We’re at that point of the offseason where there isn’t anything too exciting happening. The draft has passed, training camp doesn’t begin for another several weeks, and actual football is still over three months away. However, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t still things to discuss and analyze in terms of the Jacksonville Jaguars. Following a 5-11 campaign in 2011 that was full of complete chaos, the Jaguars and their fans not only saw long time head coach Jack Del Rio fired late in the season, but an ownership change occurred as well, when Illinois businessman Shahid Khan purchased the team from Wayne Weaver. Despite all of the drama in Jacksonville as of late, can the Jaguars rebound in 2012?
In 2012, outside of their divisional rivals in the AFC South, the Jaguars will face the NFC North and AFC East, along with two conference games against the Oakland Raiders and Cincinnati Bengals. Each year, way too early (like now), fans throw out their predictions on win/loss records, but I’m not going to do that. Let’s face it, it’s too early, and every season, there are teams that people think will be horrible that end up surprising everyone, as well as projected playoff contenders who end up falling flat, but that’s what makes the NFL great. Yet, that doesn't mean that we can't take a look at the schedule. I’m not going to dissect each week of the season, but instead, let’s take a look at a few pros and a few cons of the schedule that really stand out.
- Week 1 – Jacksonville @ Minnesota
The Jaguars will head to Minnesota to take on the Vikings to open the regular season. Other than facing the Colts, the Jaguars couldn’t have ended up with a better opener. Jacksonville is a team on the rise, while the Vikings are in a defensive overhaul, and much like the Jaguars, are coming off a year where they were a struggling offense. Not only that, but it’s not a lock that Pro Bowl running back Adrian Peterson will be back in time for this game either, which gives the Jaguars already powerful defense an even bigger advantage.
- Week 3 – Jacksonville @ Indianapolis
This will be Jacksonville’s second road game of the season, and again, the placement of it is excellent. Even more so than the Vikings, the Colts are in complete overhaul, particularly on both sides of the ball. It’s basically a new defense, and no matter how hyped Andrew Luck may be, he’s still a rookie quarterback in the NFL, in what will (most likely, barring injury) be only the third start of his career.
- Week 7 – Jacksonville @ Oakland
Another road game with excellent placement on the schedule. The Jaguars will have their Bye Week in Week 6, following their home game against the Chicago Bears, and will then travel to Oakland. The Raiders were a non-playoff team a year ago that wasn't at all consistent, and they also didn't see much of an upgrade at all this offseason. As far as the draft is concerned, they didn't pick until the very last selection of the third round. Not only that, but after losing key players like TE Kevin Boss and RB Michael Bush in free agency, while only really signing journeymen players due to their cap situation, are they really better than they were last season? The Jaguars are, but is Oakland? Also, history favors the Jaguars as well, as they lead the all-time series against the Raiders 4-1, including a 2-1 record when playing the Raiders on the road.
- Week 8 – Jacksonville @ Green Bay
It’s no secret that Green Bay is one of the elite teams in the league, and despite the fact that the Jaguars have a great defense, Aaron Rodgers and company can put up points regardless. Can the Jaguars revamped offense keep up, following a long road trip across the country to Oakland? For that reason alone, the placement of this game on the schedule definitely doesn’t favor the Jaguars.
- Week 12 – Tennessee @ Jacksonville
A home game! Yet, this game doesn’t fall favorably on the schedule for Jacksonville, for two reasons. First, Tennessee will be coming off a bye week, while the Jaguars will be coming off a road game against Houston. More importantly though, is the Titans record coming off a bye week. Over the past six seasons (2006 – 2011), the Titans are 4-2 coming off the Bye Week, including a win against the Jaguars. In general, it’s rough to play a divisional game, after coming back from one the week before, against a team that the Jaguars typically always either play close or struggle against.
- Week 16 - New England @ Jacksonville
It's not a positive that the Jaguars have to play the Patriots in general, as they're (1-8) all time against New England, with their only win coming at home against the Patriots in the 1997 Playoffs. Therefore, not only is this game bad in general, but if the Jaguars are fighting for a playoff spot at the end of the season, going up against a New England team that always plays full speed (and a franchise that Jacksonville is historically bad against) might not be the best matchup.
Overall, this year’s schedule for the Jacksonville Jaguars isn’t as bad as some might think. Let’s just see what happens. However, the key is to get off to a hot start, because on paper, their first five games before the bye week are definitely manageable (@ Vikings, Texans, @ Colts, Bengals, Bears). If they struggle during that opening stretch, we could be in for another long season.
Have Faith, and ‘Go Jaguars.’