JACKSONVILLE – A first look at the Jaguars' 2014 regular-season schedule reveals the obvious:
Just like last season, it appears difficult.
And just like last season, the difficulty lies in negotiating a tricky early season road schedule.
The Jaguars in 2014 will open the season with back-to-back road games, with three of the first four games on the road and three September games against 2014 playoff opponents. The Jaguars will also visit the 2012 NFC East Champion Washington Redskins in Week 2, with a home game in Week 5 against the perennially tough Pittsburgh Steelers.
On paper, that's a tough start by any measure.
But that's all it is – paper – which is why any breakdown of any NFL team's schedule must be done with a caveat. That's particularly true when the breakdown is done four and a half months before the beginning of the regular season.
The caveat is while all of this breaking down you're reading about the '14 NFL schedule is great fun, that's all it is. In a league such as the NFL, in which teams rise and fall each season and in which injuries play a critical role at all stages of the season, to think it's any more than fun is premature and just, plain wrong.
So, for entertaining, fun purposes only, here's the Jaguars' 2014 schedule break down, week by week, line by line:
Sunday, September 7 | at Philadelphia | 1 p.m. | CBS
The Jaguars open on the road for a second time in three seasons, and know this about the '14 opener: this game is likely to be played fast. Very fast. And this isn't just a Philadelphia Story, either. Although the Eagles get a lot of attention for playing quickly on offense under Head Coach Chip Kelly, the Jaguars want to play pretty much just as fast under offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch. This game will be a test for a Jaguars defense with significant new faces on the front seven. The Eagles not only play quick offensively; they play very effectively. If it's a difficult task the Jaguars wanted to open the season, they have it.
Sunday, September 14 | at Washington | 1 p.m. | CBS
Two games to start the regular season, two games in the Northeast against NFC East teams. And while the Redskins stumbled to the NFL's second-worst record last season, they won the NFC East in 2012, so there's talent on this roster. The Redskins also will be playing their second regular-season game under Head Coach Jay Gruden, so the Gruden/quarterback Robert Griffin III combination will be a fresh storyline. The Jaguars haven't played back-to-back games to open the regular season since 2000. Lucky them: they'll do it this season.
Sunday, September 21 | vs. Indianapolis | 1 p.m. | CBS
Ladies and gentleman, video boards? Yes! Well, regular-season video boards, anyway. While the EverBank Field state-of-the-art video boards are scheduled to debut in the preseason, this is expected to be their regular-season debut. It's also the AFC South opener for the Jaguars, as well as the latest regular-season home opener in franchise history. The Jaguars will be trying to snap a three-game losing streak against the Colts, with the last victory coming in Week 3 of the 2012 season. The Colts swept the Jaguars last season, winning 37-3 in Jacksonville in Week 4 and 30-10 in Indianapolis in the regular-season finale.
Sunday, September 28 | at San Diego | 4:05 p.m. | CBS
Another week, another familiar opponent. Though the Chargers aren't AFC South rivals, they've been a regular Jaguars opponent in recent seasons, with Chargers beating the Jaguars in Jacksonville in a prime-time December game in 2011, and then winning again in EverBank Field last season in Week 7, 24-6. That was one of the low points of the '13 season, and it will be a tricky task for the Jaguars in 2014, with the game not only being the lone West Coast trip of the season for the Jaguars, but the third road game in four games to start the season. The Chargers, like the Colts and Eagles, made the postseason in 2013. September appears tough, and this game is a worthy finale.
Sunday, October 5 | vs. Pittsburgh | 1 p.m. | CBS
This one should be fun. As if three September road games were not enough of an early-season test, the Jaguars open October against their old AFC Central rivals, the Pittsburgh Steelers. And though the teams haven't shared the division since 2001, this always is an emotional game for Jaguars fans, particularly when the Steelers visit EverBank Field.
Sunday, October 12 | at Tennessee | 1 p.m. | CBS
Titan up, Jags. This game at Tennessee is the Jaguars' lone October game against a division opponent, and will be the teams' first meeting since the Titans hired Ken Whisenhunt as head coach. The Jaguars and Titans split last season, with Jacksonville winning, 29-27, in Nashville, Tenn., in early November and the Titans winning, 20-16, in Jacksonville three days before Christmas. The second quarter of the season isn't loaded with 2013 playoff teams, but any game against the Titans … is, well, a game against the Titans.
Sunday, October 19 | vs. Cleveland | 1 p.m. | CBS
Cleveland, again? Yes, Cleveland again. This will be the sixth meeting between the franchises in the last seven seasons, with Cleveland winning three of five meetings in that span. The Jaguars rallied for one of their most memorable victories of last season in Cleveland, beating the Browns, 32-28, when Chad Henne completed a late touchdown pass to Cecil Shorts III. This will be the teams' first meeting since the Browns hired Mike Pettine as head coach. It will also be the first meeting since the Alex Mack Situation. For what that's worth.
Sunday, October 26 | vs. Miami | 1 p.m. | CBS
Halfway home. The last game before the season's midway point, it will also mark the back half of the team's first back-to-back home stretch. The teams don't have too much history in recent seasons, with the Dolphins winning their only meeting in the last four seasons, 24-3, in December of 2012.
Sunday, November 2 | at Cincinnati | 1 p.m. | CBS
The Jaguars' midseason schedule isn't brutal – at least on paper – but that could change after the midway point. None of the four October opponents made the postseason, but the Bengals did – and for a while late in the season they looked like a team capable of a deep playoff run. The Bengals have one of the AFC's most talented rosters, and if they remain healthy, this road game at Cincinnati could prove to be one of the Jaguars' toughest matchups of the season.
Sunday, November 9 | vs. Dallas | 1 p.m. | FOX
America's Team, with a London Twist. This is second game of the Jaguars' four-year series in London – and as is the case in all four years, this counts as a Jaguars home game. The Jaguars last played the Cowboys in 2010, with the Jaguars winning a then-crucial game in Dallas in convincing fashion, 35-17. The Jaguars are 3-2 all-time against Dallas and will be looking to win for the first time in London. They lost to San Francisco there last season, 42-10. The festivities around the London game were memorable last season. The Jaguars would like the game itself to be more memorable this season.
Sunday, November 16 | Bye.If it feels like the Jaguars are waiting a long, long time for a week off this season, it's because that's true. This is latest bye week in franchise history. Ten games in, with a trip overseas mixed in, they'll need the break.
Sunday, November 23 | at Indianapolis | 1 p.m. | CBS
Heading South again. The early part of the Jaguars' schedule is decidedly light on division games. That changes starting here, with four of the final six games against AFC South opponents. The Colts have made the postseason each of the past two seasons, and with quarterback Andrew Luck entering his third season they figure to be in contention in the week before Thanksgiving.
Sunday, November 30 | New York Giants | 1 p.m. | FOX
Welcome back, coach. The Jaguars will return home and play at EverBank Field for the first time in more than a month. When they do, they'll play former Jaguars Head Coach Tom Coughlin, who will be coaching a regular-season game for the Giants in EverBank Field for the second time. Coughlin never has won in Jacksonville as an opposing head coach, with the Jaguars beating the Giants, 26-10, in 2006. Unless Coughlin coaches eight more seasons, it will be his last game in EverBank. That may not have the meaning it once did, but it matters.
Sunday, December 7 | Houston | 1 p.m. | CBS
Well, well, well – it's Texans time at last. Because the NFL wants a heavy dose of division play late league-wide, it often means not seeing a division opponent until late. How late? How about the Jaguars and Texans not playing until December? That's the scenario with Jaguars-Texans this season, with this being the first meeting in 2014 between the teams. The Jaguars swept the Texans last season, winning 13-6 in Houston and 27-20 in Jacksonville. They likely won't have forgotten that.
Thursday, December 14 | at Baltimore | 1 p.m. | CBS
This figures to be tough. It's the Jaguars' lone out-of-division December game, and while the Ravens didn't make the playoffs last season as defending Super Bowl champions, they came close in what many considered a reloading year. This team usually isn't down for long, with last season being their first non-playoff season in Head Coach John Harbaugh's tenure. Baltimore? In December? With the Ravens fighting for the postseason? Yeah, that's a tough test.
Thursday, December 18 | vs. Tennessee Titans | 8:25 p.m. | NFL Network/CBS
Back into the division – and back on prime time. This is the Jaguars' only nationally televised prime-time game of the season and comes in the second game against the Titans. And now, we're really into the thick of the division stuff. If the Jaguars can get into December in contention, the schedule means the games will matter. Out of four December games, the Jaguars play in the AFC South three times.
Sunday, December 28 | at Houston | 1 p.m. | CBS
Remember the Texans? The Jaguars always do – and they certainly will this season. This isn't just the regular-season finale, though; it's the second game in four weeks against the Texans, which means the teams will be playing for the second time in 22 days. Such quick turnarounds are always a tricky terrain, but the teams had a similar situation last season. Whatever the circumstance, whatever the records, these games are usually close. Why should this year be different?