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Consider the schedule, too


Public opinion on the Jaguars' fall to a losing record in 2000 remains the same. E-mails to continue to cite these three subjects: injuries, lack of an offensive coordinator, and bad play-calling.

Yes, injuries played a major role in the Jaguars' demise. We've been over this before, but, yes, it hurt the Jaguars that they didn't have Leon Searcy, Carnell Lake and Hardy Nickerson, and the services of several other players at critical times. After all, playing without Searcy, Lake and Nickerson meant the Jaguars were playing without a major portion of their salary cap.

Of course, we must acknowledge that the Jaguars did not lose quarterback Mark Brunell to injury, had Fred Taylor in the starting lineup for the final 13 games of the season, lost neither Jimmy Smith nor Keenan McCardell for any significant stretch of season, and Kyle Brady was a fixture at tight end and enjoyed the finest season of his career. Defensively, Tony Brackens and Kevin Hardy were relatively injury-free.

Take your shots at the offensive design or the play-calling, if you must, but can you honestly say either was the reason for not making the playoffs? Yeah, the Jaguars lost some games they should've won, but it would've taken four more wins for the Jags to make the playoffs. Even if they had won their final eight games of the season, they wouldn't have made the playoffs.

If there's a more telling reason why teams make or don't make the playoffs, it may rest with the schedule they played. For example, nine of the 10-worst teams in the league played opponents who had a combined winning percentage of over .500. In contrast, of the eight-best teams in the league, none of them played a .500 schedule. No team that finished 11-5 or better could boast opponents with a combined .500 record, and the 11-5 Broncos played the league's softest schedule, with opponents combining for a meager 103-153, .402.

Jaguars opponents came in at 126-130 (.492), but that figure is somewhat misleading because it was significantly affected by Arizona, Cleveland and Cincinnati, three of the worst-four teams in the NFL.

Is it any coincidence that 1-15 San Diego played a .566 schedule? That 5-11 Chicago played a .582, the league's toughest?

No coach in his right mind would deny that strength of schedule is a major factor in a team's success or failure, and it's undeniable that the Jaguars' 2000 season was sabotaged early by a schedule that had the Jaguars play Baltimore twice in the first six weeks, and playoff teams or serious playoff contenders in six of the first eight weeks. By the time the schedule softened, the Jaguars were out of contention.

In the Jaguars' case, it wasn't a matter of who they played as much as when they played them. When the Jaguars were at their weakest, the schedule was toughest.

If you buy into the NFL schedule-maker's power and ability to influence a team's success, then you might want to consider an early look at the Jaguars' 2001 schedule. The bad news is the Jaguars will remain in the rugged AFC Central Division one more season, where Tennessee and Baltimore are clearly powers and Pittsburgh has returned to the ranks of the contenders. Right away, that's six tough games against three teams with a combined record of 34-14 last season. Of course, division opponents' records must be doubled.

Now, turn to the out-of-division games: Seattle, Chicago and Minnesota on the road, and Buffalo, Kansas City and Green Bay at home. Those teams were a combined 46-50 in 2000.

The Jaguars' remaining four games will be against Cleveland and Cincinnati, who combined for a 7-25 mark, leaving the Jaguars' 2001 opponents with a combined record of 128-128, exactly .500.

That's not a patsy schedule, but it's not a killer, either.

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