Coming off of a disappointing season marred with injuries and tragedy, the Jaguars are looking to bounce back in 2009. No team stands out as having a particularly advantageous schedule in the AFC South this year. They all carry similar, middle of the road, strength of schedule.
However, as usual in the AFC South, the difficulty will come from inside of the league.
Tennessee will follow last year’s success as the league’s front-runner. Houston is hungry and made typical, Houston draft selections in their first two rounds (USC’s Cushing and Cincinnati's Barwin) adding some much needed depth to their defense, and probably causing a bit of controversy.
After the Williams over Bush selection, I trust Houston's judgment. Those guys will make the Texans better. Indianapolis remains dangerous as long as Peyton Manning remains under center.
However, this year does not contain a 2005 Colts. No team should go perfect in league play making for a very competitive season.
In order to succeed this season, the Jags need to get back to the postseason. That’s it. No need to expect a Super Bowl or even a division championship. Going from 5–11 to 10–6 and showing up as a wild card will be enough to mark down 2009 as successful.
Missing the playoffs would be bad; another losing season would be disastrous. They have not posted back-to-back losing seasons since the 2000-2003 “dark years”. Every Jags fan would like to forget those years of wasted Fred Taylor production (three times over 1300 yards) and poor cap management.
So how do the Jags get back to the playoffs? It's definitely possible with the parity, and competitiveness of this league. However, it will not be easy. In order for the Jags to get back to the playoffs this year, three major things need to happen:
1. A No. 1 WR option needs to step up, and No. 2 and No. 3 need to be solid.
Matt Jones showed up when he could hast year; unfortunately his off the field issues finally became too much to handle and the Jags cut him loose leaving a gaping hole in their offense.
Right now, the Jags' No. 1 receiving option is Maurice Jones-Drew, and No. 2 is Marcedes Lewis. This does not bode well for a successful season. MoJo is no Brian Westbrook. He can catch a pass out of the backfield, but he can't lead his team in receptions. He's built like a classic running back and does his best work when handed the ball, not thrown it.
Torry Holt will provide a much needed spark, and for the first time in a long time, a legitimate #1 receiver. If his down season (only 800 yards) was a product of the Rams' ineptitude and not his own age getting the best of him, Holt should provide the Jags with a 1,000 yard option for the first time since Garrard's backup days when he threw to Jimmy Smith.
The top two incumbent WRs have to get better. Northcutt’s 30+ years old, and only showed up in any major capacity in two games last season. This is his last shot. Mike Walker absolutely must produce. Those two guys need to account for 50-75 yards per game in order for Jacksonville to have any shot at winning consistently.
2. The Rookie OTs can’t be busts
Eugene Monroe has to be a day one player. The Jags don’t have enough depth to rely on a slow, steady, safe development. He has to either provide consistent, high level rotational play or be the starter immediately.
Britton’s a big dude, but I admit, I don’t know much about him. I do know that he was not a “reach” for an early second round selection. Thus, he needs to provide immediate support.
3. The Defensive Line must be fixed
Last year’s defense was a disaster. The Jags gave up three additional points per game and ranked 24th in pass defense, compared to 15th in 2007. Derrick Harvey’s career may rest on his performance this year.
Somebody must step up inside to complement Henderson as well. Without the ability to stop their opponents, the Jags cannot get their biggest weapon, Maurice Jones-Drew, back on the field.
Without improvement in all three of these areas, the Jaguars will be stuck in the bottom half of the AFC South, and will, once again, be in the dark, searching for answers while a young, talented running back ages and wastes his best years.