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The arrangement is the challenge


There are no real soft spots on it, but no one is going to describe the Jaguars' 2009 schedule as a killer, either. Frankly speaking, it's a favorable slate of opponents. What's challenging is the arrangement.

Three of the Jaguars' first four games will be against AFC South rivals. That means one half of the team's division schedule will be gone by the time the season hits the quarter pole; four of the Jaguars' six division games will have been played by the start of November.

So what's the deal with that? The Jaguars are a team most people consider to be in some form of rebuilding, so you would think the league would be mildly sensitive to that expectation and would at least lend a little more balance to the Jaguars' divisional schedule, right? Why schedule so many division games so early in the season?

Well, let's not forget that the Jaguars are one of two teams in the AFC South that play in cities that have tropical storm potential early in the season. Houston is the other city and, of course, the Texans had to postpone an early-season game against Baltimore last year due to hurricane damage to Reliant Stadium. Had that game been scheduled against an AFC South opponent, it would've been much easier to reschedule; the league could've just flipped the sites of the two games.

So, let's get it out of our heads that the league is attempting to challenge the Jaguars or punish them for having under-achieved last season. The late nature of the release of the 2009 NFL schedule is all we need to know about the difficulty of addressing all concerns and still give TV the games it wants.

Feel better? OK, let's proceed with a week-by-week look at the Jags' schedule and its opponents.

Sept. 13, at Indianapolis—This will be Jim Caldwell's first game as the Colts' new head coach. Yeah, the Colts still have Peyton Manning and they will, again, be a postseason favorite, but Caldwell will be facing a lot of pressure stepping into Tony Dungy's shoes.

Sept. 20, Arizona—The Jacksonville heat shouldn't be a problem for the guys from the desert, but the Cardinals have traditionally struggled in the eastern time zone. Facing the defending NFC champion and the best receiver in the game today should pump life into this home opener for the Jaguars and their fans.

Sept. 27, at Houston—The Texans will be expected to compete for the AFC South title this year. Coach Gary Kubiak has reached the point of no more excuses. This will, no doubt, be a "Battle Red" game. Houston will be coming off a game in Tennessee, so this could be an early crossroads game for both teams.

Oct. 4, Tennessee—If you wanna win the division, the Titans are the team you target and this will be the Jaguars' home shot at Jeff Fisher's club. This is a circle game.

Oct. 11, at Seattle—The Mike Holmgren era is over and Jim Mora will attempt to breathe new life into a Seahawks team that grossly under-achieved last year. The Jaguars will be playing at deafening Qwest Field for the first time.

Oct. 18, St. Louis—This is what every coach wants as his team heads into its bye week: a home game against a lightweight. Not so fast, my friends. The Rams have a new coach, no-nonsense defensive genius Steve Spagnolo, who's certain to make the Rams a tougher team than the defensive cupcake they were under Scott Linehan.

Nov. 1, at Tennessee—Now it starts to get serious. This is the game a year ago that began a season that was supposed to lead the Jaguars back into the playoffs, but quickly turned to despair. Where will the Jaguars be in their rebuilding efforts by the time November arrives? This is the game that will answer that question.

Nov. 8, Kansas City—The Chiefs, too, are rebuilding. They have a new coach and a new quarterback, and no one's quite sure what to expect.

Nov. 15, at Jets—The Jets loaded up for "now" last season, but then discovered they had traded for a quarterback of the past. What will they do to find their future at the position?

Nov. 22, Buffalo—The Bills make their seemingly annual trip to Jacksonville. They scored a big win early last season that put them on course for the playoffs, but collapsed in the second half of the season. The Bills have troubled players in Marshawn Lynch and Donte Whitner, but they've added team morale champion Terrell Owens. This could be fun to watch.

Nov. 29, at San Francisco—Coach Mike Singletary will have his team fired up for the Jaguars' first-ever regular-season game where Tony Bennett left his heart. Singletary seems to have found it.

Dec. 6, Houston—If the Jaguars are alive in the playoff race at this point, they'll have a good finishing schedule for making a playoffs push. Beginning with this game against the Texans, all five of the Jaguars' remaining games will be against AFC opponents, and the first three will be at home.

Dec. 13, Miami—The in-state nature of this game will add spice. A year after a ridiculously-soft schedule helped the Dolphins land a playoff berth, the league handed the Dolphins a killer.

Dec. 17, Indianapolis—This Thursday-nighter was a big hit last year. It was the best the Jaguars played down the stretch, at a time when the Jaguars' fortunes were in steep decline. The Jaguars will have to be alive in the playoffs race for this to be a defining game.

Dec. 27, at New England—The Jaguars will get 10 days to pack their cold-weather gear for this Gillette Stadium face-off against Fred Taylor and the Patriots. How's that song go? Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.

Jan. 3, Cleveland—The end or the game that'll put the Jaguars into the playoffs? The Browns are rebuilding, again. Which team will have taken the most steps forward?

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