The Jaguars play their home opener at EverBank Field in week three against division foe Indianapolis on Sunday, Sept. 21. It is the latest the Jaguars have opened the season at home in terms of date in team history.
After stumbling to an 0-4 record in September a year ago, the Jacksonville Jaguars will be hard-pressed to avoid a repeat this fall.
Three of their first four games are on the road, and three of their first four games are against teams which made the NFL playoffs a year ago – Philadelphia, Indianapolis and San Diego. For only the second time in franchise history and the first time since 2000, the Jaguars will open with consecutive road games, facing the Eagles on Sept. 7 and then the Washington Redskins on Sept. 14.
Their schedule gets less difficult in October with three home games against non-playoff teams in Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Miami. Their game in London against the Dallas Cowboys is Nov. 2, meaning the Jaguars won’t have a bye until Week 11.
The only prime-time appearance by the Jaguars takes place Dec. 18 in a home game against the Tennessee Titans. As was the case last year, the schedule is backloaded with games against divisional rivals from the AFC South. They won’t face the Houston Texans until December and will wrap up the regular season against them on the road Dec. 28.
Aside from their Sept. 28 game at the Chargers, all of the Jaguars’ Sunday games home and away will kick off at 1 p.m. Clearly the networks don’t believe they are ready for prime time, except for the one appearance the league requires, or a late-afternoon national time slot.
Here’s a glance at what the Jaguars will face this fall:
Week 1: at Philadelphia Eagles (10-6), Sunday, Sept. 7, 1 p.m.
One of the worst defenses against the run in the NFL the past several years had better be on the lookout for LeSean McCoy, who led all rushers last season with 1,607 yards on the ground. McCoy was as big of a reason as any why the Eagles won four of their last five games to capture the NFC East before being eliminated from the playoffs by the New Orleans Saints on a last-second field goal. And how does Nick Foles follow up on a season where he threw for 27 touchdowns and only two interceptions while making Michael Vick expendable?
The only previous meeting in Philadelphia came in 2006, when the Jaguars won 13-6 despite David Garrard passing for just 87 yards.
Week 2: at Washington Redskins (3-13), Sunday, Sept. 14, 1 p.m.
The signing of wide receiver DeSean Jackson to a three-year, $24 million contract alone won’t shake up the balance of power in the NFC East. But it brings the Redskins back to a playoff contender and further away from a nightmarish season and the melodrama surrounding quarterback Robert Griffin III and coach Mike Shanahan. But other glaring weaknesses remain, and it’s questionable how much free safety Ryan Clark can help the Redskins’ secondary in his 12th season.
This is only the second time the Jaguars will play at Washington since 1997.
Week 3: vs. Indianapolis Colts (11-5), Sunday, Sept. 21, 1 p.m.
The low point of the Jaguars’ 0-8 start to last season might well have been when the Colts came to town in late September. Blaine Gabbert, now with the San Francisco 49ers, threw three interceptions as the offense managed only 205 total yards and three points. The game came shortly after the Colts acquired Trent Richardson from the Cleveland Browns in a move which was expected to bolster their running game, but by the time the playoffs rolled around, he was little to no factor.
Week 4: at San Diego Chargers (9-7), Sunday, Sept. 28, 4:05 p.m.
Rumors of the demise of the Chargers and Philip Rivers proved to be unfounded as they not only made the playoffs but then won at Cincinnati and gave Denver all it could handle. Rivers was near-perfect against the Jaguars, completing 22 of 26 passes for 285 yards and being sacked just once.
The addition of Donald Brown at running back should rejuvenate a ground game that got 1,255 yards from Ryan Mathews but managed only nine touchdowns all season.
Ben Roethlisberger should benefit from the offseason additions of running back LeGarrette Blount and wide receivers Lance Moore and Darrius Heyward-Bey. But the Steelers lost several key players to free agency. Wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders is now with the Denver Broncos, and Ziggy Hood was snatched up by the Jaguars in an attempt to boost their depth along the defensive line.
In their three years since losing to Green Bay in the Super Bowl, the Steelers have gone 8-8 twice and were beaten by Tim Tebow and the Broncos in the 2012 AFC wild-card game.
Despite being outgained in total yards 362 to 214, the Jaguars finally gave Gus Bradley his first win as an NFL head coach last November by defeating the Titans 29-27. The victory was sealed with a sack and a strip by defensive back Will Blackmon, who then returned the ball for a touchdown. Blackmon is among the players whom the Jaguars re-signed during the offseason after their contracts expired. Blackmon’s veteran presence is invaluable in a secondary which started as many as three rookies in 2013.
Gone are Rob Chudzinski and Brandon Weeden. In are Mike Pettine, most recently the defensive coordinator in Buffalo, and a quarterback yet to be determined. Unless Pettine believes Brian Hoyer can back from knee surgery as good as new and take over Weeden’s spot, the Browns might be more in the market for a quarterback than the Jaguars in the first round of the draft. Even with the unrest at that position a year ago, wide receiver Josh Gordon caught 10 passes for 261 yards against the Jaguars.
There’s also the subplot of this being the first meeting since the Browns matched the five-year, $42 million offer sheet the Jaguars gave center Alex Mack.
Not since their epic 62-7 rout in the 1999 playoffs have the Jaguars defeated the Dolphins at home. Then again, not counting the preseason, they’ve played each other only twice in Jacksonville since January 2000. Just like Chad Henne had trouble completing many deep throws for the Jaguars a year ago, Ryan Tannehill had problems hooking up with regularity with wide receiver Mike Wallace, the Dolphins’ top offseason signing.
On paper, this could be a game which won’t generate much interest outside of Florida.
Three consecutive years of losing an AFC wild-card game have left fans of the Bengals in a restless mood. Very few personnel changes of note took place during the offseason, so get ready for another season of Andy Dalton throwing to A.J. Green (98 receptions, 1,426 yards) and handing off to BenJarvus Green-Ellis (756 yards) and Giovani Bernard (695 yards). The Jaguars have only played once in Cincinnati since 2002, falling 21-19 to the Bengals in 2008.
Week 10: vs. Dallas Cowboys (8-8), at London, Sunday, Nov. 9, 1 p.m.
Don’t expect the Jaguars to get roughed up on British soil like they did last season against the 49ers. Their only two losses to the Cowboys have been by a combined six points, and the odds of one of the league’s most high-profile franchises returning to its former glory anytime soon appear remote.
The loss of end DeMarcus Ware to Denver is bound to make a defense which was already one of the worst around even weaker. Yes, Tony Romo passed for 3,828 yards and 31 touchdowns with only 10 interceptions, but he continues to take a pounding and will be 34 by the time the season starts.
Week 11: Bye
Week 12: at Indianapolis Colts (11-5), Sunday, Nov. 23, 1 p.m.
Hakeem Nicks was one of the most coveted wide receivers on the free-agent market. The former New York Giant ended up signing with the Colts, who hope he can resurrect his career by being paired with Reggie Wayne and T.Y. Hilton. As was vividly shown in their comeback from a 28-point deficit in their wild-card victory over the Kansas City Chiefs, the Colts’ passing game can be downright prolific. Andrew Luck didn’t put up flashy numbers against the Jaguars a year ago, but those weren’t required of him either.
Week 13: vs. New York Giants (7-9), Sunday, Nov. 30, 1 p.m.
Tom Coughlin returns to Jacksonville as coach of the Giants for the first time since 2006. While he has two Super Bowl rings to show for his work, last year was one that he and the Giants would like to forget. Eli Manning threw a league-high 27 interceptions and only 18 touchdowns for a team which never recovered from an 0-6 start.
Josh Freeman, whose departure in Tampa Bay was less than graceful, is now Manning’s backup. The Giants also capitalized on the Seattle Seahawks’ inability to pay all their free agents at market value by signing cornerback Walter Thurmond and tight end Kellen Davis.
Bill O’Brien, most recently the head coach at Penn State, takes over a team which had been touted in some quarters as a Super Bowl contender but instead dropped its final 14 games. One of the first hires made by O’Brien was that of Romeo Crennel to replace Wade Phillips as the Texans’ defensive coordinator. The addition of Crennel, who had head coaching stints in Cleveland and Kansas City, could bear closer watching if the Texans decide to use the first pick in the draft on South Carolina pass rusher Jadeveon Clowney.
In what will be only the Ravens’ third game at Jacksonville since 2001, the sight of wide receiver Steve Smith in a uniform of any team other than that of the Carolina Panthers might be a bit disconcerting. Smith and tight end Owen Daniels provide Joe Flacco with two new targets. The game also marks the return of tackle Eugene Monroe to Jacksonville for the first time since the Jaguars traded their 2009 first-round draft pick in order for rookie Luke Joeckel to move from the right to the left side.
The Jaguars must be breathing a sigh of relief that Chris Johnson is now a member of the New York Jets. But the addition of running back/receiver/return specialist Dexter McCluster gives new head coach Ken Whisenhunt and his staff another game-breaker with which to work. The Titans ran for a total of 182 yards in their last visit to Jacksonville, so Jaguars defensive coordinator Bob Babich will take whatever steps are necessary to avoid a repeat of that.
After going from Buffalo to Tennessee, Ryan Fitzpatrick now appears to be the likely successor to Matt Schaub as quarterback of the Texans. Whoever takes snaps from center will still have one of the top receivers in the game in Andre Johnson. And after losing Ben Tate to Cleveland, Houston signed Andre Brown to complement Arian Foster in its backfield. Should all the pieces fall into place, don’t be surprised to to see the Texans bounce back in a big way.
BEST NON-DIVISIONAL RIVAL HOME GAME
Despite their recent fallibility, the Steelers have a history with the Jaguars from when both teams were in the same division from 1995 to 2001 and met each other twice annually. Coughlin and Bill Cowher are no longer prowling the sidelines, but the memories from when their teams were Super Bowl contenders linger more than a decade later.
Roethlisberger threw a touchdown pass to Hines Ward with 1:53 remaining to give the Steelers a 26-21 victory when they last came to town in 2008. Two years earlier, he had barely healed from an offseason motorcycle accident and was ineffective as the Jaguars shut out the Steelers despite failing to get into the end zone themselves.
And while filling up EverBank Field won’t be a problem, it’s safe to say a considerable portion of those in attendance will be wearing black and gold.
The Jaguars had to play at Seattle last September and, not surprisingly, were thrashed by the Seahawks. While there might not be a future Super Bowl winner on the road portion of their schedule, a rare visit to Philadelphia to face the Eagles in Chip Kelly’s second season as their coach poses a formidable task.
To have to face the Eagles right out of the chute in front of a loud and hostile crowd could be some similarities to the loss to the Seahawks. Then again, before last season began, the Eagles were expected to start slowly in Kelly’s read-option system while the Redskins were the garnering national attention.
Having to go to San Diego and Cincinnati will pose problems as well. And should the Ravens return to playoff form, the Jaguars’ trip to Baltimore late in the season won’t be pleasant either.
MOST DANGEROUS OPPONENT
Chances are good the Jaguars need look no further than within their own division. The Colts were never seriously challenged in either meeting a year ago, and Andrew Luck is determined to get them to at least the conference championship game in his third season at quarterback.
Given the history of teams starting off 0-4 rarely making the playoffs, any of the first four games could qualify for this honor.
After winning only two games in 2012 and four in Bradley’s first season as coach, expecting any more than six victories in 2014 appears unrealistic. The AFC South might be down except for the Colts, but the Jaguars will have trouble escaping last place in their division.