Local eyes on Leftwich

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It's being billed as "T.O.'s return," which it is. Owens hasn't played since being suspended by the Eagles at midseason last year. Now, with a new team and wearing a helmet with a logo he once desecrated, Owens hopes to return the Cowboys to the playoffs.

That's the storyline FOX is going to feature, but the Jaguars have their own storyline: Are the Jaguars ready to become a Super Bowl contender, or was last season's 12-4 record a fluke?

"Nobody knows this stuff for certain. You call the psychic line and they ask you your name. They are supposed to already know that," Jaguars quarterback Byron Leftwich joked about the experts' predictions for the '06 season.

Some of those "experts" have the Jaguars making it back to the playoffs. Other "experts" claim a tougher schedule will bring the Jaguars back down to earth.

As expected, Leftwich is taking the high road.

"I feel a lot of success coming this season. I see great things happening. I know we are headed in the right direction. The anticipation, everybody anxious to open with this first game. It's exciting to see how ready we are as a football team and you can see in everybody's eyes that we are going to be ready to play," Leftwich said.

One look at the early schedule explains why the Jaguars may be feeling a sense of urgency in week one. In week two, the Jaguars will host the Super Bowl-champion Steelers, then travel to Indianapolis and Washington.

"Three of those teams were in the playoffs and Dallas should have made it," Leftwich said.

By comparison, the team the Jaguars will try to unseat in the AFC South, the Colts, have a rather soft opening schedule. The Colts will play the Texans, Jets and Titans in the first five weeks of the season.

What it means is the Jaguars can't afford to get off to a slow start, or they could fall significantly behind the Colts before the two teams' bye week on Oct. 15. Clearly, the Jaguars' rugged opening schedule makes it especially important to win at home, and a sellout crowd will be on hand on Sunday to cheer on the home team.

Will they be cheering Leftwich? Offense has been a hit-and-miss proposition for the Jaguars and the passing game under-performed in the preseason. Leftwich and the Jaguars passing game is generally considered to hold the key to the Jaguars' playoff hopes this season and, against the Cowboys, the Jaguars will be facing a defense that was 10th in the league last year and is expected to be better than that this season.

"They have a very big defense. They have great athletes. They have big guys on the outside that can cover. They have a real physical defense," Leftwich said of the Cowboys.

Cornerback Terence Newman is the Cowboys' top cover man and safety Roy Williams is a big hitter in the middle of the field who likes to get involved in stopping the run. The third key man on defense for the Cowboys is linebacker Demarcus Ware, a big-time pass-rusher in the Cowboys' 3-4 scheme.

The Cowboys are somewhat a mirror image of the Jaguars. Defense is the Cowboys' calling card. They have a solid running game but the passing game has lagged. Last year, quarterback Drew Bledsoe was 17th in the league with an 83.7 passer rating. He's an immobile quarterback who's vulnerable to being pressured into making mistakes.

Owens was signed to give the Cowboys the lift their passing game needs. Owens, of course, spent most of training camp and the preseason favoring a mysterious hamstring injury, which only served to heighten the drama for this game. Owens will get plenty of attention from Jaguars cornerbacks Rashean Mathis and Brian Williams and, of course, from the FOX TV cameras.

The Cowboys running game is solid, with Julius Jones and Marino Barber carrying the ball. Tight ends Jason Witten and rookie Anthony Fasano are also weapons the Cowboys will use.

While FOX's "eye" will be on Owens, the eyes of Jacksonville will be on Leftwich and his receivers. Can they take their game to a higher level? The answer to that question will probably define the Jaguars' season.

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