Why the Jacksonville Jaguars Will Reach the AFC Championship and Possibly Their First Super Bowl in 2018January 14, 2018
As I’m writing this article the Jags are currently up 28-7 over the former best team in the AFC, the Pittsburgh Steelers, in the AFC Divisional Playoff matchup. While Jacksonville is obviously playing extremely well today, they have also shown signs throughout the 2017 regular season that they are the future of the AFC, and with a few small adjustments, they could be en route to their first Super Bowl in franchise history next season.
The Jaguars had some seriously impressive wins throughout the season. Multiple blowout wins vs the Texans (twice), Titans, Bengals, Browns, and Bills (in the playoffs) where their opponent was limited to only 1 score, big wins against playoff contenders like the Seahawks and the Chargers, and a huge 30-9 win against the Steelers in week 5 proved to the rest of the league that the Jaguars are not a fluke, but in fact a serious contender in the AFC. This is of course due to Leonard Fournette becoming the star RB he was expected to become, Keelan Cole, Marqise Lee, Allen Hurns, and Dede Westbrook making up a solid WR core, and of course, the greatest defense in the league, led by Jalen Ramsey, Telvin Smith, and Calais Campbell, absolutely dominating every Sunday.
There are some areas where the Jags could improve if they want to practically guarantee a trip to Super Bowl LIII. Their great defense is a staple, and honestly it could be enough to win a Super Bowl, especially since a defense of their caliber completely carried the Broncos throughout the 2015 season and of course throughout Super Bowl L, but the Jags lack depth at numerous positions on the other side of the ball. For starters, the Jags should seriously look into acquiring another lights out RB before the 2018 season begins. Fournette is without a doubt one of the best RBs in the league, however if Leonard were to suffer a serious injury at any point during the season, the Jacksonville run game would become absolutely abysmal. For example, Ezekiel Elliott is one of the most elite RBs in the league as well, and is clearly the core of the Cowboys offense. However, during his four game suspension this season, Dallas’ run game became obsolete, and as a result, the Boys dropped some key must win games that could have landed them a playoff spot if they had a deeper run game to secure those wins. On the other hand, both the Saints and the Eagles had deep run offenses this season, with New Orleans having both Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara and Philadelphia having both LeGarrette Blount and Jay Ajayi. With their deep run game, both teams finished as the #1 and #4 seeds in the NFC and the winners of their respective divisions. Both the Eagles and Saints have nearly unstoppable offenses with run games that have carried each team to multiple regular season wins, and now playoffs wins. Jacksonville either signing a solid free agent or drafting a RB in the first 2 rounds of the draft could build some much needed depth at RB.
Other offensive positions need depth as well in Jacksonville. Marcedes Lewis is a fantastic run blocking TE, but with the departure of Julius Thomas to the Dolphins, the Jaguars now currently lack depth and diversity at the TE position as well. Jacksonville completely lacks an above average receiving TE. While I believe that the Jags should look to use their picks in the first 2 rounds on an Offensive Tackle (easily the offensive position they lack the most and should only be filled by young talent in this year’s draft) and a RB, they could find solid talent at the TE position later on in the draft, or through free agency. TEs like Jimmy Graham, Antonio Gates, and Zach Miller will all be free agents this offseason and could be key additions for the Jaguars. Also, teams like the Patriots who have a copious amount of TEs in Gronk, Martellus Bennett, and Dwyane Allen could look to trade one of their backups or possibly release one for the Jags to capitalize on.
Of course, there is one future Hall of Famer who will be looking for a new team this season that the Jaguars should pursue, and that is Eli Manning. Before I dive into this any further, I want to stress that Blake Bortles is NOT a terrible quarterback. He did have a terrible 2016 season, and is of course very fluctuant and lacks consistency in his play, but Bortles is still a much better option at starting QB than most teams’ startings QBs around the league. He has proven himself to be a franchise QB in both the 2015 and 2017 seasons, and when he is playing well he is easily a top 15 QB in the NFL and very capable of leading the Jags to the Super Bowl. However, if Jacksonville wants to ensure that they’ll reach Super Bowl LIII, and possibly win their first Super Bowl, they’ll need Eli Manning. Eli, of course, has 2 rings already with the Giants, who will most likely release him and draft Josh Rosen out of UCLA, and appears to be the only opponent that Tom Brady cannot beat when it matters the most. Eli is still an incredible quarterback and adding him to a system where Tom Coughlin is the Executive Vice President of Football Operations is a recipe for success. The lights out Jacksonville defense combined with Eli Manning leading every drive sounds like a Super Bowl caliber team to me, and if for some reason Eli and the Jags don’t work out, you would still have Blake Bortles off the bench who has proven that he can lead the Jags deep into the playoffs. Jacksonville fans, 2018 is your year.
Written by Erik Clark