It's been awhile. It's been, in fact, eight months since I've penned one of these weekly "10 things to win" columns. It's so good to be back.
This is the week of the season-opener. The NFL kicked off on Thursday night with an exciting, gala game between the Dolphins and Steelers, and Jacksonville will kick off its season on Sunday with a much-anticipated clash against the visiting Dallas Cowboys.
So this would be the perfect time for me to formally announce my expectations for the Jaguars this season. Here they are:
• I expect the Jaguars to be a Super Bowl contender. When you're coming off a 12-4 record and a playoff berth, the Super Bowl has to be the goal. That means I expect the Jaguars to make it back to the playoffs and challenge to go all the way. How many playoff wins? I don't know. I'll know a Super Bowl contender when I see one.
• I expect the Jaguars defense to be an elite unit. They were sixth-ranked last season and I think the goal should be to crack the top five.
• My expectations for the offense aren't as demanding. Let's be realistic. It's trying to identify a star receiver and, until that happens, Byron Leftwich isn't going to reach his full stride. So I expect Leftwich and the offense to do enough to win. That's all. Late in the season, I'll expect more.
• My expectations for the fans are to support this team and its quarterback through good times and bad. This is not the kind of schedule that produces 12-4. I expect fans to take that into consideration.
• Ten wins would get this team into the playoffs and that would satisfy the first leg of my expectations. Eleven wins, in my opinion, will win the division; maybe 10 will do it.
• Yes, I expect the Jaguars to contend for the division title. That means I expect the Jaguars to be alive in the division title race on the last Sunday of the season.
• Here's a big one. Against a schedule of premium teams, such as Pittsburgh, Indianapolis and New England, I expect the Jaguars to leave no doubt that they can play at those teams' level.
Now, here are 10 things the Jaguars have to do to beat the Cowboys on Sunday.
- Stop the run—It always starts with that against Bill Parcells' teams.
- Mix run and pass—The Jaguars must keep the Cowboys guessing if the Jags are to be effective on offense.
- Steal the spotlight—Terrell Owens is on the marquee. Take him off.
- Rush the passer—Drew Bledsoe makes mistakes when he's being pressured.
- Block DeMarcus Ware—He's the Cowboys' play-maker.
- Take it back—The Jaguars have accumulated a nice stable of return men. It sure would be nice to get a lift from special teams.
- Convert third down—Ball-control offenses live and die on third down.
- Step up at QB—Leftwich needs to have a big game to win over fans who seem to be waiting for him to fall.
- Beware Roy Williams—He's going to have the Jaguars' wide receivers in his cross hairs.
- Feel the energy—This is the opening weekend. Football is back. Feels good, doesn't it?