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View from the O-Zone: '15 schedule breakdown


JACKSONVILLE – No one said it would be easy.

If they said it regarding the Jaguars' 2015 schedule, a case could be made they – whoever "they" may be – were just, plain lying.

Yes, the schedule is tough. And at first glance, the early season looks really, really tough. Back-to-back road games against New England and Indianapolis? Tom Brady and Andrew Luck on the road in late September and early October?

That's tough, and it's not exactly easy to close out the season on the road, either. The Jaguars do that in 2015, too, finishing with road games at New Orleans and Houston.

And speaking of the road …

The Jaguars play three consecutive road games in late September and early October – the New England/Indy back-to-back duo followed by a game at Tampa Bay. Because one of their pre-bye week home games is October 25 against the Buffalo Bills at Wembley Stadium, the Jaguars go 59 days from September 21 through November 19 with one game at EverBank Field.

The opening weeks of the season are tough in other ways, too. Five of the first seven games are against teams with records of .500 or better last season; one of the two teams during that stretch that finished below .500 – the 7-8-1 Carolina Panthers – won the NFC South.

All of that? The first few paragraphs?

That's the tricky part, but it gets better – maybe even significantly better. While there's no such thing as easy in the NFL, there are some decidedly less brutal elements, too.

Yes, there are a ton of teams that finished .500 or better last season. But this schedule includes just five games against playoff teams: Baltimore, New England, Carolina and Indianapolis twice. Plenty of teams are navigating tougher terrain next season.

The schedule-makers also gave the Jaguars back-to-back home games to open the season, something that hasn't happened in eight seasons. They play the Panthers in the regular-season opener and the Miami Dolphins the following week at the 'Bank. Again: not easy, but not brutally difficult.

And while there is that brutal stretch away from home early in the season, there also is a four-home-games-in-five-weeks stretch in the second half of the season. During that time, the Jaguars play Tennessee, San Diego, Indianapolis and Atlanta at the 'Bank in late November and December. A team in contention can make that sort of stretch intriguing.

Take advantage of that stretch and maybe those games in Louisiana and Texas to close the season have a lot of intrigue.

Bottom line: the Jaguars need to stay competitive early. They need to take advantage of their early home games. They need to figure out how to win in London. Do a few of those things, and EverBank Field in late November and early December could be a lot of fun.

A week-by-week look at the Jaguars' schedule:

*September 13: Carolina, 1 p.m. (FOX): This absolutely isn't easy. Yes, the Panthers were under .500 last season, but they won the NFC South and were better in the second half of the season. They were really good the year before that. Throw in Cam Newton and a really good defense and it's a tougher-than-it-looks opener.

*September 20: Miami, 4:05 p.m. (CBS): The Jaguars get back-to-back home games to open the season for the fifth time in franchise history and the first time since 2007. The Jaguars played the Dolphins very tough at EverBank Field last season, with the defense playing one of its best games of the season. Although back-to-back home games to start is favorable, the Jaguars need to play well during the stretch. The road (literally) gets tough after this. Taking advantage of early home games is critical.

*September 27: at New England, 1 p.m. (CBS): The last time the Jaguars played a defending Super Bowl champion was 2007, when they played defending champion Indianapolis twice. This will be tough. It's Tom Brady and Bill Belichick. It's the Patriots in Foxboro. It doesn't get much more difficult than that.

*October 4: at Indianapolis, 1 p.m. (CBS): The Jaguars have played the Colts with Andrew Luck six times. They won the first when Blaine Gabbert threw 80 yards to Cecil Shorts in the final two minutes. They have lost the last five, including the last two in Indianapolis – 30-10 in 2013 and 23-3 last season. The Colts define the division right now. To redefine it, the Jaguars must play better in Indianapolis.

*October 11: at Tampa Bay, 1 p.m. (CBS): The Buccaneers and Jaguars only play every four seasons. For those who like this in-state rivalry, that's not enough. Could this be the Jaguars' first game against Jameis Winston? Or against Marcus Mariota? We'll know in nine days. But don't mark this down as easy just because Tampa Bay went 2-14 last season. This is the third game of a three-game road stretch. Whatever Tampa Bay's record entering this one, that's historically a tough circumstance.

*October 18: Houston, 1 p.m. (CBS): J.J. Watt's coming to town. If healthy, Jadeveon Clowney will be coming to town, too. The Jaguars want to start climbing in the standings this season. If they're going to do that, holding serve at home in the division is key.

*October 25: Buffalo (London), 9:30 a.m. (TBA): The Jaguars have lost each of the first two games of the London series. There's no reason to think they're going to stop playing a home game there each year anytime soon, so they need to figure out a way to play better there. And to win.

*November 1: Bye.

*November 8: at New York Jets, 1 p.m. (CBS): The Jets' emphasis will continue to be defense, but the look will be different with Rex Ryan out and Todd Bowles in as head coach. If the Jaguars can get to the bye within reach of .500, this game will be key to set up the second half of the season.

*November 15: at Baltimore, 1 p.m. (CBS): This will be as difficult a test as the Jaguars face all season. In Baltimore. Against the Ravens. This team is in the postseason race every season. Why would this season be different?

*November 19: Tennessee, 8:25 p.m. (NFLN): This is the first of two games in three weeks against the Jaguars' AFC South rivals. It's also the first of four home games in five weeks, so this game could be big. It will be the second consecutive season the teams have met on a Thursday night in Jacksonville.

*November 29: San Diego, 1 p.m. (CBS): The Jaguars will play the Chargers for a third consecutive season and a fourth time in five seasons. Again, this is a series that has been rough for the Jaguars. They lost 33-17 in San Diego last season and 24-6 in Jacksonville in 2013. If the Jaguars are going to start pushing into playoff contention, they need to start contending against contending teams. Will Philip Rivers be the quarterback? Stay tuned.

*December 6: at Tennessee, 1 p.m. (CBS): This is the lone road game of the four-home-games-in-five-weeks stretch. They shouldn't be road-weary at this point, so is this one a late-season game they can get while playing away from the 'Bank?

*December 13: Indianapolis, 1 p.m. (CBS): If the Colts have been tough on the Jaguars in Indianapolis lately, they've been even tougher in Jacksonville.  Indianapolis has won the last three games in Jacksonville 27-10, 30-10 and 44-17 – and none were close for long. Luck or no Luck, the Jaguars need to make up ground in this series. A home game in December against the defending division champions could have some real energy if the Jaguars have made the strides they expect to make.

*December 20: Atlanta, 1 p.m. (FOX): The Former Seahawks Defensive Coordinator Bowl. The Falcons struggled enough this past season that they'll enter next season with a new head coach, former Seahawks coordinator Dan Quinn. He replaced Jaguars Head Coach Gus Bradley in the job. If Quinn can help improve the Falcons' defense, the Falcons have the weapons on offense to be contending when they visit Jacksonville.

*December 27: at New Orleans, 1 p.m. (CBS): This is the first of back-to-back road games to close the season. The Saints are a dramatically different team than the one that contended consistently for a long, long time. Now, tight end Jimmy Graham is gone, having been traded to the Seahawks in the offseason. Can Drew Brees and a rebuilt defense keep the Saints in the playoff chase in late December? Perhaps. If not, an era could be ending in New Orleans.

*January 3: at Houston, 1 p.m. (CBS): The Jaguars haven't been in contention in the regular-season finale in a long, long time. April is way too early to predict the ramifications of this game, but the potential is there for this game to matter. If it does, what better opponent and place to be playing meaningful games. Battle Red Sunday? Blue Steel Sunday? If this game matters, they'll be battling for something on the third day of January in Houston.

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