Game-by-game predictions: Jacksonville Jaguars

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Jacksonville Jaguars certainly took their lumps on offense by starting six rookies in 2014, including two along the offensive line. That approach, while better in the long term, certainly cost the team the opportunity to win at least four more games.

Even though the young players will be learning a new offense for the second year in a row, the experience they gained last season should make them more consistent and reliable players in 2015. It’s imperative that quarterback Blake Bortles makes progress, and the indications early in the offseason are that he’s putting in the work required to do so.

That should allow the Jaguars to finish 7-9 in the third year of the rebuild under general manager David Caldwell and coach Gus Bradley. Having one of the league’s easiest schedules (it’s ranked 25th) will help, too.

Week 1: Sunday, Sept. 13, Carolina, 1 PM

The Panthers were NFC South champs and won a playoff game last season. But they were 7-8-1 in the league's worst division and beat an Arizona team that was without its starting running back and was on its fourth quarterback. Bottom line, the Panthers weren’t very good and Cam Newton hasn’t taken the next step in his development. Jaguars 27, Panthers 24. Record 1-0.

Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 20, Miami, 4:05 PM

Last year’s matchup was a strange one because the defense held the Dolphins to just 13 points but the offense gave up 14 on a pair of interceptions returned for touchdowns. And that came during the early part of the season, long before the Dolphins went into what seems to be their annual late-season fade. The Ndamukong Suh factor can’t be stressed enough against a Jaguars offensive line that needs to improve significantly. Dolphins 17, Jaguars 7. Record 1-1.

Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 27, at New England, 1 PM

Tom Brady. Rob Gronkowski. Devin McCourty. Defending Super Bowl champs. Did I mention Tom Brady? This will be the toughest game on the schedule. Patriots 31, Jaguars 12. Record 1-2.

Week 4: Sunday, Oct. 4, at Indianapolis, 1 PM

The Jaguars have lost five in a row to the Colts by a combined score of 161-43. Quarterback Andrew Luck is 5-1 against the Jaguars, with the lone loss coming in just his third professional game. If he’s on the field, the Jaguars are going to have to win in a shootout, and they’re not equipped for that yet. Colts 37, Jaguars 17. Record 1-3.

Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 11, at Tampa Bay, 1 PM

The Buccaneers will have a rookie quarterback -- almost certainly Jameis Winston -- and he’ll face a Jaguars pass rush that finished sixth in the NFL in sacks (45) in 2014 and is expected to add an elite pass rusher with the No. 3 pick in the draft. That’s a great matchup for the Jaguars. Jaguars 27, Buccaneers 7. Record 2-3.

Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 18, Houston, 1 PM

The Jaguars say they are committed to left tackle Luke Joeckel and they signed Jermey Parnell to shore up a major weakness at right tackle. They’ll both have to handle J.J. Watt one-on-one at times and they need to win some of those battles because Vince Wilfork's presence will make it hard to get help from the guards. Jaguars 21, Texans 14. Record 3-3.

Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 25, vs. Buffalo (London), 9:30 AM

Bills GM Doug Whaley said this is a make-or-break season for quarterback EJ Manuel. He could be on the bench and Matt Cassel could be taking snaps by this point. Either way, it’s a good matchup for the Jaguars. Jaguars 28, Bills 16. Record 4-3.

Week 8: Sunday, Nov. 1: BYE.

Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 8, at NY Jets, 1 PM

This is also a make-or-break season for quarterback Geno Smith. If he struggles early, we could see Ryan Fitzpatrick starting in this game. He has played well against the Jaguars in the past. The Jets’ defense, however, should be markedly better with the addition of Darrelle Revis, Antonio Cromartie and Buster Skrine. The offense should be very pedestrian, though. Jaguars 17, Jets 7. Record 5-3.

Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 15, at Baltimore, 1 PM

The Jaguars did a good job of shutting down Justin Forsett in 2014 and had chances to win the game but were hurt by some key drops. With a better offense the Jaguars will make this competitive, but it’ll be hard for them to deal with Joe Flacco, who usually starts heating up for his playoff run in mid-October. Ravens 30, Jaguars 20. Record 5-4.

Week 11: Thursday, Nov. 19, Tennessee, 8:25 PM

Like the San Diego game, this matchup depends on which player is taking snaps at quarterback. Is it Philip Rivers, Marcus Mariota or Zach Mettenberger? Let’s assume it’s either Mariota or Mettenberger, which is certainly a more favorable matchup. Two of Blake Bortles' more impressive games as a rookie came against the Titans, and maybe they’ll be the team that always brings out his best. Jaguars 32, Titans 24. Record 6-4.

Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 29, San Diego, 1 PM

Will the Chargers be quarterbacked by Rivers or someone else -- possibly Mariota -- at this point? If it’s Rivers, the Jaguars are going to have a big problem: He has completed 78.4 percent of his passes for 662 yards and four touchdowns with no interceptions in Chargers' victories over the Jaguars the past two seasons. Going on the assumption that Rivers is still with the Chargers ... Chargers 34, Jaguars 24. Record 6-5.

Week 13: Sunday, Dec. 6, at Tennessee, 1 PM

The Jaguars have swept the season series only twice (1997 and 2005) but they could have done it in 2014 were it not for a costly drop by Cecil Shorts III. Even though the Jaguars are a little more talented than the Titans, especially on offense, the sweep won’t happen in 2015. Titans 20, Jaguars 13. Record 6-6.

Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 13, Indianapolis, 1 PM

The Colts have geared up for a run at the Super Bowl but they’re going to need to be careful how they manage aging veterans Frank Gore and Andre Johnson late in the season. Even if they don’t play in this game, Luck will. That's enough for the Colts to get their seventh victory in a row over the Jaguars. Colts 24, Jaguars 17. Record 6-7.

Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 20, Atlanta, 1 PM

The Falcons’ biggest issue the past two seasons has been their defense. They’ve given up the most yards per game (388.8) and third-most passing yards (261.7) and rushing yards (127.1) per game in the NFL over that span. They’ve also allowed 26.9 points per game, which ranks 28th. Dan Quinn, who replaced Gus Bradley as Seattle’s defensive coordinator, will make a difference eventually, but it’ll take some time. Jaguars 28, Falcons 14. Record 7-7.

Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 27, at New Orleans, 1 PM

Not having Jimmy Graham is a huge loss for the Saints, but they still have Drew Brees, and that’s enough. The offense, even without Graham, should still be one of the league’s more productive units. Saints 28, Jaguars 25. Record 7-8.

Week 17: Sunday, Jan. 3, at Houston, 1 PM

The other interesting issue with the Texans is which player will start at quarterback. Maybe Bill O’Brien can get some consistency out of Ryan Mallett, Tom Savage or Brian Hoyer. The Jaguars pretty much shut down Hoyer with Cleveland last season, Mallett has thrown 75 passes in his four seasons, and Savage threw just 19 as a rookie, so the Jaguars have to feel good about the matchup if they can limit the damage Watt does on defense. Texans 21, Jaguars 18. Record 7-9.