O-Zone: Cage match

JACKSONVILLE – Let's get to it …

Jefferson from Jacksonville

Can you explain to me why so many people believe the Jaguars have zero chance of being competitive in the AFC South this season? Last year, current Indianapolis Colts quarterback Philip Rivers led a Los Angeles Chargers team more talented than this year's Colts to a 5-11 record with 20 interceptions. The Tennessee Titans clearly caught lightning in a bottle last season after November (running back Derrick Henry only had one 100-yard rushing game before November 3) and they lost their starting offensive tackle, defensive tackle and cornerback (Jack Conklin, Jurrell Casey and Logan Ryan). Lastly, Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson has only played 16 games in one season of his career and could possibly win a Super Bowl if he had an offensive line "as good as" the Jaguars – oh, and he lost one of the best wide receivers in the NFL (DeAndre Hopkins). I'm not saying the Jags are going to win the Super Bowl, but people talk about this team like they couldn't beat a college football team sometimes!

You're correct that the other AFC South teams have flaws entering the 2020 season – though I personally believe the Houston Texans are the team to beat until another team wins the division; they have, after all, won two consecutive division titles and four of the last five. As for why analysts and observers collectively are so down on the Jaguars … the reasons are simple. Although Gardner Minshew II won more games than any other rookie quarterback last season, he was a sixth-round selection in the 2019 NFL Draft and many observers don't quite believe in him yet. Also, the Jaguars went 6-10 last season and finished last in the division. Also, the Jaguars have been bad more often than they have been good in recent seasons. Also, the Jaguars lost veterans such as defensive end Calais Campbell and cornerback A.J. Bouye this offseason – and the perception, incorrect or not, is the team lost more than it gained in veterans this offseason. Observers rarely believe a team can improve from within – or that a young team that has drafted well in recent seasons can improve. But that's OK. What observers believe doesn't matter in the NFL. What matters is what teams do on the field.

William from Savannah, GA

O-Man, I am concerned about your lack of sensitivity to punters and kickers. Kickers and punters catching the virus? You do know that all the other players throughout the years that football has been played have socially distanced themselves from punters and kickers even before social distancing became a thing the past couple of months, right? As a former kicker, I can tell you that there are support groups for this sort of thing. But it's tough when even your dog will keep his distance after he has seen you kicking a football.

Kickers and punters are indeed … well, different. I know former Jaguars kicker Josh Scobee better than I probably know any other kicker. I am not proud of this in the slightest. But I can tell you that it's good to be as distanced from him as possible.

Simply David from Jacksonville

I believe Minshew has natural talent. I also believe a player can be overcoached. Keep in mind Minshew is not 6-feet-4. His natural ability is what makes him a winner and I don't know any coach that make him taller. Let him play his game. He has enough on his plate just getting used to all the new teammates.

OK.

Maryanne from Jacksonville

Why are some teams. (Denver) and others allowed to come together as teammates and practice????

Players can currently gather voluntarily to work out on their own, but these are not organized or sanctioned by the team or the NFL. The NFL Players Association also is currently discouraging such workouts because of COVID-19, so any players doing so are very much on their own.

Raymond from Orange Park, FL

John: I'm not necessarily arguing against Joe Montana, but a recent reader was off the mark by comparing San Francisco's division rivals during his career to those of the New England Patriots during Tom Brady's time with the team. At the time, the Los Angeles Rams, New Orleans Saints and Atlanta Falcons were not exactly Murderers' Row. I've never heard anyone say, "Same ol' sorry Dolphins." People don't realize how good NFL players are. I equate it to pick-up basketball games I have played. There can be a guy who dominates at the Riverside Y, but he could not be the 12thman on a college bench.

All NFL teams on some level are indeed better than any other team not in the NFL, but some divisions certainly are better than others. The NFC East was the NFL's premier division through much of Montana's prime of the 1980s, but it's categorically incorrect to say the NFC West was weak at the time. The 49ers won the division eight times from 1983-1992 and won at least 10 games in each of those seasons. They were very close to as dominant during their era of prominence as the Patriots were in their era of prominence, but the Los Angeles Rams and New Orleans Saints were good during the 49ers' era. The NFC West during that time produced two playoff teams in all 10 seasons between 1983-1992 and had two teams win at least 10 games in eight of those seasons. The AFC East during Brady's 19 seasons produced multiple postseason teams eight times – less than half the seasons. So, while it's true that the AFC East teams other than New England during that era were better than the teams from the Riverside Y, it's also true that the division has been weak compared to other NFL divisions.

Pradeep from Bangalore, India

Hi, John: $40 million per year vs $600,000 per year seems too far apart. I hope Minshew uses this as motivation and proves the league he is way with than $600,000.

OK.

Seamus from Vancouver, BC

J-Zhur, in your heart, how far does the league make it before cancelling the season? The players have already declared an end to this year's preseason. The NFL will certainly try to go forward, have safety measures, a COVID Reserve, testing, etc. But by the end of September, at the current rates of infection, I cannot imagine the NFLPA would allow it to continue as the players inevitably get infected. How's your crystal ball looking on this?

I think the league will make it through the season because the desire to do so will be there for all parties. This opinion may be influenced by naivete, ignorance and hope, but I believe it will happen. I don't know how it will look, and I anticipate it will be chaotic and controversial at times, but I still believe it will happen.

Jordan from Raleigh, NC

So the question about Minshew's struggles throwing over the middle got me thinking. It's been a common mark against him that he has bailed from the pocket too early oftentimes. It seems to me that if you are rolling out of the pocket then you are far less likely to throw over the middle. Might this have something to do with his lack of attempts and success there?

Yes.

Mike from Atlanta, GA

I have an idea: Rent or buy some land, maybe a few ranches somewhere between Wyoming, Montana, and the Dakotas – and get some grounds crews on hand and build out a few football fields. The players can stay out there in the middle of the great prairie and be contained in a bubble. They have the networks send the crews to broadcast the games live on TV. The players and coaches will be away from temptation and other people so getting coronavirus will be a much lower risk. We all get football, and the NFL can still make money broadcasting on TV. I've gone without MLS and South American soccer. I've gone without baseball. No basketball. I really don't want to go without football this year.

Yeah … that's not going to happen. What will happen, and what the NFL believes will work, is creating 32 bubbles around the 32 NFL teams and working as diligently as possible to maintain the integrity of those bubbles. Remember: As badly as you want football this season the NFL wants it equally as much – if not more.

Daniel from Johnston, IA

Question on the stadium attendance aspect: Assuming a team sold 50,000 tickets for a game but due to social distancing could only seat say 10,000 people. How will teams determine which 10,000 of the ticket holders are admitted? Interested in your speculative answer...

My first thought would be "cage match." I would think Alfie would be involved somehow if that were to take place. Shadrick could emcee. My more reasoned answer would be that tenure as a season-ticket member would have to be heavily involved.

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