Jacksonville Jaguars most likely team to improve from 2016 according to Bill Barnwell


After crashing and burning in the 2016 season, the Jacksonville Jaguars are ripe to improve significantly in 2017 according to ESPN’s Bill Barnwell.

Heading into the 2016 regular, the Jacksonville Jaguars were the trendy pick to improve and become a playoff contender. Since their exciting playoff run in 2007, the Jaguars have failed to post a winning record and have objectively been one of the worst teams in the league with frightening consistency.

Things were supposed to change in 2016, as the arrow was pointing up on offense thanks to Blake Bortles and Allen Robinson, while the defense looked more formidable with additions like Malik Jackson and Jalen Ramsey.

Instead, the Jaguars finished with a pathetic 3 wins and yet another top 5 draft pick.

While the overall record is usually enough to know how the season went, a deeper look at the statistics paints the picture of a deeply unlucky team that lost an unsustainable proportion of close games.

Bill Barnwell perennially posts an article on the teams who’s real record differed the most from what’s called their “Pythagorean expectation” – a metric generated by looking at the team’s point-differential.

In this year’s column, the Jaguars were the lucky (or unlucky) winner:

"1. Jacksonville Jaguars (3-13)Point differential: -82Pythagorean expectation: 5.9 winsRecord in games decided by seven points or less: 2-8 (.200)Strength of schedule: 0.497 (14th-easiest in NFL)I’ll forgive you if you’re sick of hearing that the Jaguars are about to take a leap forward. The reality is that they’ve already taken two modest leaps forward. In 2015, they jumped from 3.7 expected wins to 6.4 wins, a mark they mostly maintained last season with those 5.9 Pythagorean-projected victories.While it was a season with an ugly record, the poor results are mostly explained by that ugly 2-8 mark in games decided by one touchdown or less. You might attribute that to some element of a young Jaguars team not knowing “how to win,” but the Jaguars were a totally unremarkable 9-10 in one-score games over the previous three seasons under Gus Bradley."

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The Jaguars were an abject disappointment in 2016, but a closer look at the final scores of each game paint the picture of a team much closer to consistency than the squads trotted out in 2013-2015.

In former head coach Gus Bradley’s first three seasons, the Jaguars were dramatically outplayed in the first half of games and they almost always faced a multi-touchdown deficit heading into the fourth quarter.

In 2016, the Jaguars kept games relatively close and choked it away at the end.

As Barnwell points out, whether or not this happens again largely falls on Blake Bortles.

"The popular story of the Jags in 2016 was the disappointing season from their offense, driven by the inexplicable mechanical breakdown of quarterback Blake Bortles. Indeed, while the hype machine surrounding Bortles was too loudheading into last season, the offense suffered dramatically in falling from 21st in DVOA in 2015 to 27th last season…."

Looking on the bright side, Barnwell does point out the improvement on defense in 2016 and the likelihood that it keeps trending up with several new key additions.

"What’s also true, though, is that the defense got good without anybody realizing. The Jaguars improved superficially, going from 31st in points allowed to 25th, but DVOA tells a clearer story. Bradley’s defense jumped all the way from 26th in 2015 to 13th last season, the first time it has ranked in the top half of the league since 2011.The Jaguars’ improvement wasn’t quite as obvious for reasons outside of the defense’s control. A turnover-happy offense and poor kickoff coverage left the team to face the league’s third-worst average starting field position. Paul Posluszny & Co. were left to defend an average of 69.2 yards, while the top-ranked Patriots had nearly six extra yards to work with on a typical defensive possession. Jacksonville also faced 182 meaningful possessions against a league average of 177, giving the opposition five extra trips to score."

As Barnwell goes on to discuss, taking the next step on defense is going to require an rather significant uptick in turnovers generated.

In the end though, Barnwell comes to the same conclusion about the Jaguars prospects in 2017 that almost everyone else has – it’s all on Bortles.

"It’s Bortles, right? It’s hard to find a good reason to believe the light bulb is suddenly going to turn on for Bortles, who has barely developed or shown much more than pure athleticism during his time in the NFL. Chad Henne hasn’t done a much better job of protecting the football as a pro passer, either, so there’s not even a game-manager type to turn to on the bench if new coach Doug Marrone decides to change. Jacksonville will likely improve on its record regardless of how Bortles plays, but a mediocre quarterback would probably limit it to six wins."

If Bortles is one of the worst quarterbacks in the league, then six wins is probably about right. But if Bortles can improve even marginally and play like an average quarterback, that number should be a lot closer to 9 or 10.