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O-Zone: So fine

JACKSONVILLE – Let's get to it … Mark from Archer, FL:
John: I do not know why fans and other people keep saying we cannot go deep into the playoffs or even win the Super Bowl with this team. Blake Bortles is up and down this season. People need to remember just a few years ago the Broncos went to and won the Super Bowl because of their defense. Peyton Manning was a shell of his former self for that run. They won because they had an amazing defense, much like the Jags do this year.
John: The reason fans and other people keep saying the Jaguars can't go deep in the playoffs is simple: more often than not teams with elite quarterbacks are the ones who take their teams to Super Bowls. It's difficult to predict teams without them having deep playoff runs. But while that is a long-standing NFL truism, it doesn't trump all else. Recent history is littered with strong defenses/strong running games that have carried their teams deep into the playoffs. San Francisco very nearly won a Super Bowl that way, and Seattle and Denver followed similar formulas. Taking that approach doesn't guarantee the Jaguars a playoff run, and it would behoove them if Bortles could consistently play as he did for most of the game this past Sunday. But to think this team is incapable of winning in December – and possibly deep into December and early January – is to give the impression you're not watching this team closely. This looks like a team that can get to the postseason. And this looks like a defense that's strong enough to carry this team for a while once it's there.
Dane from Jacksonville:
Let's not forget: Bortles completed his first 10 of 11 passes to start the game Sunday against one of the best pass rushes in the NFL. It wasn't until we fell behind and were forced to go pass-heavy that Bortles' completion percentage started to drop into the high fifties. I've been critical of Bortles too, but it's tough to argue that he isn't improving.
John: It's actually remarkably easy for some people to argue Bortles isn't improving. It doesn't make them right, but they have little trouble making the argument.
Robert from Reno, NV:
John, we're 6-2 in the AFC – the only team in our conference with this stat – and we lead the Titans in everything except home games. I know this isn't a big deal, except to me, but why are the Jags showing second on the standings for our division?
John: The Titans currently own the divisional tiebreaker over the Jaguars in the AFC South by virtue of their head-to-head victory over the Jaguars in Jacksonville in Week 2.
Hassan from Irving:
I don't know about you, but I am more interested in the Thursday night game than our game against the Browns. Just for this week alone, Go Steelers!
John: I'm certainly interested in Steelers-Titans, but a word of advice: remain uninterested in the Jaguars-Browns game at your own peril. Yes, the Jaguars should beat the Browns, but it's rare for teams to go 0-16. That means the Browns probably will win some time this season. They also have been playing with effort in recent weeks and played one of their best games of the season this past Sunday. But the biggest reason to be interested in the game is this: the Jaguars haven't done nearly enough winning yet to think anything's guaranteed.
Jim from Jacksonville:
I think Cleveland is a trap game. Safety Tashaun Gipson talking trash doesn't help. Am I way off base or is there reason to worry?
John: Sunday isn't a "trap" game because I don't think the Jaguars will look past it to Arizona the following week. But it is dangerous for several reasons. The Browns are a good run defense, and the game will be played in bad weather. It feels like it will be a low-scoring game, and that lowers the favored team's margin for error. As for Gipson's comments about the Browns … I've never been big on "bulletin-board material" as motivation. Such motivation typically has about effect as the pregame speech – i.e., the first series or so. After that, the game settles in. It has made for a little added entertainment during the week, though. And mid-week entertainment is cool. Writers and fans like it.
Ric from Jacksonville:
John, I know this is a little early in the season, but could you help me with a bet? The Jaguars are playing the Titans in the last game of the regular season. If both Jacksonville and Tennessee make the playoffs, is it possible that they would have to play each other in the first round of the playoffs? Basically playing each other back to back? Has this situation ever happen before with any two teams? ... and Go Jags!
John: Yes, it's possible – and yes, it has happened. It happened with the Philadelphia Eagles and Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2001, and it happened with the Denver Broncos and Indianapolis Colts in 2004. It may well have happened before or since, but it happened those two times.
Dennis from Lynchburg, VA:
I love watching this team ascend but I can't help to think what next year will be like with more offensive pieces, both returning from injury and new adds. So my question is do we have any key defensive players other than Aaron Colvin who will likely hit free agency?
John: Quick advice: Enjoy every moment of what's going on now and worry about the offseason and next season when they come; the future, while indeed looking bright, is guaranteed to no one. You don't know what injuries, age or any number of factors can do to an NFL team. But yes – the Jaguars certainly will move to address some key areas offensively in the offseason – and Colvin is the only major defensive player scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent this offseason.
Jason from North Pole, AK:
The Jaguars are a team that is extremely physical and tough across the board. But they are also very talkative, cocky and have a lot of swagger. I personally love the new attitude around here. Unfortunately, they are probably going to run into some officiating crews that don't tolerate a lot of the chipping and talking. Head Coach Doug Marrone and Executive Vice President of Football Operations Tom Coughlin are both old-school, discipline-oriented guys. Yet, people I talk to perceive us as undisciplined. Does it surprise you at all the team isn't a "hand-the-ball-to-the-referee" type? Do you think we will see an increase in games that feel like the officials are against us?
John: It's my experience that fans believe the referees are against their team in most – if not all – games, so I doubt you'll a major increase there. Remember: while Coughlin oversees football operations, he doesn't run the team or set the tone with players on a daily basis. And having observed Marrone as head coach for nearly a season, I'm not particularly surprised this isn't a hand-the-ball-to-the-ref team. Marrone is old school, but he also played in the NFL. He understands players have many different types of personalities, and that it's OK for the players who want to express themselves on the field to do so.
Herm from Lexington:
John. It seems the most interesting development for the rest of the year may be the development of our receivers. I could see a scenario where only one of Marqise Lee, Allen Robinson or Allen Hurns is back. Or two. It seems it all rides on what Dede Westbrook and Keelan Cole do. How do you think these two rookies will affect the receiver outlook for the three veterans next year?
John: Not as much as you might believe. I expect the Jaguars to try to figure out a way to have Robinson and either Lee or Hurns return. I doubt they will bring Hurns back at his current salary, and it remains to be seen if the Jaguars' perception of Lee's market value and Lee's perception of his market value are a match. The Hurns/Lee decision feels fluid. I suppose if either Westbrook or Cole emerge as dynamic players on the level of either Lee or Hurns that could change the perception. I would be surprised if that happens in the final seven games.
John from O'Fallon, MO:
The current CBA has limited the amount of practices and contact drills for teams which explains why tackling has suffered, but why do you think there are so many drops by receivers throughout the NFL? I'd think the new rules would improve this area of the game.
John: Receivers drop passes. They always have and always will. I haven't sensed an increase in this area.
Talha from Raleigh, NC:
I was strolling through the world of Twitter when I happened upon your account. How has your wife allowed you to keep that profile picture for so long?
John: I know … it's hot, right?

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