Ahead of the 2018 NFL season, we’re bringing you a series outlining which teams are getting too much hype and what rosters are sneakily going under the radar.
Disclaimer: I hate your favourite team, regardless of who they are. Please use this rationale if it makes you feel better after hearing about how your team aren’t half as good as they think they are.
If you’ve missed our previews, check them out here:
- What’s not to love about the New York Giants?
- NFL Hype Check: Can the Philadelphia Eagles defend their crown?
- The Minnesota Vikings should be Super Bowl favourites
- Are the San Francisco 49ers overrated?
- NFL: Are Green Bay finally giving Aaron Rodgers the support he needs?
- NFL Hype Check: The Seahawks’ poor drafting in recent years has left them in an unholy mess
- NFL Hype Check: Can the New England Patriots really do it all again?
Projected Wins: 9
Before we begin, it’s worth noting that these Jacksonville Jaguars should have beaten the Patriots. I mean, they effectively did beat the Patriots. Myles Jack wasn’t down, so let’s talk about them in that mould for now.
This was the best team in the AFC last season. Bar a late run from the Chargers that started far too deep into their campaign, the Jags were the only really dangerous looking team in the AFC, and they’ll prove their 10-6 regular season record was no fluke – barring a Blake Bortles internal combustion.
Sometimes we’ve understated a quarterback’s influence and sometimes we’ve overstated it. But this Jaguars team managed to be so good while calling plays specifically designed to keep Bortles out of bad situations – that’s impressive. With another year under a young defence’s belts, they could very well improve on last year’s showing. If they do – god help the rest of the AFC.
The notable loss to their offence comes in the shape of Allen Hurns who totalled 484 yards in his ten games last season. This was rectified in the draft – we’ll come back to it. They also lost Marcedes Lewis, but he’s 35. They signed Austin Seferian-Jenkins to fill that gap, and his upside is significantly higher than Lewis’.
There’s an elephant in the room and that’s Wembley. It affects everyone, but Jacksonville have acclimatised to the venue given their current attempt under Shahid Khan to drum up support in the UK for the franchise who generally aren’t known for the reach of their fanbase outside of north eastern Florida. The team have won their last three games in London and have dragged the current Super Bowl champions, the Philadelphia Eagles, over for their first International Series appearance. That’s quite a leveller.
It’s obviously difficult to give an accurate account of just how good any team’s draft class until the season begins, but on pedigree, the Jags did more from their late-round position than some did at the top of the order.
The Jags have probably got the best cornerback pairing in the NFL with A.J. Bouye and Jalen Ramsey on the outside. They play a lot of Cover 2, though – which requires aggressive, rangy safeties. They have Barry Church who is a real bruiser, but no centre fielder. With their prototype Tampa 2 linebacker Paul Posluszny retiring from the game, they’ll need extra flexibility to cover the underneath zones. By drafting Ronnie Harrison in the third round, they got themselves both a scheme fit and a steal.
Adding DJ Chark to more than compensate for losing Hurns, as well as taking the Miami wrecking ball Taven Bryan with their first-round pick, this defence is no longer just talented – it’s dynamic too. They were quite strict in how they played in 2017. You knew the looks they would give you, and if you had the talent to beat them you probably could. Now, with confusing looks and disguises added in because of positional flexibility, they’re stacked all over the field on defence.
Will they put up many points? They may not need to if they manage the clock using Leonard Fournette. They control the game on the ground and with no disruption on an offensive line that made the former LSU back look a franchise player in his first year, they will do the same again. Bortles won’t win games, but he’ll probably not lose them.
If they had a quarterback, they would win a Super Bowl.
For now, he holds them back – but they scheme well enough to win games. The question is – how many?
The AFC South was a laughing stock a few years ago – truly. Now, it’s a competitive division with no easy games. Well, maybe Indianapolis, but that depends on Andrew Luck’s health. Either way, they have enough to turn them twice, and will likely split games with the other two – leaving them at 4-2 in the division.
They get visits from the AFC East and the NFC East, which is far from the worst out-of-division slate to land in scheduling and they should have no problem getting past Miami, Buffalo, the Jets and a Giants team on opening week that will be without a 100%-fit Saquon Barkley.
New England is a toss-up, but to err on the side of caution – we’ll say 8-3. Their remaining games are against Kansas City, Dallas, Philly (in London), Pittsburgh and Washington. Do they win two of them? Most likely.
(American) football’s coming home.