Week 1 always has an extra factor in addition to the typical hype for an NFL team: It's the first time the play calling makes a proper debut. The Jacksonville Jaguars have given a taste of what will come in the preseason, but Sunday's game against the Carolina Panthers will be the true opening.
The Jaguars are going into the game without a few important players such as defensive tackle Sen'Derrick Marks, tight end Julius Thomas and defensive end Andre Branch, but the depth at those positions actually leaves the Jaguars in a fortunate place.
Depth is a key factor in the Jaguars' success this year, and it should play a big role Sunday. Having a second line to come in and replace starters without missing a beat is a useful tool, and the Jaguars may have achieved that this offseason.
Offensive Game Plan
The key to the offense will be quarterback Blake Bortles, to no surprise. Last year, the situation surrounding Bortles posed the question if he could put in a decent performance and not turn over the ball.
This year, it's a different story. His preseason, as seen in the table below, was simply stellar. Throughout the three games he played, he looked composed and confident no matter the situation, and that seemed to do wonders for the offense.
|Blake Bortles Preseason Stats|
|39/60||65.0||461||2 (1 pass, 1 rush)||0||93.8|
But it can't completely rest on Bortles' shoulders, which is why the running back stable needs to establish dominance early. With the wide array of options—from T.J. Yeldon to Corey Grant—there should be no excuse for the Jaguars not to find something in the run game.
Of course, the run game can't get started without solid offensive line help. The Jaguars line wasn't perfect in the preseason, and it has a tough opponent in the Panthers defensive line, although it will be without DT Star Lotulelei, as tweeted by the Panthers' official account.
Finally, the Jaguars need their receivers to put a bad preseason behind them. With Bortles' improved play, it seems like the talents of the wide receiver and TE groups would finally blossom, but instead, the preseason was filled with drops and some miscommunication.
It could've been jitters or some other intangible, but the receivers are the one group that has to step it up for this game. Drops kill drives, and the Jaguars simply can't afford that.
Defensive Game Plan
The questions on the opposite side of the ball focus more on individuals. Will DT Tyson Alualu succeed at the 3-tech? Does safety Johnathan Cyprien take the first step toward a breakout season? And does free-agent signing linebacker Dan Skuta make the impacts he made last year for the San Francisco 49ers?
All will be answered Sunday, but questions don't necessarily make for a game plan. The Jaguars will try to find the pass rush that seemed so lethal last year, and that will be the key to defensive success.
Panthers QB Cam Newton is electric with the ball in his hands, and the Jaguars can't afford to give him a second of rest. The Panthers run game isn't stellar with lead backs Jonathan Stewart and Mike Tolbert taking the brunt of the carries, but Newton's quickness adds another dimension.
The absence of WR Kelvin Benjamin because an ACL tear is unfortunate, but it makes the Panthers easier to defend. Benjamin was unstoppable last year, and not having to worry about him can allow the Jaguars to focus more on beating Newton and less about worrying about the jump balls to Benjamin.
When Newton and the Panthers are clicking, they can be extremely difficult to stop, but the Jaguars defense has improved at just about every group. It'll be a fair challenge, but if the Jaguars can contain Newton, the offense's job gets a lot easier.
This is a winnable game for the Jaguars. A slightly less than 100 percent Panthers squad is coming into Jacksonville against a team that had a productive offseason and a promising preseason.
That doesn't always translate to wins, but it will this Sunday. There's no reason that Bortles and the offense can't get down the field if the offensive line does decently against the Panthers pass rush, and that should mean at least 20 points or so.
The defense is facing the Panthers without its best receiver and without a stellar running back in the stables. It's not a completely toothless offense (no offense with Newton is toothless), but it's weakened.
The Jaguars need to start this season on the right foot, and they will Sunday. Bortles will throw for 250-plus yards, kicker Jason Myers will knock down the first two NFL field goals of his career, and the defense will hold Newton to two scores.
Final Score: 20-14
To conclude, please enjoy a personal favorite video to get even more hyped up for the Jaguars' opening game.
How do you expect the game to go down? Answer the poll and comment below!
All stats were provided by ESPN.com unless otherwise stated.
Evan Reier is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report covering the Jacksonville Jaguars. Follow Evan on Twitter @evanreier.