Will the Jacksonville Jaguars find defending the AFC South crown a daunting challenge next season?
For the first time since 2000, the Jacksonville Jaguars are entering a season as defending division champions, which was way back in the long gone AFC Central days. With an elite defense poised to only grow stronger, and a formidable rushing attack, it would seem to suggest that the Jaguars are in a great position to retain the crown.
But that hasn’t been the conventional wisdom in the realm of league experts. Just within this week, two out of three analysts on ‘Good Morning Football’ predicted Jacksonville to win less than the ten games the team won in 2017, and now NFL.com’s Gil Brandt has ranked last year’s eight division winners from least to most likely to relinquish their title in 2018, and puts the Jaguars as the second-most vulnerable defending champ.
Brandt’s most concerning issue with Jacksonville for next season is in the passing game:
"I have concerns, though, about the pass-catching corps. Austin Seferian-Jenkins should be a serviceable replacement for Marcedes Lewis at tight end, but the Jags did lose two good receivers in Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns. Can Keelan Cole continue to build on his breakout season of 2017? Will ex-Colt Donte Moncrief thrive with a change of scenery? Rookie D.J. Chark has the potential to scare the heck out of opposing defenses."
It’s not unfair to have questions about the group as a whole, with a lineup consisting mostly of young guys with a lot still left to prove. But Keelan Cole, and the unmentioned Dede Westbrook each flashed the traits of reliable pass catchers in 2017, and second-rounder D.J Chark will assuredly get many opportunities to splash onto the scene next season.
Brandt thinks highly of a division that was once considered one of the weakest in the league in recent years, and feels that could be Jacksonville’s undoing in 2018:
"The competition: The AFC South should be tremendously better in 2018. Houston should have Deshaun Watson healthy and winning games. The Colts have been fortifying a roster that seemed barren not too long ago — if Andrew Luck gets on the field, Indy could be special. The Titans have a new coach and a quarterback in Marcus Mariota who keeps getting better. Yes, the Jaguars are strong — but they’re susceptible."
The hype train for Deshaun Watson has been rolling for awhile now, and while not unwarranted, the second year quarterback will have a heavy billing to live up to next year. The Titans were a playoff team, and a thorn in the Jaguars’ side, but forgive me for not currently viewing Tennessee as a team for which Jacksonville should be frightened. The Colts have worked feverishly to bring in offensive line talent in the hopes of protecting Andrew Luck in a potential return. It’s hard to argue that Indy isn’t a different team with Luck on the field, but is that in itself enough to compete for the title?
The AFC South will be better in 2018, and perhaps one of the most competitive in the NFL. But the Jacksonville Jaguars have made no moves that should have people thinking the team will falter in its quest of a repeat championship.