The Jaguars enter the 2007 season with their best roster since 1999 (a year in which they went 14-2). The Jaguars have the best running game in team history, the best defense in team history, and probably have the most depth at wide receiver in their brief team history. The special teams unit which let them down mightily in 2006, has been revamped and is expected to be considerably better in 2007. Sure, there are a few very minor question marks on offense and defense, but each and every team in the league has those. This Jaguars team could be the best in team history, and this has to be the season in which they win the division.
The long-time gatekeepers of the AFC South, the Super Bowl Champion Indianapolis Colts, have had somewhat of a disappointing off-season. The Colts lost both starting cornerbacks, and their starting middle linebacker in free agency. They are opting to replace them with some younger players that they've been grooming. More recently, the Colts saw their Pro-Bowl left tackle, Tarik Glenn, unexpectedly retire, and it appears that they've lost their best defensive tackle in Anthony McFarland for the season with a torn patella tendon. With many experts "questioning" the Colts draft (I am not one of those), this Colts team has significantly less talent than the team that the Jaguars stomped all over back in December (you remember the game 44-17, 375 yards rushing).
I'm not saying that if the Jaguars don't win the AFC South this season, they never will. But the circumstances that have seem to come together point directly to a change in ownership within this division. Here are a few points that will clarify why 2007 is such an enormous year for the Jaguars.
Point #1, the Jaguars have Byron Leftwich under contract for this year, and this year only. After the season, who knows what the team will do at quarterback, and who knows if Byron will come back? This year they have a quarterback who is playing for his NFL life, with an offense that is finally suited for him, with some solid options at wide receiver for the first time.
Point #2, the Colts will have a rookie left tackle trying to protect Peyton Manning's blindside. The expected replacement for Tarik Glenn will be rookie tackle, Tony Ugoh, who has looked fairly impressive, for a rookie, in Colts camp. Ugoh will only be a rookie once, and he will likely make some rookie mistakes throughout the season. This could lead to some additional losses for the team.
Point #3, with "Booger" McFarland going down with his knee injury, the Colts don't have a lot of time to find a suitable replacement this season. The Colts will have to go with the depth they have which include some solid players, but no one who is proven in the league. The Colts defense will likely be guessing a lot in 2007, and they will be forced to play a lot of safeties at the line of scrimmage. This will open up passing opportunities for their opponents. The Colts will either get "Booger" back next season, or will have enough time to draft a solid replacement, or acquire one during free agency.
If the Jaguars don't take advantage of this opportunity in 2007, they may end up regretting it for a very long time. Although I don't believe it to be true, the consensus opinion around the nation is that Jaguars head coach Jack Del Rio is in a win or else type of situation this season. There is a possibility that Jaguars could be looking for a new coach after the 2007 season if it ends in disappointment. Also, if the team doesn't have a successful season, they will likely part ways with quarterback Byron Leftwich, and there will likely be some more rebuilding with a young quarterback. Without a solid season, the Jaguars could likely give up on two more first round draft picks, Reggie Williams and Matt Jones, and all that money and time invested in those players would be all for not. And most important, if the Jaguars "lay an egg" again in 2007, moral around the city will be low. Low moral plus complete rebuilding will likely lead to a poor record for the team in 2008. A poor record will lead to poor ticket sales, and any kind of long-term security for the Jaguars in Jacksonville will be questionable at best.
Don't get me wrong, the sky is not yet falling, and if the team gets edged out by the Colts yet again in 2007, doesn't necessarily translate into Jack Del Rio losing his job, Byron Leftwich, Reggie Williams, and Matt Jones losing their jobs, and the "Mayflower trucks" arriving in Jacksonville in the middle of the night. But all of that is a certain possibility.