Early-Season Stretch Will Doom Jacksonville Jaguars' 2009 Campaign

Daniel ShanksAnalyst IJune 9, 2009

TAMPA, FL - AUGUST 23: Coach Jack Del Rio of the Jacksonville Jaguars watches play against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium on August 23, 2008 in Tampa, Florida.   (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)

In college football, the major programs usually schedule a few tune-up games before getting into the meat of their conference schedule.

The logic behind scheduling the cream puffs is that it allows a team to work out the kinks and gives them some confidence before heading into the more challenging part of the season.

Unfortunately for the Jaguars, NFL teams don't have that luxury.

Jacksonville was already going to have a challenging schedule because the team plays in the AFC South. In addition to Indianapolis, a perennial playoff contender, the division includes Tennessee and Houston.

Although the Titans lost Albert Haynesworth, they made some significant upgrades to its offense, particularly in the passing game. And Houston is one of the up-and-coming teams in the NFL.

Six of the team's 16 games come against those three teams, so Jacksonville was already behind the eight-ball in terms of its schedule.

A fourth-place finish in the AFC South assured that there would be a few easy games on the schedule, and the Jags do get to play Cleveland and Kansas City this year.

Also, teams from the AFC South and the NFC West play each other this year, and three of the NFC West teams are very beatable.

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But the Jaguars weren't fortunate enough to play any of those lesser teams in the early going. In fact, their first four games might be the most difficult stretch any team in the league has to face in the early going.

Jacksonville opens the season at Indy, and then returns home to host Arizona, the NFC champion. In week three, the team travels to Houston to face a Texan squad that has given Jacksonville fits over the years.

The four-game stretch ends with a home game against Tennessee. Talk about a gauntlet.

Three of the four teams reached the playoffs last year, with the Cardinals coming a few plays away from winning their first Super Bowl in franchise history. The combined regular season record of the four teams is 42-22.

Although it's difficult to predict how a team will do based on how it did last year, those numbers do not bode well for the Jaguars.

If Jacksonville was a team brimming with confidence after coming off a playoff season, this opening stretch wouldn't be a big deal.

But the Jaguars are a wounded team, a team searching for an identity. At this point, with the loss of numerous veterans, with the coach calling out one of the team's best players, with a new general manager, the team's psyche is extremely fragile.

If the Jaguars can make it out of the four-game stretch with a record of 2-2, things start to look up. Three of the next four games come against Seattle, St. Louis and Kansas City, all of which should be very winnable games for Jacksonville.

But if the team opens the season with an 0-4 record, a possibility that is highly likely, there will be no redeeming the 2009 campaign.