JACKSONVILLE – It's time to get started. Finally.
If the NFL regular season always seems to approach slowly, it must have seemed to Jaguars fans and observers to have approached interminably slow this season.
Such is the level of anticipation for the Jaguars' 2018 season, which begins Sunday when the Jaguars visit the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey, in the 2018 regular-season opener.
Anticipation is what happens when a team wins its first division title in 18 seasons, and advances to the AFC Championship Game for the first time in the same span. It's also what happens when you're a young team with as much talent as any in the NFL.
That anticipation turns into the reality of the Jaguars' 2018 regular season Sunday, and the reality in the NFL is you must win on the field whatever the hype – and whatever the expectations.
Though the Giants went 3-13 last season, the second-worst record in the NFL, they are a capable opponent. Quarterback Eli Manning has won two Super Bowls and running back Saquon Barkley was the No. 2 overall selection in the 2018 NFL Draft. Wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. is one of the NFL's most dangerous receivers and remember: the Giants went 11-5 in 2016 before last season's slip.
This is a team with players who know how to win.
It's a game the Jaguars can win. It's a game they are expected to win. Here are 10 things the Jaguars must to do to do that in one of the most anticipated regular-season openers in franchise history:
1.Stop the talk and shut out the noise. The expectations around the Jaguars are higher than they have been in two decades. The talk is of potential greatness. The talk is about what level this defense can reach. Talk is great. And talk is fun. The time for talk is over.
2.Ground zero. Jaguars Head Coach Doug Marrone was kidding early this week when he said what he wanted to see from quarterback Blake Bortles this season was zero turnovers. Actually, he wasn't kidding.
3.Stay poised – and bounce back. This is key in Week 1; regular-season openers such as the Jaguars' one-sided victory at Houston last season are rare. Openers more often are about surprising opponents with early big plays off schemes not shown in preseason. The key is withstanding those moments and responding with your own. Just figure out a way to win this one. Any victory – by any margin – is a good victory in Week 1.
4.Run. The strength of the Giants' defense is their interior run defense. So, what? The Jaguars have built this offense to run up the middle. What better time than the opener to start doing it?
6.Stop Odell Beckham, Jr… You're up, Twentyland.
5.Limit Saquon Barkley to two big plays – maybe one. The Giants' rookie running back was the No. 2 overall selection in the 2018 NFL Draft for a reason. He has star quality: big-play ability, the ability to make defenders miss, etc. Players like that usually have a big play or two in a game. The key is getting him stopped often enough to create a lot of negative down-and-distance situations. That should enable the Jaguars to …
7.Pressure Eli Manning. Though the Giants revamped an offensive line that struggled last season, this still should be an advantage for the Jaguars. Considering the presence of three Pro Bowl linemen last season — end Calais Campbell, end Yannick Ngakoue and tackle Malik Jackson – instances when this isn't an advantage for the Jaguars should be rare. They key Sunday: stopping Barkley enough to force Manning into must-throw situations.
8.Force turnovers – and score. This was a calling card for the Jaguars' defense last season. Make is a calling card again. Nothing quiets a rowdy stadium more than a visiting team scoring a defensive touchdown.
9.Get ASJ involved. Tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins signed as an unrestricted free agent in the offseason, with the idea being to give Bortles a reliable downfield option in the middle of the field. He wasn't used much in limited preseason action. Now's the time to change that.
10.Hit. Them. Hard. Punch. Them. In. The. Mouth. The Jaguars once again endured a difficult training camp under Marrone. They played their front-line players through a half in the final two preseason games, and they emphasized the run in both games. Marrone takes that preseason approach because he believes you must play to get ready for the regular season. This team is ready to block. And tackle. If they do those things better than the Giants Sunday, they will return to Jacksonville 1-0.