season on something of a hot streak.
The Jags are banking on Foles providing some much-needed stability at the quarterback position. He has led the Eagles to playoff appearances in back-to-back years, though it is worth noting that this will be the first time he will have entered a season as a starter in quite some time. Foles hasn’t started more than 13 games in a season in his career, so it remains to be seen whether he can enjoy sustained success as a team’s first option.
Regardless, it’s hard to imagine he won’t be an upgrade over Bortles. Another key for Jacksonville will be the health of Leonard Fournette. The defense shouldn’t miss a beat, but the offense is going to need to hold up its end of the bargain if this team has real hopes of making a run in the AFC South. It’s a very winnable division, especially now that the Colts look average, at best.
Fournette has been passable through his first two years, but the Jaguars are still waiting for him to break out. He was limited to just eight games last season, and he averaged only 3.3 yards per carry when he was out there. Fournette did crack 1,000 yards rushing as a rookie, but 3.9 yards per carry isn’t exactly amazing, especially for a former fourth overall pick.
In addition to Conley and Swaim, Foles will have Marqise Lee and Dede Westbrook catching passes. None of these guys is an established star at this level, though Westbrook has been productive through his first two years in the league. There is a decent amount of speed in this offense, and Foles should be better about getting the ball to those speedsters than Bortles was.
Oddsmakers seem to think any of the four teams in the division is capable of winning the AFC South this season. The Jags are right in the middle of that fray:
Odds via MyBookie.ag
The Jaguars have the on-paper talent to win this division. With the Texans, Titans and Colts looking vulnerable, there’s no reason the Jags can’t rise to the top. Splitting their six divisional games would put them in a decent position as far as playoff contention goes. Jacksonville went just 1-5 against their AFC South bunkmates last season, so there’s almost nowhere to go but up.
The Jaguars will welcome the Chiefs, Chargers and Jets to town, while the road games against the Broncos, Raiders and Bengals are winnable, too. If Foles can stay upright, a 4-2 record across that six-game stretch isn’t an unreasonable expectation. The NFC South games are difficult, but splitting the games (vs. Atlanta, vs. Carolina, at New Orleans, at Tampa Bay) is doable.
Let’s say the Jaguars go .500 against their own division and the NFC South while going 4-2 against their out-of-division AFC opponents. That would get them to 9 wins, which may well be enough to win a division title this year. That may look a bit aggressive on paper, but Jacksonville posting a winning record against their own division wouldn’t be that surprising.
I like the way this team is headed. Last year was discouraging, but this year’s Jaguars are better position to actually make some noise. Give me the over on 8 wins for the Jags in 2019.
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