Quick start needed

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Grinding through the Jaguars' schedule a day later . . .

Before we begin, let's reiterate what I've long said about an NFL schedule – any NFL schedule for any team.

Analyzing it prior to the season is pretty close to a meaningless proposition. Too much changes in the NFL month to month, week to week and even day to day to realistically calculate victories and losses even a month out.

It's not just injuries to key positions such as quarterback, either. With few exceptions, it's tough to predict what teams will be strong year to year.

Take the Jaguars' schedule in 2012, for example:

It's peppered with 2011 playoff teams – Houston, Green Bay, New England, Cincinnati and Detroit – but outside the Packers and Patriots, there aren't exactly any post-season guarantees on that list.

That's why I always read with amusement analyses on nights such as Tuesday, when the schedule is released and writers around the nation break it all down. It's all fun, and it's a nice forum for witticism and long-range forward-looking assumptions based on last year's results.

If they entertain you, read 'em, but don't take too much stock in them.

In a sense, take this editorial in the same vein. We'll take a look at the Jaguars' 2012 schedule because that's what's done, and it's what's expected on some level – and we'll do it to provide some perspective. But enough will change between now and September that anything written now is bound to feel short-sighted come October.

What I can say is this:

If you assume the Jaguars are going to be improved – and I'll make that assumption because I believe it to be likely – there are some things about the schedule to like. Quite a bit.

We'll break it down by quarters, because that's what most teams do when approaching the season, and remember the old tried-and-true formula – go 3-1 in each quarter and that gets you to 12-4 and that gets you into the playoffs and usually gets you the division title.

We'll take a look and see how realistic that might be, and do so knowing that trying to do it may be the most impossible task of the off-season:

First quarter

September 9 | at Minnesota, 1 p.m.

September 16 | Houston, 1 p.m.

September 23 | at Indianapolis, 1 p.m.

September 30 | Cincinnati, 4:05 p.m.

Breakdown:On paper, the schedule-makers may have done the Jaguars a small favor here. No team can assume anything, particularly not one coming off a 5-11 season, but the Vikings went 3-13 last season and the Colts went 2-14. Neither one is likely to get away from you, so those are winnable games. You're supposed to play well at home, particularly early in the season, and the Jaguars played Houston and Cincinnati very tough last season.

Key game:Home against Houston. The Jaguars played the Texans tough last season, and while the Texans will enter the season as a Super Bowl contender, no one in the Jaguars' locker room is in intimidated by the Texans. Respectful, yes, but not intimidated. Pull that one in the home opener, and you put yourself in contention for a strong start.

Chances at 3-1:Not bad. Win winnable games on the road and split at home.

Second quarter

October 7 | Chicago, 4:05 p.m.

October 14 | Bye

October 21 | at Oakland, 4:15 p.m.

October 28 | at Green Bay, 1 p.m.

November 4| Detroit, 1 p.m.

Breakdown:By any measure, this is a tough stretch. The Lions are rapidly improving and the Packers may have lost in the NFC Divisional Playoff round, but they went 15-1 and – like the Lions – have an offense capable of scoring 40 points if your defense slips a bit. Chicago is a bit of an unknown, but few would be surprised if they made the playoffs. Same with Oakland, and the Jaguars have to go west for that one. The Jaguars didn't have to go west last season, but few would argue they have been strong there in recent seasons. That's a trend that needs to stop in Head Coach Mike Mularkey's first season.

Key game:Home against Chicago. Not only is the rest of the second quarter working against you with playoff teams and West Coast trips, the Bears game is at home. Considering the difficulty of the schedule after the bye, beating the Bears will be critical to maintain early momentum.

Chances at 3-1:It will be very difficult, which makes starting strong before the bye all the more critical.

* *

Third quarter

November 8 | Indianapolis, 8:20 p.m.

November 18 | at Houston, 1 p.m.

November 25 | Tennessee, 1 p.m.

December 2 | at Buffalo, 1 p.m.

Breakdown:This isn't nearly as daunting at the second quarter, and the reality is if you play well in this stretch and the first quarter, you'll put yourself in position for a fourth-quarter run. That's because the third quarter gives you three AFC South games, and therefore a chance to move into control of the division.  The Colts game likely will be Andrew Luck's first visit to Jacksonville, and while playing in Houston the following week likely will be difficult, the Jaguars beat Tennessee at home last season and Buffalo at this point doesn't look like a team likely to put up huge points.

Key game: at Houston. Winning two of the other three seems possible for an improved Jaguars team. That means a road game at Houston could be a division-turner.

Chances at 3-1:You need to hold serve at home. Do that, and you can sneak one at either Houston or Buffalo.

Fourth quarter

December 9 | Jets, 1 p.m.

December 16, | at Miami, 1 p.m.

December 23 |New England, 1 p.m.

December 30 | at Tennessee, 1 p.m.

Breakdown: Well, there's the whole Tim Tebow-returns-to-Jacksonville thing when the Jets come to town – not to mention Rex Ryan – and a visit from Tom Brady two weeks later. How tough this phase of the schedule appears pretty much rises and falls on whether you think the Jets are getting better or worse. The Patriots at home are tough by any measure, but if you believe prognostications Miami should be manageable.

Key game:Jets at home. Never mind what happened in New Jersey last season. The Jets limped to the finish late last season. Get that one and you could set yourself up for some interesting stuff come the end of the month.

Chances at 3-1:Beat the Jets early in the month, and you've got a chance.

Let's close by stating what may seem obvious but bears repeating. Break down the Jaguars' schedule however you want, but the reality is anything to do with the schedule – strength of schedule, analysis of schedule . . . anything -- means little this time of year because it's based on last season.

The Jaguars must be improved. That's what's important – not who they're playing in what order in October.

If they aren't improved, this is a tough schedule. If they are improved, it's still a tough schedule, because any schedule in the NFL is tough. But if the Jaguars do what they're expecting to do over the coming months – get a little better in the draft and have the players here improve with another off-season and with a new coaching staff – it's not a brutal, unmanageable schedule outside October, and if they're improved enough October might not be impossible.

In the NFL, good teams beat other good teams, no matter the April analyses, and if the Jaguars are as improved as they believe they will be, it's a schedule that could be negotiated into contending come December.

At this point, most Jaguars followers would take that.

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