JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Things are again setting up for the Jacksonville Jaguars to be in position to compete for the AFC South title, but can the franchise finally take advantage of the circumstances?
They didn’t last season, when an injury to Indianapolis quarterback Andrew Luck, spotty quarterback play in Houston, and a rookie quarterback leading a Tennessee franchise in the early stages of a rebuild left the division race wide open. The Jaguars finished 5-11, losing five of their final six games.
Now pieces are again falling into place for the Jaguars to be a factor in the AFC South, even after an 0-3 start.
Defensive end J.J. Watt going on injured reserve with a back injury is a huge blow to a Houston Texans franchise that was already down two key starters. The team isn’t yet ruling the three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year out for the season, but it’s likely that he is.
The Texans are already without starting center Nick Martin (IR with an ankle injury) and linebacker Brian Cushing, who is out until late October with a sprained MCL. Quarterback Brock Osweiler didn’t exactly light things up last week against New England (the Texans were shut out 27-0) so it’s legitimate to wonder if the Texans made the right choice by choosing him as their franchise quarterback.
Indianapolis just placed linebacker Trent Cole on IR with a back injury, which adds to growing list of players that are injured or coming back from injuries. The Colts had seven key players either miss the first game or the first two games, including cornerback Vontae Davis. He returned for last Sunday’s game and will play Sunday against the Jaguars in London.
The Colts’ defense, by the way, is allowing 31.7 points per game.
Tennessee is still a year or two away from competing for a title and quarterback Marcus Mariota has turned the ball over six times in three games.
The Jaguars should be poised to challenge Houston for the division title, but instead they’re off to the third 0-3 start in the last four seasons. Quarterback Blake Bortles, who set franchise records in passing yards (4,428) and passing touchdowns (35) last season, has struggled. He’s committed seven turnovers, is holding on to the ball too long, hesitating on throws and just doesn’t seem comfortable.
He’s not being helped by a ground game that is averaging just 55.0 yards per game and 2.8 yards per carry. The offensive line has not run-blocked well and played last week without its two best players. Center Brandon Linder (knee) and left tackle Kelvin Beachum (concussion) missed the game against Baltimore and the Jaguars replaced them with players making their first career starts.
If the Jaguars are to turn the season around – and possibly save coach Gus Bradley’s job – they have to beat Indianapolis on Sunday in London. They won the last meeting 51-16, though Luck didn’t play in that game.
The Jaguars didn’t capitalize on that victory in 2015. They were 5-8 at that point but lost consecutive games to Atlanta, New Orleans and Houston to finish with a losing record for the fifth season in a row.
Will this year be any different?