With things falling into place offensively and defensively, the Jacksonville Jaguars are ready to make their move from perennial doormat to knocking on the door of the playoffs. Fans are hopeful the Jags can finally break out of mediocrity in a wide open division full of question marks.
Let's take a look at five games that could define the Jaguars season in different ways.
Jaguars vs Green Bay Packers - Week 1
The Jags will get a stiff test right out of the gate, playing an NFC power much like they did a year ago, losing to the Carolina Panthers in week one. Coming off of a 10-win season, the Packers are looking to get back to competing for titles, and they hope to begin their march in Jacksonville. This will be the first meeting between the two teams since 2012--the Packers defeated the Jags in Lambeau, 24-15.
Although the Jags lost to the Panthers last season, the defense was able to perplex to eventual Super Bowl runner ups, holding MVP Cam Newton to 175 yards passing, forcing an interception. The Jaguars held Carolina to 20 points, their second lowest total during their 15 win regular season.
The Jaguars hope to stifle Aaron Rodgers and the Packer offense much like they did Newton. If the defense is able to hold up, Blake Bortles and company will likely be able to score and put pressure on the Packers to score consistently, which has usually been the case for Green Bay as of late.
The opening game will also feature the defensive debuts of talented prospects Dante Fowler, Jalen Ramsey and Myles Jack. The Jaguars defense has been the soft spot of late but with these three young players stepping in, they feel that it will be up there with the offensive production sooner rather than later. Even if the Jaguars are unable to win, fans, coaches and players will learn a lot about the team against a quality opponent.
Jaguars vs Indianapolis Colts - Week 4 (London)
Playing in their home away from home for the fourth time, the Jaguars will hope to start divisional play with a win after splitting with the Luck-less Colts a year ago. The Jaguars got the better of Indy in the most recent contest, blasting the Colts 51-16 in December of last year.
While the Jaguars will likely face a tougher Colts team this time around, Jacksonville should be in position to win with the London crowd behind their adopted team. The Jaguars are 1-2 across the pond, picking up their first win last season against the Buffalo Bills.
Jacksonville will be coming off back-to-back games against stout AFC opponents in the San Diego Chargers and Baltimore Ravens. And while the Colts game holds more stock, the Jaguars will feel comfortable going into a stadium they're comfortable in against an opponent they are close to surpassing after years of finishing behind them.
The game also features a showdown between Bortles and Andrew Luck. In the yearly NFL Top 100 countdown, Bortles ranked far ahead of Luck, coming in at No. 56 while Luck fell to No. 92. And while this had to do with Luck's injury riddled 2015 year, this also may show an inevitable changing of the guard, both for the quarterbacks and for the teams. After an awesome 2015-16 year minus the 18 interceptions, Bortles is ready to jump into the upper echelon of quarterbacks and has the talent around him to do so now.
Jaguars @ Detroit Lions - Week 11
The Jags didn't fair well against the NFC a year ago, going winless in their four games against its NFC South foes. This season, the Jaguars nonconference games will come against the NFC North, the third coming against the Lions the week before Thanksgiving.
The game can potentially be a must-win depending on how the Jaguars fair up to this point. Having played nine games with pivotal division matchups remaining, the Jags will look to notch a win against a Lions team that struggles to find consistency and is without its best player in the retired Calvin Johnson.
With the potential to be 6-3 or 5-4 through nine, the Jaguars could further their shot at a playoff berth against the Lions. The Nov. 20 contest will be the first meeting between the teams since Nov. 2012, a game the Jaguars lost at home 31-14.
The Jaguars secondary will likely be tested, with the Lions usually leaning on quarterback Matthew Stafford for production. This can bode well for the Jaguars, especially since they won't have to deal with one of the greatest wide receivers of all time.
With a win, the Jaguars can put themselves in a position to be near the top of their division with three important division games remaining.
Jaguars vs Denver Broncos - Week 13
After a two-week road trip, the Jaguars will return home to Everbank Field against the defending Super Bowl champs, minus Peyton Manning. And while the Broncos have yet to announce a starting quarterback, their defense is likely to have them in position to be a potential playoff team.
The Jaguars last played the Broncos in Oct. 2013, falling to Denver 35-19. Renewing several series this season, the Jaguars will like to turn those losses into wins heading forward, and defeating a talented Broncos squad would be a step in the right direction.
If the Jags are in the playoff hunt, the team will see where they are going up against one of the best defenses in recent memory. A Jaguars win and a solid performance for the likes of Bortles, T.J. Yeldon and Allen Robinson will give the young team needed confidence heading into an important four-game stretch to close out the year.
Jaguars @ Houston Texans - Week 15
In the third to last game of the regular season, the Jaguars will look to conquer a divisional rival who has had their number the past two years. The Jags have lost four straight to Houston, the last coming in a 30-6 drubbing in January of this year.
This game has the potential to hold title implications in the AFC South, with each team having work to do against division rivals after this. The Jags will end the year at home against Tennessee and then in Indianapolis, a game that may prove more significant than this week 15 matchup. But if the Jags fall in Houston, the games against the Titans and Colts may not hold the importance they would otherwise.
The matchup will feature another gunslinger in new Texan Brock Osweiler. Likely a passing affair, pressure will be placed on each secondary to give the ball back to the offenses. The trio of Bortles, Robinson and Allen Hurns will be able to finally show their truth worth in a pressure situation, if the Jags have performed to their potential during the rest of the season.
With a win, the Jags will have broken a losing streak against a rival and potentially set themselves up to make the playoffs with two games remaining, both of which could decide the course of the season as well.