Not only should they not pay attention to the fact that the Jaguars are considered one of the favorites in the AFC in 2018, they should actually approach the upcoming season as if nobody expects them to win more than a few games.
That attitude is the best way for the Jaguars to deal with the hype following their first division title since 1999, first playoff appearance in a decade and surprising run to the AFC Championship Game, Campbell said. He is, unfortunately, speaking from experience.
“You start back at zero, so everybody’s equal,” Campbell said in a phone interview. “You have to earn the right to have the opportunity to make it to the playoffs. When people start picking you as the favorite and [predicting] what you should do, it’s kind of poison. You’re kind of relaxing and start believing you’re better than you are.
“I experienced that back in '15 in Arizona. We went to the conference championship, and everybody next year predicted us to win the Super Bowl. I think it kind of affected the way we played. I think we kind of believed it instead of earning it.”
Arizona did seem to be building toward a Super Bowl appearance behind quarterback Carson Palmer, receiver Larry Fitzgerald and a top-10 defense. The Cardinals went 11-5 (despite losing Palmer to a torn left ACL in November) and lost a wild-card playoff game to Carolina in 2014. They went 13-3 and reached the NFC Championship Game before again losing to the Panthers to cap the 2015 season.
In 2016, however, the Cardinals were hit hard by injuries. They had 18 players go on injured reserve, including two starting offensive linemen. That undoubtedly played a significant part of the team’s 7-8-1 finish, but Campbell also said that maybe the team didn’t work as hard as it had the past two seasons.
He said he’s going to try to ensure that doesn’t happen to the Jaguars in 2018 by making sure his teammates know that no one should dwell on the success the team had in 2017 -- not even him despite posting the best season of his career: 14.5 sacks and first-team All-Pro and Pro Bowl honors.
“Each season is different and a unique beast,” Campbell said. “You can’t really even think about [the success of the previous season]. At the end of the day, that’s over and done with. I’ve got to go out there and prove myself each and every game. That’s the nature of the business: What have you done for me lately.
“I’ve always known that. I have the same mentality. At the end of the day, my only goal is to help us win games.”
Campbell’s warning to his teammates doesn’t change the fact that the Jaguars are arguably the favorite in the AFC -- ahead of New England and Pittsburgh. The addition of guard Andrew Norwell should help a run game that faded late in the season, and 12 of the team’s top 14 defensive players will be back.
Coach Doug Marrone has said several times that his message to the players when they regroup for the first time since the day after the Jan. 21, 24-20 loss to the Patriots in Gillette Stadium will be that it’s impossible to just pick up where they left off. Everything must start over, which means another intense training camp -- some veteran players have said last year's camp was the toughest they’ve experienced in their career -- is on the horizon.
That’s just fine with Campbell, because it means the players are less likely to hold on to the surprising turnaround in 2017.
“It means nothing, what we did last year,” Campbell said. “All that matters is the work we put in and the discipline we play with.”