Here’s a look at the first half of the season for the Jacksonville Jaguars and a preview of what to expect in the second half:
First-half snapshot: The Jaguars already have surpassed their 2016 victory total and are in the hunt for the AFC South title. They’ve done it with a defense that ranks first in the NFL against the pass (156.4 yards per game) and in sacks (35). Jacksonville has forced 16 turnovers, too. Rookie RB Leonard Fournette has been a stud (596 yards rushing, seven total TDs). Porous run defense (124.9 yards per game allowed), inconsistent quarterback play and a lack of downfield playmakers in the pass game have held the Jaguars back from taking control of the division, but they've made progress in those areas over the past two weeks. Grade: Average.
Midseason MVP: When the Jaguars signed DE Calais Campbell they knew they were getting a tremendous locker room leader, and they hoped he’d continue his remarkable consistency as a pass-rusher (at least 6.0 sacks in seven of his first nine seasons). He has been even better. Campbell already has a career high with 11 sacks and set the franchise single-game record (four sacks) in his first game. He is just 1.5 sacks shy of breaking the single-season franchise record (12), and his presence outside has made things easier for the Jaguars’ other rushers. Campbell also has mentored DE Dante Fowler Jr., who is playing the best football of his career.
Best moment: The Jaguars routed the Houston Texans 29-7 in the season opener at NRG Stadium. It was one of the biggest surprises of Week 1. The Jaguars sacked Texans QBs 10 times that day, including four by Campbell. It was an indication that things may have finally begun to turn around in Jacksonville and the Jaguars were going to be legitimate contenders for the division title. It also showed the Jaguars’ defense had the potential to be one of the league’s best. Both of those things were proven over the next six weeks.
Worst moment: Giving up a kickoff return for a touchdown and a blocked punt for another touchdown against the Los Angeles Rams were both awful. But the Jaguars’ embarrassing lack of awareness in not touching New York Jets RB Bilal Powell to ensure he was down is the lowest point. Powell got back up and raced for a 75-yard touchdown on the Jets’ first possession. That score changed the tenor of the game, and the Jets also scored on a 69-yard TD run. The Jaguars had a chance to get into position for a potential game-winning field goal attempt, but WR Marqise Lee dropped a pass that would have given them a first down inside the Jets’ 40-yard line. At the end of the season, the Jaguars will likely look back on the 23-20 overtime loss to the Jets as the season’s biggest wasted opportunity.
Second-half outlook: The Jaguars have the easiest remaining schedule of any team in the division, including games against the NFL’s three worst teams (Cleveland, San Francisco and Indianapolis). That makes them the favorite to win the AFC South. However, it all hinges on what the Jaguars can get out of QB Blake Bortles. Defenses are going to continue to sell out to stop Fournette, and Bortles is going to have to make plays downfield. It’s that simple. He wasn’t able to do it against the Jets and Rams (both losses), but he was against the Ravens, Colts and Bengals (all victories). There are going to be three or four games in the second half that rest on his shoulders. If he delivers, the Jaguars are in the playoffs, but so far he hasn’t shown he can do that consistently.