JACKSONVILLE – Some quick Schedule Night thoughts …
1)If the Jaguars indeed are better, this is negotiable.
2)The league doesn't think the Jaguars are ready for prime-time – and that's OK.
3)It's time to find out if a bye is needed after an international trek.
Those were some first impressions regarding the Jaguars' 2017 regular-season schedule, which officially was released along with the entire 2017 NFL schedule Thursday at 8 p.m.
Another early thought:
There are things to like about this schedule if you're pulling for the 2017 version of the Jaguars, the version of the Doug Marrone/Tom Coughlin era.
As was the case last season, there are no brutal cold-weather games.
As was the case last season, there are no three-game road trips.
And there aren't any long stretches that stand out as a bunch of unwinnable games in succession.
There is the matter of having playing on the road on Christmas Eve, a game that's part of a two-game road stretch to end the season, but no schedule is perfect. There's also the matter of playing five of the first seven games away from EverBank Field, but such a stretch comes with playing a home game overseas.
A quick trip through the 2017 season, Jaguars style:
The Jaguars open at defending AFC South champion Houston, then play AFC South rival Tennessee at home. They play their annual game at Wembley Stadium in London in Week 3 against Baltimore, then visit the New York Jets the following week. That's the first time in five trips to Wembley the Jaguars haven't had a bye week the next week.
The Jaguars play away from EverBank for a fourth time in five weeks when they visit the Pittsburgh Steelers on October 8 in Week 5, then a home game against the Los Angeles Rams is followed by a road game at Indianapolis on October 22 in Week 7.
The bye week follows the Colts, and the bye is followed by back-to-back home games against Cincinnati and the Los Angeles Chargers before back-to-back road games at Cleveland and Arizona to close November.
A three-game home stretch – Indianapolis, Seattle and Houston – opens December with a Christmas Eve game at San Francisco and a New Year's Eve game at Tennessee closes the schedule.
The London game is a 9:30 a.m. Eastern start, and another detail that will draw attention is that no Jaguars regular-season game is a prime-time, nationally televised game. The norm in recent seasons has been for all teams to play at least one prime-time game, but the league went away from the norm.
But you know what? This is a team that went 3-13 last season. It's OK to have to earn your way into the national consciousness.
Overall, this isn't a brutal schedule. If the Jaguars play better than they did last season, the opportunity is there for a solid start and a strong finish. If they don't play better …
Well, no NFL schedule is easy – and they're all hard if you don't play well.
A week-by-week look at the Jaguars' schedule:
*At Houston Texans (9-7 in 2016, first in AFC South); NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas; September 10, 1 p.m. (CBS).This is a tricky, important opener. The Jaguars showed in Houston late last season they can play with the defending AFC South champions on the road, and a road division victory would be a huge boost to open the Marrone/Coughlin era. Still, the Jaguars haven't beaten the Texans since 2013. Forget what you hear about the Texans' quarterback issues. This game won't be easy.
*Tennessee Titans (9-7 in 2016, second in AFC South); EverBank Field; September 17, 1 p.m. (CBS).This is another important early game for several reasons, not the least of which is it's the only regular-season game at EverBank Field until mid-October. The Jaguars dominated the Titans at EverBank on Christmas Eve 2016, knocking the Titans from the playoffs. Tennessee will be motivated.
*Baltimore Ravens (8-8 in 2016, second in AFC North); Wembley Stadium in London, England; September 24, 9:30 a.m. (TBA).This officially is the Jaguars' second home consecutive home game, and the team has treated London like a home game by winning the last two at Wembley. The Jaguars have played well against the Ravens in recent seasons, winning on last-play field goal in Baltimore in 2015 and losing a crushing, winnable game at EverBank Field last season. The Jaguars should enter this game confident.
*At New York Jets (5-11 in 2016, fourth in AFC East); MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.; October 1, 1 p.m. (CBS). The Jaguars not only will play a game the week after London for the first time in five trips, they will play that post-Wembley game on the road. This makes this the middle of a difficult stretch away from the 'Bank.
*At Pittsburgh Steelers (11-5 in 2016, first in AFC North); Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pa.; October 8, 1 p.m. (CBS). Speaking of "difficult," winning in Pittsburgh is never easy. Doing so in the third game of what will feel physically like a three-game road stretch makes this perhaps the Jaguars' toughest test of the first half of the season.
*Los Angeles Rams (4-12 in 2016, third in NFC West); EverBank Field; October 15, 4:05 p.m. (FOX).This is the first of two games at EverBank against the two teams now playing in Los Angeles. It also will be just the Jaguars' second regular-season game in Jacksonville in the first month and half of the season. The first five games will determine how big this game is, but if the team can return from three games away from Jacksonville in contention this could be an emotional day.
*At Indianapolis Colts (8-8 in 2016, third in AFC South); Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Ind.; October 22, 1 p.m. (CBS).The Jaguars have come oh-so-close to winning in Indianapolis each of the last two seasons, losing in overtime in 2015 and in the final seconds last season. This has been an even series in recent seasons, but the Jaguars must learn to win in Indy, something they haven't done since Gabbert-to-Shorts for 80 yards in 2012. Or as Brian Sexton says, "Eighty ya-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-aa-a-a-ards."
*Bye, October 29.
*Cincinnati Bengals (6-9-1 in 2016, third in AFC North); EverBank Field; November 5, 1 p.m. (CBS).The benefit of a bunch of games away from the 'Bank early is you get a stretch of a bunch at home later. Including this game, the Jaguars will play five of seven games in Jacksonville.
*Los Angeles Chargers (5-11 in 2016, fourth in AFC West); EverBank Field; November 12, 1 p.m. (CBS).Chargers Philip Rivers will come to town. So will former Jaguars Head Coach Gus Bradley. Rivers has been a Jaguars nemesis throughout his career, and Bradley – the Jaguars' head coach from 2013-2016 – is now the Chargers' defensive coordinator. Philip and Gus at the 'Bank? That will be worth watching.
*At Cleveland Browns (1-15 in 2016, fourth in AFC North); FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland, Ohio; November 19, 1 p.m. (CBS). The Jaguars went 3-13 last season, and there are no easy, should-win games for teams that finished ten games under .500. Still, Cleveland is in the building process and if the Jaguars are indeed improved this is the type of road game that shouldn't appear daunting.
*At Arizona Cardinals (7-8-1 in 2016, second in NFC West); University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz.; November 26, 4:05 p.m. (CBS).The Cardinals slipped from preseason Super Bowl contenders to out of the playoffs last season. They've been one of the more consistent, underrated franchises in the NFL for the last few seasons; look for them to contend this season.
*Indianapolis Colts (8-8 in 2016, third in AFC South); EverBank Field; December 3, 1 p.m. (CBS).The Jaguars have won their last two home games against the Colts – 51-16 at EverBank in December of 2016 and 30-27 at Wembley Stadium last season. They've gotten to the point beating their longtime division rivals isn't surprising, and they need to keep that feeling.
*Seattle Seahawks (10-5-1 in 2016, first in NFC West); EverBank Field; December 10, 1 p.m. (FOX).The Seahawks have been one of the league's best defenses and strongest franchises for a half-decade. There's no reason to think that changes, which makes this a tough start to the final quarter of the season.
*Houston Texans (9-7 in 2016, first in AFC South); EverBank Field; December 17, 1 p.m. (FOX).This is the third of a three-game home stretch. If the Jaguars improve enough to be in contention, this figures to be a key game. The Texans are uncertain at quarterback but they've won the last two AFC South titles with a dominant defense and there's no reason to think they'll be worse there this season.
*At San Francisco 49ers (2-14 in 2016, fourth in AFC West); Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif.; December 24, 4:05 p.m. (CBS).The schedule-makers not only didn't give the Jaguars a prime-time game in 2017, they're sending them across the country on Christmas Eve, which ensures a post-midnight, post-game arrival in Jacksonville. Heads up, Santa. Ho, ho, ho.
*At Tennessee Titans (9-7 in 2016, second in AFC South); Nissan Stadium in Nashville, Tenn.; December 31, 1 p.m. (CBS).New Year's Eve in Nashville? There are worse things. The Titans were among the league's most-improved teams last season – and figure to have a good chance to be above .500 again. If the Jaguars improve, this has a chance to be big.