The NFL will release its 2004 schedule at some point this month, and Jaguars fans can rest assured that whatever kind of card the Jaguars are handed, it'll be a whole lot better than what they were dealt last season.
Jack Del Rio had to have lost his breath when he first glanced at last season's schedule. He was taking over a team in dramatic reconstruction and three of his first four games would be on the road. And what we didn't know was that the season-opener would be against a Carolina team that would make it to the Super Bowl.
It wasn't a schedule, it was a sentence. The first three and final three weeks of the season appeared to be killers, and November was a lineup of four consecutive opponents who were in the 2002 playoffs, of which one was that season's Super Bowl champ.
The only advantageous stretch of schedule was October, which included home games against San Diego, Miami and Tennessee, and a bye week. If you knew the Jaguars would win only one game in their first eight, what would you have bet their final record would be?
This year's schedule shouldn't be as startling. For starters, the Jaguars should be a better team, certainly more capable of dealing with last year's schedule than last year's team was. Secondly, though the list of opponents is formidable, it's not to be confused with last year's bunch, which included the Super Bowl champion and runnerup, both of whom the Jaguars played on the road. Seven of the Jaguars' 16 games were against playoff teams and two others were against teams that just missed the postseason.
In contrast, this year's schedule will include only three teams from outside the AFC South – Green Bay, Kansas City and Denver – who made the playoffs last year, and none in that trio send shivers up your back as the Patriots might. It also should be noted the Jaguars will play two of those teams – Kansas City and Denver – at Alltel Stadium.
There are trips to Buffalo, Minnesota, Oakland and San Diego, and Minnesota certainly has the potential to be a playoff team in 2004, but San Diego and Oakland represent the top two teams in this year's draft order and Buffalo has a new coaching staff and probably shouldn't be considered a playoff contender.
Chicago, Detroit and Pittsburgh will also play at Alltel, and that's a trio that also appears to be in rebuilding.
Let's not forget the Jaguars are in a division whose two playoff teams have clearly suffered hits in free agency and continue to struggle against major salary cap problems.
In other words, it's a schedule that will include some tests, but probably not as many "sentence" games as last year's schedule did. What the NFL will assign the Jaguars later this month could be very agreeable.
OK, we're ready. Give it to us.