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Don't rely on the league rankings


Here's a holidays assignment for you: Look at the Jaguars' league statistical rankings, then review the season game by game, and decide which is speaking the truth, the stats or the record.

The rankings say the Jaguars have the seventh-best offense and the eighth-best defense in the league. The rankings claim the Jaguars to be in the top third of the league in every rankings category. Hey, that's the stuff of which powerhouse playoff teams are made.

Denver's going to the playoffs and it has the league's 29th-ranked defense; dead last against the pass.

Miami's in the postseason and it has the 27th-ranked offense; 29th in passing.

What goes here? I mean, in what do we place our trust, the stats or the record?

That's an especially critical question for the Jaguars to answer this offseason, because they are talking about finding a way to keep this team together. Of course, to do that means mortgaging more of the Jaguars' future salary caps.

A decision has to be made: Keep it together, or blow it up?

In deciding, the biggest mistake may be to use the league rankings. This year, especially, they are not an accurate indicator of where the Jaguars stand, largely because the Jaguars sweetened their rankings significantly in a few games against the likes of Cleveland and Arizona, and defensively in both games against Cincinnati.

Offensively, the Jaguars' lofty rankings are supported by the litany of big plays by Mark Brunell, Fred Taylor, Jimmy Smith and friends, and by the consistency of the Jags' blend of run and pass since the middle of the season.

Yes, this is a good offense and it's worth keeping together, though it may take Alan Greenspan to find a way to sign Brunell to a new deal without making the Jaguars' future salary caps look like rifle-range targets.

Now, what about that defense? Eighth-best in the league? Better than Tampa Bay's defense, which is ranked ninth? Whoa!

That's where we have to throw out the numbers and rely on our instincts. How many big plays can you remember this defense having made this season? Do you see a Warren Sapp or Derrick Brooks out there?

No, the Jaguars are not as good as their ranking defensively. Four games against Ohio's best and one against the Arizona delegation produced just 987 yards allowed, and that covered up major yardage disasters, such as 533 by Indianapolis, 409 by Tennessee and 399 by Washington.

In the case of the defense, the league rankings are worthless. They are a reflection of the competition, and testament to defensive coordinator Dom Capers' ability to produce a top 10 defense in even the worst of seasons.

Be careful in your postseason assessment of this team. Don't be betrayed by your heart, which would tell you this season was a fluke, and would have you use the league rankings to support your case.

Recovery is more than a salary cap issue.

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