JACKSONVILLE – It's here. At last.
The long-awaited, much-discussed, forever-anticipated 2016 regular season is upon us, which means we can stop waiting, discussing and anticipating.
Come Sunday, we'll know.
We won't know everything, of course. Not by a long shot. The NFL regular season is a weird, wild marathon of attrition and mystery. Teams can look dramatically different in Week 6 than Week 1, and often do.
We also won't know everything because Week 1 is the weirdest week of the NFL season, with game-planning trickier and the true nature of rosters – i.e., who's good and who's not – still very much unknown.
But we'll know more, and we'll know at least a bit how the Jaguars match up against an elite team. Sunday's opponent, the Green Bay Packers, fit into the elite category for many reasons – mainly because they have Aaron Rodgers, as elite a quarterback as currently plays in the NFL.
How will the Jaguars fare against Green Bay? Can this young team compete with an elite quarterback? Can they win the regular-season opener at the 'Bank?
Yes, they can. It won't be easy. And it would be widely considered an upset – if, in fact, there is such thing as an upset among the weirdness that is Week 1.
The Jaguars are talented enough to compete with good teams. They have enough speed and they have enough play-making ability. Do they have enough experience? Is this young team ready for this stage? Can they start the season 1-0 for the first time since 2011?
How can the Jaguars make that unbeaten post-Week 1 record happen? Here are 10 things:
1.Pressure Aaron Rodgers. Whatever else is true about this game, this is the No. 1 thing the Jaguars must do. The Jaguars talked all offseason about pressuring the passer, particularly on third down. You won't beat Green Bay unless you do it.
2.Run. When the Jaguars looked really good offensively in preseason, they ran well. When they looked so-so or bad offensively, they ran poorly. That equation likely will last into the regular season. If they run well Sunday, they probably will look good. If not …
3.Throw to A-Rob.There's really no need to remind Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles on this topic. Bortles throws to wide receiver Allen Robinson when he's in trouble and when he's not in trouble. He throws to Robinson when he's open and when he's not. It's a sound approach. Robinson's that good and that reliable.
4.Stop Eddie Lacy.In order to stop Rodgers, you need to get him in third-and-long situations. In order to get him there, you must stop the run first. That means stopping running back Eddie Lacy. The Jaguars' defense prides itself on stopping the run. With nose tackle Roy Miller back in the lineup, they should be able to do this Sunday.
5.Protect Bortles.All Jaguars observers' eyes will be on Luke Joeckel, making his first career start at guard. But this is about more than Joeckel; it's about the entire line. The Jaguars' line wasn't to blame for all 51 sacks allowed last season, but the area must improve. It must get Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers blocked. Period.
6.Protect the ball.Remember Preseason Week 3 against Cincinnati? As bad as a lot of that first half looked, it might have felt a lot different had the Bengals not turned an early fumble by Jaguars running back T.J. Yeldon into a touchdown. This young team needs to start fast. It doesn't need to give away free points early. A turnover like that could be a killer Sunday.
7.Feed off the crowd.Just saying there's a sold-out crowd doesn't do the vibe to this game justice. The fans base is ready. The 'Bank will be rocking. These people have waited a long time to be this excited for a game. Take advantage of that. Feed off the crowd.
8.Get a turnover.This is brutally hard against the Packers, mainly because it's brutally hard to intercept Rodgers. Even in what was not his best season last season, he threw just eight interceptions. But if the Jaguars can get an early pick, if they can change momentum … well, if they can do that feeding off the crowd will get a lot easier.
9.Start fast.The Jaguars emphasized this all offseason. They showed some serious signs of improving it in the first two preseason games. It's critically important Sunday. You don't want to be double-digits down to Rodgers in the first half Sunday.
10.Find a way.This game won't remotely be easy. Rodgers is a savvy veteran. This is an experienced opponent the Jaguars will face Sunday. They know how to win and they're used to winning. The Jaguars aren't used to winning, so they must figure out how to do that. They must fight, scrap and go where they frankly haven't gone much in recent years. They have to start competing against and beating good teams some time. Find a way to make Sunday that time. Whatever it takes.