With the release of the 2012 schedule comes some trepidation for some fans and some release for others. For the Jaguars, I’m going to go with trepidation. When the AFC South plays the AFC East and the NFC North, you know it’s going to be a rough go of it. The Packers, Bears, and Lions have all gotten better and are more focused in a very competitive division. The Patriots are always hard to beat and Tom Brady is used to walking over the Jaguars when they meet.
Let’s take this week by week:
- At Minnesota: The Jags take on the Vikings in the first game of the season. Of all the NFC North teams to begin the season with, the Vikes are easily the best. They’re currently in turmoil and outside of running back Adrian Peterson (Who is coming off a knee injury) and defensive end Jared Allen there isn’t too much to be scared of.
- VS Houston: Hopefully the Jags are coming off a solid win in the first week, because they take on the division champs the following week for the home opener. Jacksonville will get to test the strength of a depleted Houston roster early in the season and should provide a good indication of how hard the Jags will have to play to vie for the division title.
- At Indianapolis: Andrew Luck will get a taste of a real defense early in the season. Hopefully the Jags will be up to the task of stopping the rookie quarterback. The team did a good job of corralling the talented Cam Newton last year and should manage to be effective against Indy’s young quarterback under Mel Tucker’s defense. If the Jags stumble here it could be the sign of a long season for the Jacksonville faithful.
- Vs Cincinnati: The Bengals were a very good team last year, far more complete than they were given credit for actually. With two first round picks in the 2012 draft, the team could get even better, adding more playmakers to an already good young team. Unless the Jags have already been proven to be in complete rebuilding mode (that Indy game will be the litmus test!) then this game should effectively show how good the team will be against playoff contenders. I can’t image Cincinnati being worse than 2-1 at this point in the season.
- Vs Chicago: The Bears have something to prove in the 2012 season. With a healthy Jay Cutler they may be the true threat out of the NFC North. They want to show that last year was just a fluke due to injury and they will try to punish the Jags – a team they will probably try to exploit and make a statement with because of Jacksonville’s abysmal 2011 campaign.
- BYE WEEK: If Terrance Knighton isn’t up to form by now then we’ll be in trouble. The week will cap off a tough pair of home games and should serve as a very nice breather for the Jags and give them a chance to assess themselves after having played three very good teams in the first five weeks.
- At Oakland: The Jags will see just how good Carson Palmer is after a full offseason with his new team. This game could give the Jags a way to show off their defense since the Raiders won’t be able to add many good players in the draft due to the Palmer trade last year. The Jags should win this one unless Oakland suddenly goes on a run.
- At Green Bay: I don’t want to chalk this one up as impossible, especially if the Packers regress, but it’ll take something special to beat the Pack at Lambeau at the end of October. Usually a decent cold-weather team, Jacksonville will really have to prepare for this one.
- Vs Detroit: When Matt Stafford and Megatron come to town you know it’ll be a long day. Hopefully there won’t be the same amount of injuries in the secondary for the Jags this year. If Ashton Youboty is starting at corner again then the Jags may just see a 500 yard performance out of Stafford. I think this is a winnable game, especially since it’s in Jacksonville, but it’ll be a measure of how this defense has progressed or regressed entering the final part of the season.
- Vs Indianapolis: This game will show how much Luck has progressed as rookie quarterback during the season. If he is doing well then the Jags may be in for a long decade, but if he has been struggling then the Jags should be able to capitalize on a team that is still struggling to find the find under themselves. This is the first of a three game string against division opponents.
- At Houston: Maybe Matt Schaub will be injured by now again? No, I’m not hoping for that. It’ll be curious to see how the Houston defense holds up after losing some quality leadership in DeMeco Ryans and Mario Williams. It’s tough to lose leaders like that.
- Vs Tennessee: The last game in the rivalry string and the first of two agains the Titans, this game may be deciding the division crown (I’m thinking Tennessee and Houston will be neck and neck if the Jags aren’t up there with them) or a wildcard jostle behind the Texans. The Titans should be a cohesive unit at this point in the season, Jake Locker should be starting, and you can never count out Mike Munchak as a gifted coach.
- At Buffalo: The Bills will get a chance to show off the Jags’ old friend Super Mario in this one. I just don’t think it’ll help them much and fully expect the Jaguars to do well against Buffalo.
- Vs New York Jets: The Jets come to town and should be featuring Tim Tebow in his hometown. If Mark Sanchez is still starting, I’ll be amazed. I’ll also be amazed if the Jets are still in playoff contention. It’s about time they took a real step back and I think that happens this year.
- At Miami: A short trip to Miami to show them that they do indeed still need Chad Henne. It’d be interesting if Henne was starting for Jacksonville at this point. Interesting, but I don’t think it’s going to happen.
- Vs New England: The Patriots have had Jacksonville’s number forever it seems. Unless New England is resting its starters in preparation for the playoffs (which I doubt they would do) this will be a long day for the Jaguars. At least Blaine Gabbert should look good against a perennially underachieving Patriots’ defense.
- At Tennessee: The Jags end their season traveling to Tennessee to show the Titans how much they really did need Peyton Manning. Jake Locker will play in this game no matter what the Titans’ record is if only to bring them to the playoffs or show what he’s got after two seasons sitting and waiting. Hopefully this is just a quick stop before the playoffs for Jacksonville.
There you have it dear reader. It’s all speculation at this point, but I think the Jags have a shot against almost every team on their plate and should do pretty well throughout the year. Expect some high powered games and some pretty crowded stadiums (thank you Tim Tebow?).
– Luke N. Sims