The Jacksonville Jaguars have never won the AFC South and haven’t won a division title, period, since they were kittens in 1999. But there’s a belief in Duval County that this could be the year these mature cats finally dethrone the mighty Indianapolis Colts.

Jack Del Rio’s team hasn’t been to the playoffs in four years, but their win total has increased in three consecutive seasons. This year, after an offseason with little turnover save for a few potential defensive upgrades and no changes to the coaching staff, a sneaky-dangerous team with one of the league’s premier offensive weapons has a chance to make a run at the top spot in a wide-open division.

2010 in a nutshell: A 7-3 mid-season run is crippled by a 1-2 start and an 0-3 finish. Despite threatening to steal the division from the Colts, they settle for second place and an 8-8 record.

Three predictions for 2011:

1. Blaine Gabbert will get a chance to start: It’s obvious that the passing game is the problem on offense. And although that’s not entirely David Garrard’s fault, the Jags drafted Gabbert in the first round because they’re clearly looking for some more sizzle under center. The team continues to insist that Garrard is the starting quarterback, but Gabbert appears to be applying pressure in training camp. While Garrard’s numbers weren’t all that bad last year, he’s been known to have a stinker once every few weeks. If he hits a speed bump and the Jags go into crisis mood early this season, I’d expect Gabbert to get his shot. The real problem won’t be who’s starting under center; it’ll be who Garrard and Gabbert have to throw to. I have no idea why the Jags didn’t address the receiver position in the offseason.

2. The defense will be better: This is a D that surrendered 26.2 points per game and a league-high 6.3 yards per play in 2010. They finished the season ranked 28th overall and couldn’t stop anybody on third downs. But Paul Posluszny, Clint Session and Dawan Landry are upgrades over Kirk Morrison, Justin Durant and Sean Considine. If Tyson Alualu can take a leap forward in his second season and Aaron Kampman can stay healthy, those numbers could improve quite substantially.

3. A pathetic pass rush will cost them: But the biggest problem on defense is the lack of a pass rush. Yes, Kampman’s return should help and Alualu will be relied upon to help create pressure. Defensive end Matt Roth, who they signed as a free agent, might be good for a half-dozen sacks, too. But in the offseason, the Jags needed to make bigger changes to a pass rush that has registered an NFL-low 40 sacks over the last two seasons. There isn’t a player on this roster who had more than five sacks in 2010, and the team has yet to register a sack in two preseason games. Unless some guys take off, this will be a major problem once again in 2011.

The final word(s): I think they’re a step behind the Colts and Texans. It isn’t a big step, so it wouldn’t shock me if they finally broke through. But it’s a step, and I’m giving them another 8-8 record and leaving them out of the playoffs once again.

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