We are in the middle of November; so the real drama of the NFL (aka the race for the playoffs) is about to begin. Luckily the Jaguars are not just in the hunt but leading the AFC South (thanks to a tiebreaker over the Colts) for the first time this late in the season since 1999. Six extremely tough games lie ahead of the Jags, which will determine if this year has a chance to be a Cinderella season like in 1996 or if once again the Jaguars fall short of the playoffs. It seems very likely this year that the only team going to the playoffs from the AFC South will be the division winner. If Jacksonville does miss the playoffs, the big question will be what happens with Head Coach Jack Del Rio? Can he keep his job without another postseason appearance? Let’s find out.
I think a final record of 8-8 or better will be serious improvement over last year. The Jaguars had a cupcake schedule in 2009 - not the case this year. The problem is that early in the season many in the front office declared that Jacksonville must go to the playoffs. Jack Del Rio stated in his season ending press conference last year that the goal was “to win the division and go back to the postseason”, a sentiment he repeated several times throughout the off-season. Owner Wayne Weaver said, “the Jaguars must be better then a mediocre team”, which they basically have been for much of the Jack Del Rio era. I think with this year’s roster and this year’s opponents, the bar was raised too high. But here we are in Week 11 and the Jaguars control their own destiny with a legitimate shot to clinch the division. If the Jaguars do take the AFC South, no question - Jack is saved, even if the Jaguars pull a ‘one and done’ in the post season.
But what happens if the playoff push falls short? What would it take for Jack to keep his job? Could three more victories be enough to save him? Definitely not a guarentee. I think Del Rio must lead his team to at least two victories in the final 3 games. Why? Because during the Del Rio era, the Jaguars have had three late season meltdowns when they were in position to make the playoffs: in 2004, losing 0-21 at home against the then-awful Houston Texans; in 2006, with possibly the best team of the Del Rio era, falling from an 8-5 record (and after the Jags’ biggest regular season victory vs. the Colts) and losing their final 3 games; and then last season, sitting at 7-5 and in control of their playoff destiny, this team lost its final four games. Another meltdown would suggest an undeniable link between this problem and the head coach.
Now let’s examine the reaming schedule game by game and grade how difficult each fixture will be:
Week 12 at New York Giants:
Very tough game. The Giants are likely the strongest team and in the best position to make a deep playoff run from the remaining six teams. Despite health issues at the wide receiver position and a two game losing streak, their fantastic D-line is intact and playing better than ever, their quarterback is healthy, and they have the advantage of a home game in New York. Winning this game would be very difficult.
Week 13 at Tennessee Titans:
This team may be the strongest of the Jaguars’ remaining AFC opponents, but they have major issues at the quarterback position. With Vince Young recently placed on IR and veteran Kerry Collins sidelined, rookie 6th round pick from Florida Atlantic (and Jacksonville native) Rusty Smith is currently set to be the Titans’ signal caller until Jeff Fischer decides otherwise. Other then him, Tennessee is still a very good team and Jeff Fisher is one of the best head coaches in the NFL. Another very tough game to win for the Jags.
Week 14 vs. Oakland Raiders
Oakland has a very strong defense and a powerful and dynamic running game, led by Darren McFadden. Their problem is their inconsistency. This team matches well with the Jaguars, but with the long trip from the West Coast factored in as well, Jacksonville should win this one. Also, if the previous two road games in New York and Tennessee are losses – this game could very well determine Jack’s fate. This is a must win game!
Week 15 at Indianapolis Colts
This game could be the one that decides the division. Peyton Manning has carried this team on his back (this year even moreso than most!) and almost every go-to weapon of his has dealt with injury issues. I think the Jaguars can win this game, because they have been built to beat the Colts. Also, with the win earlier in the season, Jacksonville’s opportunity to sweep the Colts for the first time ever could be a huge added motivation. Win this game and the two home games and Jack’s job is saved!
Week 16 vs. Washington Redskins
Another talented but extremely inconsistent team. In many ways, I think they are playing on the same level as the Jaguars. This is a very tricky game to predict because both teams have such a wide spectrum between their “good side” and their “bad side”, but if playoffs are still a serious possibility, the Jaguars should win this game. Another must win game!
Week 17 at Houston Texans
There is a very good chance that the Houston Texans will be way under .500 at this time and just waiting for this season to end. I expect that this might be Gary Kubiak’s last year as the head coach and for that matter, could easily could be Jack’s last game as well, if the playoff have faded from the picture and the Jaguars do not win this game. I think for Jack to keep the head coaching position for another year, the Jaguars must win this game and keep the fans’ (and Wayne Weaver’s) hopes high going into the 2011. Another must win game for Jack!
Here is the formula how Jack can keep his job:
The Jaguars must win and least half of their remaining six games and avoid something as disasterous as a three game losing streak. The game at Houston is a must win! Anymore than one blowout loss would be unacceptable, as this indicates the Jaguars still can’t compete against better teams! The offense must play well and be consistent. The defensive front seven must play extremely well (because we can’t count on the secondary).
In my opinion, if the Jaguars win the two remaining home games and the Texans game (because these teams are of a similar caliber to the Jaguars) and finish at 9-7, I would give Jack one more season to prove himself. The Colts game is the Wild Card here: if the Jaguars can beat them twice that would be a huge accomplishment and something this team never done before. Jack must guide the team to two more wins, but this might be the magic game to ensure his job as the Jaguars’ 2011 Head Coach.
So here’s the formula:
- At least 3 more victories!
- No more meltdowns!
- No 3 game losing streaks!
If Jack pulls this off, even if it means the Jaguars fall short of the playoffs, I think he should come back for 2011!