Last season, the Jacksonville Jaguars ended with an 11-5 record and a handy defeat of the Steelers in the first round of the playoffs. Many considered them the dark horse that might knock either Indianapolis or New England out of the playoffs.
Though they were defeated by the Patriots, the team certainly proved its resilience and earned a place in the top rankings of the AFC.
Jack Del Rio's decision to make David Garrard his starting quarterback may have proved to be his best coaching decision yet.
The 2002 fourth round pick completed 208 passes out of 325 attempts and managed 18 touchdowns with only three interceptions. He also rushed for 185 yards and scored an additional rushing touchdown. He ended the season with a quarterback rating of 102.2, well above average.
Of course no quarterback can be successful without speedy receivers and a strong running back. Garrard often handed the ball to 6'1" running back Fred Taylor, who led the team in rushing with 1202 yards and scored a total of five touchdowns.
When Taylor needed a break or Jacksonville needed a power running back to eat up those precious few red zone yards, they turned to 5'7" Maurice Jones-Drew. The compact RB proved himself adept at finding and exploiting holes as well as powering through much bigger defenders. He ran for 768 yards and nine touchdowns.
Jacksonville's defense stepped up several times throughout the season to halt the opposing offense and give Garrard and their offense the chance to score again. Quite often the defense proved itself the key to Jacksonville's victories.
This season, some predict the Jaguars to knock the Colts off their high horse and wear the AFC South crown. While I don't entirely agree with that, I do see it as a very real possibility.
Though new defensive coordinator Gregg Williams will change things up on the defensive side, he will not stray far from Del Rio's original defense, which has proved dominant. I'm sure the defense will have no problem adjusting to the new schemes, while opposing offenses will find themselves caught off guard by it.
Adding free agent Jerry Porter and receiver Troy Williamson should add even more speed to the passing game to help compliment an already powerful ground game. Let's face it, the more weapons a competent quarterback like David Garrard has, the better.
I expect this team's drive and experience to take them far this season. Their schedule is middle-of-the-field in terms of difficulty, so 10+ wins should not be too arduous to amass.
Their key opposition are division rivals Indianapolis and the rising Vikings, who I expect to seriously test the ability of Jacksonville's run defense.
My prediction: 12-4, second in the AFC South, and participant in the AFC Championship.