Aug 28, 2015; Jacksonville, FL, USA; Jacksonville Jaguars quarterbackBlake Bortles
(5) prepares to throw the ball during the first quarter of an NFL preseason football game against the Detroit Lions at EverBank Field. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports
The Jacksonville Jaguars kick off opening day on Sunday against Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers.
Back in July I said that the Jaguars week 1 matchup against their 1995 expansion counterparts was one of the most important games on their schedule, and I still believe that.
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It’s not often a week 1 game is a must win for a team, especially against one in a different conference. But for the Jaguars players, coaches, and fans, it is a must win.
The Jaguars boast the second youngest roster in the NFL, only the St. Louis Rams are younger (via Jimmy Kempski of PhillyVoice). With youth at key positions, it’s vital the team gets off to a good start to gain some confidence heading into the coming weeks.
Quarterback Blake Bortles is coming off an impressive preseason, and the team hopes he can replicate those numbers in the regular season. Bortles will face a stiff test against a stingy Panthers defense led by All-Pro Luke Kuechly.
Aug 17, 2014; Charlotte, NC, USA; Carolina Panthers middle linebacker Luke Kuechly (59) yells out coverage during the first quarter against the Kansas City Chiefs at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports
A win on opening day would be huge for the franchise and something the team hasn’t done since 2011.
The Jaguars are entering year three of general manager David Caldwell and head coach Gus Bradley’s regime. Bradley is 7-25 in his two seasons and this third year is crucial for the former Seahawks defensive coordinator. The Jaguars have gotten off to poor starts the last two seasons. In Bradley’s first year, the team started 0-8 and didn’t win their first game until November.
2014 was much of the same for the team as the Jaguars started off 0-6 before winning against the Cleveland Browns in mid October.
The Jags opening day games the last two seasons haven’t been close as well. The team was drubbed by the Kansas City Chiefs in their 2012 opener 28-2, and were a tease last year against the Eagles, where they led 17-0 at the half, only to lose 34-17.
Now, the 2013 and 2014 rosters have nothing on this years team. David Caldwell has done a marvelous job of fixing the mess that former GM Gene Smith left in 2012. The expectations the last two seasons weren’t high, but entering 2015, the team and the fans are expected to see at least six or seven wins.
The Jaguars aren’t expected to finish over .500, but a Week 1 win against the 2014 NFC South champions is easily doable for this team. Yes, the Panthers advanced to the Divisional Playoffs last season, but they won their division with a losing record at 7-8-1. They also had a home playoff game against the reeling Arizona Cardinals, who were starting Ryan Lindley at quarterback. Ryan Lindley!
In addition, the Panthers are without Kelvin Benjamin with a torn ACL, and the offensive line has struggled protecting Newton. The defense however, has been a mainstay, finishing in the top ten in overall defense the last three seasons.
The team and the fans are growing tired of the poor starts. The franchise wants to win games in September and October. A loss in week 1 would be detrimental to the team as their isn’t really another favorable game until mid-October. The Jaguars will have a tough stretch of games after Carolina. Miami will come to town in week 2 followed by a trip up to Foxborough against Tom Brady and the Patriots.
The Jaguars will then face the Indianapolis Colts before their next winnable matchup in Tampa against Jameis Winston and the Bucs. The Jaguars will close out with games against the Texans and Bills before their bye in week 8.
A loss against the Panthers could see the Jaguars with a 1-6 record heading into the bye week.
Gus Bradley’s seat is already starting to get warm heading into the season, and if the Jags have another 4-12 or 3-13 season, owner Shad Khan will have no choice but to let him go after the season.
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