JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser and senior correspondent Brian Sexton look back at the Jaguars' preseason and forward to Sunday's Week 1 game against the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey
1.Reviewing the preseason. The Jaguars went 3-1 in the 2018 preseason – and while projecting regular-season success based on the preseason is a fool's game, August nonetheless was a successful month for the defending AFC South champions. The Jaguars enter the regular season healthy with the notable exception of a season-ending knee injury to wide receiver Marqise Lee, and they have reason to like what they saw in several key areas during the preseason. The first-team defense allowed just four field goals in three preseason games, and the unit overall looked ready to build on last season's No. 2 league ranking. The offense finished the preseason strong, with the lone concern being three interceptions by quarterback Blake Bortles in the final two games. The Jaguars' starters left all three of their preseason appearances holding the lead. It's hard to have a better preseason than that.
2.As I see it. This team looks ready to compete for a second consecutive AFC South championship, and a second consecutive deep playoff run. There was nothing fluky about what this team did last season, and it's still very much an ascending team. It will enter its third season under defensive coordinator Todd Wash, and its second under Head Coach Doug Marrone and offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett. The defense returns 10 of 11 starters, with nickel back Aaron Colvin and middle linebacker Paul Posluszny the only key losses. And despite his preseason interceptions, Bortles throughout the preseason, training camp and offseason looked dramatically improved compared to his first four NFL seasons. The main concern entering this season? Health, the lack of which can derail any NFL season. This is a motivated, talented team that understands its identity and believes it should be one of the last teams playing in January. It has a very real chance to be just that.
3.Looking ahead, briefly. Remember Point No. 2? How the Jaguars could be one of the last teams playing in January? That's true, but this is, too: the early part of the 2018 season is difficult, including a tricky regular-season opener. Week 1 of the NFL season is always difficult because teams typically run schemes and packages they didn't show during the preseason. All teams are operating at relatively close to full health in Week 1, and every team still has hope. Those factors mean there are few easy openers. And even without those factors, the Giants figure to be a tough out. Quarterback Eli Manning is still capable, and rookie running back Saquon Barkley has the look of a Rookie-of-the-Year candidate. And there's wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. Make no mistake: this is a game the Jaguars should win, but doing it will be difficult.
1.Reviewing the preseason: The Jaguars are who we thought they were. The first-team defense didn't allow a preseason touchdown, and held opponents to two third-down conversions in 22 opportunities. The running game, the league's best last year, should be stronger this season with the addition of All-Pro guard Andrew Norwell – and if the stronger presence we saw in August from running backs T.J. Yeldon and Corey Grant is a trend. Bortles has a legitimate target down the seam in tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins – and he also has the most talented group of receivers he's had in his time in Jacksonville. Mix in the creative flair we've seen from offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett and improved coverage from special teams and you have a team that looks like an honest-to-goodness contender – which is exactly what we thought we might see when training camp opened in late July.
2.As I see it: These Jaguars are the AFC's most talented team. I get that there are teams with better quarterbacks, but this team has one that fits its "run-the-ball-and-play-great-defense personality," so while they might not have the AFC's best quarterback they have one of the best quarterback situations because he does what they need him to do and showed last year he can do it very well. Everything seems to fit together. Running back Leonard Fournette on the ground meshing with the dominant defense. Quality depth on both lines, at running back, in the secondary and at receiver. Executive Vice President of Football Operations Tom Coughlin, General Manager Dave Caldwell and Head Coach Doug Marrone making the front office a seamless, football focused operation. If you can win on "feel," this whole organization – and this whole season – just feels right as we get set to kick off the season.
3.Looking ahead: The Giants doubled down on quarterback Eli Manning as their future after wavering on him last season. Adding free-agent tackle Nate Solder and rookie guard Will Hernandez to the offensive line, drafting Barkley No. 2 overall in the 2018 NFL Draft and paying top dollar to retain Beckham gives Big Blue a potentially explosive offense. The Giants' defense finished 31st in the NFL last season. At least part of that was an offense that couldn't stay on the field, but they were equally bad on defense against the run and the pass – and free agent linebacker Alec Ogletree doesn't figure to fix it all by himself. Week 1 is always tough to predict, especially when a new coaching staff is in the mix. But if I think the Jaguars are the AFC's best team, then that must mean I think they're one of the best teams in the NFL. They're better than the Giants, which should translate to a victory Sunday.