Improvement on both sides of the ball and a weak conference have allowed the Jaguars to emerge as a contender in the AFC playoff race
The Jacksonville Jaguars last won their division in 1999, and their last playoffs was in 2007. Since then, the Jags have posted a cumulative record of 47-105. Now, ten years since their most recent playoff berth, Jacksonville is in a position to make it back.
Five factors play into the Jaguars’ success in the first half of this season and their favorable place in the playoff picture: a weak AFC, improved quarterback, a new rushing attack, a top-five defense, and an incredibly soft remaining schedule.
The AFC is the significantly weaker conference in the NFL. Nine of its teams are below .500, and six are above that line. AFC teams who are virtually in the playoffs this season include New England (6-2), Kansas City (6-3), and Pittsburgh (6-2). Take away these top dogs and the nine teams below .500, and we’re left with the Bills (5-3), Dolphins (4-4), Titans (5-3), and Jaguars (5-3). With three open spots in the AFC playoff race, I favor the Jags’ chances.
The on-field success of any NFL team starts at quarterback, and the Jaguars have enjoyed improved year-to-year performance from Blake Bortles and the passing game this season.
|Blake Bortles Stats||Record||Comp.||Att.||Yds.||Pct.||TD||Int.||Int. Pct.||Rate|
Bortles has thus far posted the best completion percentage of his career this season (59.4%), as well as a career-low interception percentage (2.1% of his attempts). Bortles is assisted by the definitively improved offensive line play in Jacksonville, having only been sacked 11 times in eight games this year.
This past draft, Jacksonville copied the Cowboys’ 2016 move of drafting a running back with a top-five pick, claiming Leonard Fournette out of LSU. In his rookie season, Fournette ranks second in the league in rushing yards per game, behind only Adrian Peterson.
|Player||Rushing Yards per Game|
|Adrian Peterson (ARI)||104.7|
|Leonard Fournette (JAX)||99.3|
|Ezekiel Elliott (DAL)||97.9|
|Le’Veon Bell (PIT)||95.0|
|Kareem Hunt (KC)||88.9|
With Fournette handling the load, the Jags have earned the number one rushing offense in the NFL.
This favorably compares to last season, in which Jacksonville finished with the 22nd-ranked rushing offense. With this improved rushing attack, the Jacksonville offense’s time of possession ranks third in the NFL. Four of the top five teams in time of possession last season made the playoffs.
|Team||Average Time of Possession Per Game|
The Jags have improved on the other side of the ball, as well. Playmakers like outside linebackers Telvin Smith and Myles Jack have stepped up to earn Jacksonville the third-ranked defense in the NFL in yards allowed per game, putting them in the same class as elite defenses like Carolina, Denver, and Minnesota. A team that can run the ball and control the clock effectively, while also holding their opponents to a league-best 14.6 points per game, is a deadly combination.
|Defense||Points Per Game Allowed||Yards Per Game Allowed|
Improved quarterback play, a revitalized rushing attack, improved ball control, and defensive playmakers rising to the occasion have helped Jacksonville to a 5-3 record in the first half of the season. Their case for making the playoffs is made stronger by the fact that the outlook for their divisional rivals has been weakened significantly in the last couple of weeks.
The Indianapolis Colts (3-6) and Houston Texans (3-5) are pretty much done for, with Andrew Luck and Deshaun Watson out for the season. This leaves the Titans, who have yet to face the Pittsburgh Steelers (6-2) and Los Angeles Rams (6-2). The strength of the Jags’ remaining schedule lies somewhere between a cakewalk and a joke. The teams remaining on the Jags’ schedule hold a combined record of 24-44, this season.
Jaguars Remaining Schedule
|Week 10 - v. L.A. Chargers||3-5|
|Week 11 - @ Cleveland||0-8|
|Week 12 - @ Arizona||4-5|
|Week 13 - v. Indianapolis||3-6|
|Week 14 - v. Seattle||6-3|
|Week 15 - v. Houston||3-5|
|Week 16 - @ San Francisco||0-9|
|Week 17 - @ Tennessee||5-3|
Given the outlooks of the AFC overall and the AFC South in particular, the Jags are in prime position to grab a playoff spot this January, and quite possibly capture their first division title in 18 years.
Edited by Brian Kang.
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