In my offseason preview on the Jacksonville Jaguars, I stated that I believe they are still a year away from contention, and despite the loss of guar Josh Sitton, the Packers should be able to go into Jacksonville and get a win.
Granted, it won’t be as easy as Jacksonville has been the last 10 or so years, but they are still a middle-of-the-pack at best in relation to the rest of the AFC.
Imagine the road game at San Diego last season, and that is likely a poor man’s version of what you will get out of Jacksonville this year. An underrated defense, an explosive offense, but just not enough pieces to solve the puzzle. Jacksonville is a team that is on the rise, San Diego was one that was falling off. The most important thing that the Packers need to do is to get off to a good start, and not give this uprising team extra confidence early on. They’ll need to score a touchdown on one of the first two drives, and although this defense is underrated, the Packers’ offense is among the best in the NFL.
Running the ball towards the side of DE Jared Odrick and OLB Dan Skuta is likely the better option, as the other side has Dante Fowler Jr. and Telvin Smith, who had 128 tackles in ’15. Avoiding Smith’s side would be ideal.
With regards to the passing game, the No. 1 corner on the Jaguars is rookie FSU product Jalen Ramsey, who was a top five pick in the draft. After him, the cornerback position is a weakness, and Prince Amukamara and former Packer Davon House should be outmatched against the Packers’ receivers. I haven’t even mentioned the two best players on the Jaguars’ defense, safety Jonathan Cyprien and defensive tackle (and Super Bowl Champion last season) Malik Jackson. Jackson will fortunately be matched up with T.J. Lang instead of whoever the Packers put at left guard, and Cyprien is more of a hard-hitter than a coverage guy. This defense is beatable, but it is a nice, early test.
On the other side of the ball, the Jaguars’ passing game is dangerous. They have another former Bronco in TE Julius Thomas, who is among the best red-zone threats in the game. They also have Pro Bowl receiver Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns as the main weapons for quarterback Blake Bortles, and they each had over 1,000 yards receiving and 10 touchdowns last season. The last receiving duo to do that was, Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb.
Sam Shields will likely guard Robinson, and the duo of Quinten Rollins and Damarious Randall will take on Hurns and the remaining Jags receivers. They both will likely have safety help from Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix. Pressuring Bortles into bad decisions will also be key, so Clay Matthews (or somebody else) will need to keep putting the pressure on Bortles, who threw 18 interceptions last year. That shouldn’t be too hard, as the offensive line is a weak spot on the Jaguars. And, stopping the run right away will make the Jaguars’ one dimensional, and it will ultimately be easier to cover the passing game.
I like the Jaguars, and I think they will definitely put up a fight, but the Packers are clearly the better team. I’m expecting a big day from Rodgers, but I also see a big day from Bortles as well. Running back Eddie Lacy getting 100 yards is the key to the game, as it will free up Aaron to have that big day.
My final score projection: Packers 34, Jaguars 24.
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