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O-Zone: Calendar girl

JACKSONVILLE – Let's get to it … David from Maplewood, NJ:
I'm a little concerned about the game. It feels like a lot of people are picking the Jags, but I think this is a tough matchup. I am a Blake Bortles fan/believer but I would be blind if I didn't acknowledge turnovers as one of his biggest challenges. The Bills' defense takes the ball away ... a lot. I know we do as well, but while ball security is a challenge or concern for our guy, the Bills' quarterback hardly ever turns it over. What am I missing? I would have preferred the Chargers. Yes, Philip Rivers is better, but he has a habit of throwing picks, which plays into a strength. It seems Tyrod Taylor may neutralize that strength, no?
John: What are you missing? Nothing, really. This isn't an "easy" matchup. The Jaguars are favored to win, but they're in no way assured of winning. Unless you have a bye and are therefore playing no one, there's no such thing as an easy, worry-free weekend in the NFL postseason. There are games that appear easy in retrospect, but all postseason games present potentially difficult matchups because every postseason team has enough strengths to win enough to get to the postseason. The worries you cite are indeed the ways the Bills could win on Sunday. They are an opportunistic defensive team with a mobile quarterback, which means they can stay in – and win – the game if the Jaguars commit turnovers offensively and neglect to stay in their pass-rushing lanes on defense. But you know what? The Jaguars have strengths and have a bunch of ways to win, too. The thought here is that the Jaguars' strengths are stronger than – and outnumber – the Bills' strengths in this game. As for the Chargers, they were equally scary – if not more so – because of a big-time defense and an elite quarterback in Philip Rivers. Bottom line: no game is easy right now. The playoffs are hard because they're supposed to be hard.
Josh from Lynchburg, VA:
My new No. 20 jersey arrived today. GO JAGS.
John: Good for you, Josh. Natrone Means is an oft-overlooked important part of this team's history. Enjoy your jersey.
Nathan from Fort Belvoir, VA:
Does the current state and trending-upwards state of the Jaguars bode well to land premier free agents without having to overpay them? In the past, we have been accused of having to pay more than our competitors.
John: I don't know that you're going to see the Jaguars make the massive foray into free agency in the coming offseasons that they have done in recent offseasons. You ideally will see the Jaguars participating in free agency less and less and building more through the draft with an eye on retaining their own players. Still, the success of the franchise should make the team more attractive to potential free agents. You'll still overpay because you always overpay in free agency, but perhaps you'll overpay less.
John from Jacksonville:
Nothing against the Bills, but I feel confident for the Jags winning this Sunday. If we don't win against the Bills at home, then we don't deserve a chance against the Steelers (and eventually the Patriots) on their turf to get into the Super Bowl. There is nothing more real than the sudden-death nature of the playoffs. I think Head Coach Doug Marrone will have the players in the right frame of mind to put everything they have out there on the field. I'm very happy for the veterans who haven't been in a playoff game ever (or in a long time).
John: I believe the Jaguars will win, and I don't doubt for a minute the team will be in the right frame of mind. It's the postseason. If you need help getting motivated you're in the wrong profession.
Red from Jacksonville:
Does having Marcell Dareus on the Jags' roster help the Jags' offense? Having played as part of the Bills' defense until midseason he may be able to give Jaguars offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett some good intel on the Bills' defense as well as the strengths and weaknesses of Bills defensive players - especially the defensive line.
John: It won't hurt, but I don't think this is an overwhelming advantage for the Jaguars. Now, having Dareus on the Jaguars' defense? That could be a big edge.
Mickey from Section 408:
O, we are going to rock the bank on Sunday!! We're excited and thoroughly expect to win because we are a better team! Defense wins championships and we have the best most talented defense in league! Btw, our offense ranks pretty high in several categories as well. It sounds crazy but I'm going to allow myself to believe this team can and will win it all!! And we're going to be competing for many years to come! #JagsDynasty
John: #DTWD
Jason from North Pole, AK:
I saw three different plays last week where Blake Bortles did not step up into a clean pocket to deliver the ball. He instead threw off his back foot or stayed too deep. The result was two sacks and a bad interception forced by the defensive end that the tackle was trying to run around him. This seems like a regression and old habit for him. He has had a number of fumbles from strip sacks over the years. Do you think it was a case of him not trusting Josh Wells? I'm just trying to understand why he regressed all of a sudden.
John: I don't know the exact plays you cite, but if you say they happen then perhaps they did. Bortles has been much better in this area this season and his pocket awareness and pocket presence has kept the Jaguars out of many, many sacks. It's possible he didn't trust Wells, or it's possible the pressure – and there was a lot of pressure at times – caused him to make some of the mistakes you cite. It's also possible the young receivers were going things downfield he didn't expect and forcing him to buy more time. I saw a lot of cases last week where I thought Bortles moved in the pocket well, even though it's tougher to step up against Tennessee because the Titans have a good interior defensive line. I haven't seen a major regression here, but you're right that this needs to be an area where Bortles doesn't regress. His pocket presence is critical.
Matt from Section 133:
Did the team practice outside on Thursday to get themselves ready for cooler weather, or did they practice in the Flex Field?
John: They practiced in Flex Field. The idea is it's better to get a good practice in which you concentrate and accomplish what you want to accomplish than "acclimate" yourself to weather. The weather will be what it will be, as they say. Better to go into the game prepared.
Bryan from Portland, OR:
Here's wishing all the faithful safe travels as we return to EverBank this weekend. As a West Coast transplant, I've only seen the team in person in Seattle and San Francisco for the past eight years. Home cooking, the playoffs, and a packed stadium?! #DTWD
John: Yes.
HJT from Modville:
What do Earl Thomas, JaDeveon Clowney, and Jurell Casey have in common? They all agree that Bleak Lobster is trash. How long until the shillers and homers wake up?
John: It might take until those players' teams have better seasons than the one for which Blake Bortles plays. (And by the way: saying Bortles is playing well – or at least not terrible – doesn't make you a shill or a homer. It means you're able to see that he's playing with absurdly young receiver corps and that he's also not getting nearly as much help from the running game in the second half of the season as statistics might indicate. Keep trying, though. Keep working to learn. You'll get it).
Trent from Fernandina Beach, FL:
What are your honest thoughts on Blake Bortles overall this season and his future with the team?
John: I think Bortles has improved dramatically since last season in a lot of important areas such as accuracy, command of offense, decision-making and pocket presence. I think there are areas he must improve, and I think he still needs to cut out the one or two bad decisions/throws he makes a game. I think he helped the Jaguars more than he hurt them this season, and I think he showed a lot of potential to continue to improve. I also think he will be the Jaguars' quarterback next season, probably playing the final season of his rookie contract for the $19 million guaranteed option.
Frankie from Mean Streets of Ponte Vedra:
Do the Jags take a flyer on a guy like Lamar Jackson in the draft if they're stuck with Bortles again for another year?
John: The Jaguars play a postseason football game at EverBank Field Saturday. The NFL Draft will be held in late April.

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