Jaguars’ Super Bowl hopes, NFL power rankings, OTAs updates and more

NFL


The Jacksonville Jaguars came within a whisker of Super Bowl LII. Still, nobody is talking about them as a Super Bowl contender, and it’s because of one man.

If Myles Jack wasn’t ruled down, the Jaguars are playing the Philadelphia Eagles in the Super Bowl. Instead, the call was blown, and so to was Jacksonville’s fourth-quarter lead in Foxborough.

Going into this season, the Jaguars almost seem an afterthought when discussing the favorites to reach the Super Bowl. Looking at 5Dimes, Jacksonville checks in fourth among AFC teams at +2250 to win it all, coming in behind the New England Patriots, Pittsburgh Steelers and Houston Texans. All told, eight teams check in ahead of the Jaguars.

Looking at the roster, few teams if any can compete with Jacksonville’s defense. The offense also has Leonard Fournette and an improved offensive line with the addition of All-Pro guard Andrew Norwell, but then there is the looming specter of Blake Bortles.

Bortles, 26, is the reason most people simply can’t buy into Jacksonville. Last year, Bortles was good enough to keep the team afloat, but also wasn’t enough to push it over the edge. Although Jacksonville’s record improved from 3-13 to 10-6, nothing much changed from Bortles. His yardage total regressed from 3,905 to 3,687, with the difference in his touchdowns and interceptions staying at seven. All told, Bortles played like a below-average starting quarterback.

In the playoffs, the narrative that Bortles improved is fiction. In the Wild Card game against the Buffalo Bills, the former Central Florida star completed 12-of-23 passes for 87 yards. The following Sunday, Bortles hit on 14-of-26 for 214 yards. Neither one of those wins had anything to do with the quarterback play, but instead was a function of defensive brilliance and the ability to run the ball.

It’s tough to ignore the obvious dilemma when it comes to believing in Jacksonville. To actually think the Jaguars are going to win the Super Bowl, the conclusion has to be that Bortles is good enough to hoist a Lombardi Trophy. For most, that’s where the conversation comes to an end.

Jacksonville does have some history on its side, but it takes an outlying situation. The 2015 Denver Broncos won it all despite a rancid season from Peyton Manning, but in the end, it’s still Manning. Before Manning, you have to go back to the 2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers to find a similar setup, with Brad Johnson helping them to a title behind a stifling defense.

In other words, the examples exist, but the gaps between them are long and filled with Hall of Fame quarterbacks winning rings.

There are reasons to love Jacksonville as a Super Bowl favorite beyond the aforementioned details. The AFC is a horrific conference, the South is a particularly uncertain division and the roster hasn’t lost much. Additionally, the Jaguars have a pair of dominating corners in A.J. Bouye and Jalen Ramsey, and outstanding pass-rushers in Yannick Ngakoue and Calais Campbell, giving them a considerable leg up at two of the league’s premium positions.

Still, Bortles looms. The Jaguars are only going as far as their quarterback will allow them to go, regardless of their defensive brilliance. In the end, that’s why both Vegas and the national media forgets to mention Jacksonville among the truly elite.

Power rankings

Top 10 most intriguing players in 2018

1. Patrick Mahomes, Kansas City Chiefs
2. Jimmy Garoppolo, San Francisco 49ers
3. Deshaun Watson, Houston Texans
4. Kirk Cousins, Minnesota Vikings
5. David Johnson, Arizona Cardinals
6. Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts
7. Davante Adams, Green Bay Packers
8. Marcus Davenport, New Orleans Saints
9. Jameis Winston, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
10. Allen Robinson, Chicago Bears

Quotable

“I do think the team would have bought in more to what Coach Carroll was saying,” Avril explained, “instead of going the opposite way of, hey, this is what we thought the foundation of the team was, and that’s not what happened in that particular play. So I think guys started questioning him more, more so than actually following his lead if we’d won that Super Bowl.”

– Former Seattle Seahawks defensive end Cliff Avril, talking about Pete Carroll losing the room

When you have Marshawn Lynch in his prime, and you don’t run the ball from the 1-yard line with the Super Bowl on the line, you pay the price. According to Avril, Carroll’s grip on the team began to slip. After an offseason that dismantled much of the old guard, one wonders how much longer Carroll has at the helm.

Podcast

Matt Verderame and Josh Hill bring you a new episode of the Stacking The Box podcast each Monday. The show can be found on iTunes, or live on FanSided’s YouTube and Facebook pages. Thanks for listening/watching and enjoy!

Random stat

In 1999, the Tennessee Titans moved into Adelphia Coliseum and won their first 16 games in the stadium before losing in Nov. 2000 to the Baltimore Ravens. The Titans would get their chance for revenge in the AFC Divisionals that year, but lost once more to the Ravens on their way to Super Bowl XXXV.

Info learned this week

1. Holdouts are star-powered across OTAs

OTAs are underway around the league, and there are ample situations worth monitoring. In Pittsburgh, the Steelers are without Le’Veon Bell who is on the franchise tag for a second straight year. Expect Bell to hold out through the summer before returning in time for Week 1.

The New England Patriots are without both Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski, something that has fans in Beantown a bit ruffled. Brady has always reported for voluntary workouts, so this is a departure from his normal routine. There seems to be discontent in Foxborough, something detailed beautifully by Seth Wickersham of ESPN in January.

With Brady at 41, Bill Belichick as the league’s second-oldest coach and Gronkowski very releasable after this season, the Patriots might soon have a very different look.

The Los Angeles Rams and Dallas Cowboys are missing stars in the trenches, with Aaron Donald and Zack Martin holding out. Both are in the final years of their rookie deals, and while each will eventually be paid handsomely, this is the right move. Make sure to get your money before a freak injury can derail a life-altering contract.

A couple of other players angling for new deals including Oakland’s Khalil Mack and Falcons’ star Julio Jones. Mack, like Donald and Martin, is playing on an expiring rookie deal and will soon be looking at $20+ million per year. Jones has a contract that runs through 2020, including a total of $39.2 million remaining.

Lastly, the one big-name not holding out? Odell Beckham. The New York Giants had to be relieved to see Beckham in the Meadowlands, running around with his teammates. New York has a serious decision to make after this year with Beckham set to hit the market.

2. Chargers lose Hunter Henry for season

Last week, I led this column talking about the Los Angeles Chargers. The piece read that 2018 was their best chance, maybe their last chance, to make a real push in the AFC as currently constructed. Only days later, the Chargers sustained the NFL’s first big loss of the year, with tight end Hunter Henry tearing his ACL in practice.

With Henry done, Los Angeles is already dealing with the all-too-famiilar injury bug. The Chargers will now rely more on Keenan Allen in the passing game, who is both spectacular and oft-injured. Perhaps Los Angeles will also revisit the idea of bringing Antonio Gates back into the fold, despite the first-ballot Hall of Famer being little more than a red zone threat at this juncture.

3. Panthers sale provides much-needed fresh start

On Tuesday at the NFL owners meetings, the league officially approved the sale of the Carolina Panthers from Jerry Richardson to David Tepper. Tepper, who had previously been a minority owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers, bought the Panthers for a record sum of $2.2 billion.

Still, the overriding storyline going forward isn’t the sale price or even the new owner’s name. The main ideal is moving ahead and learning from the mistakes of the previous regime. Tepper has a lot of damage within his new franchise to undo, ranging from Richardson’s alleged sexual harassment to the comments made by head coach Ron Rivera in the aftermath.

Hopefully Tepper can change the culture, and make the Panthers a destination franchise for all.

4. Jets somehow get a draft pick for Christian Hackenberg

In 2016, I was in downtown Chicago, covering the NFL Draft for FanSided. The New York Jets were on the clock for the 51st-overall pick, and then they selected Christian Hackenberg out of Penn State. The media room erupted in laughter and gasps. As it turns out, that was a perfect microcosm of Hackenberg’s career with the Jets.

New York finally gave up on the former Nittany Lion, trading Hackenberg to the Oakland Raiders for a conditional seventh-round pick in 2019. Only 23 years old, head coach Jon Gruden believes he can develop Hackenberg, who never threw a single pass for New York in his two seasons there.

Frankly, if Gruden can make Hackenberg even an average backup quarterback, he deserves a gold jacket.

5. Nick Foles spurned Browns to stay with Eagles

Nick Foles reportedly could have started for the Cleveland Browns instead of likely sitting behind Carson Wentz come Week 1 for the Philadelphia Eagles. Cleveland offered the 35th-overall pick in April’s draft, only to be denied after Foles told general manager Howie Roseman that he didn’t want to make the move.

Instead of landing Foles, the Browns ended up with Tyrod Taylor in a deal that sent a third-round choice to the Buffalo Bills. Taylor, much like Foles would have done, is providing a bridge to Baker Mayfield.

This might have been a genius move by Foles, who is a free agent after this year. If he bombed in Cleveland — which seemingly every quarterback has since Bernie Kosar — his value would have decreased. Instead, he maintains his value by either playing on a loaded Eagles team, or by waiting  one more season out behind Wentz.

History lesson

The American Football League was comprised of eight teams during its first season of 1960. The league would add two more clubs prior to the AFL-NFL merger in 1970, with the Miami Dolphins coming in 1966 and the Cincinnati Bengals being born in 1968.

Neither club would wait long for success. The Dolphins became the first team to reach three straight Super Bowls, doing so from ’71-73 including a pair of titles. Cincinnati was the fastest expansion team to win its division, taking the newly-minted AFC North in 1970 with an 8-6 record before losing in the AFC playoffs to the Baltimore Colts.

Of course, the Dolphins had the greatest achievement of all in 1972, going undefeated for the league’s only perfect season. Miami capped the campaign with a 14-7 victory over the Washington Redskins.

Parting shot

I’m on vacation this Memorial Day weekend, and I wanted to take a moment to think about those who made the greatest sacrifice in the name of America.

Yes, this country has problems. It can’t get out of its way when it comes to race and gender equality. Kids are getting mowed down by guns at school one day after the next, and nobody in a position of power seems to give a damn. The list is a long one.

Still, it remains an amazing place. People around the globe pray that one day they will get to cal this wonderful country home, giving them a chance to live out their dreams.

And that’s what America is at its core; it’s a dream. It’s the dream that you can do anything if you want it bad enough. It’s the dream that regardless of color, gender, religion or creed, you have a chance to make a success of yourself.

This country will always represent the idea of hope, and that is due in large part to the who laid their lives on the line from the current conflict, all the way back to the Revolutionary War. There were the founding fathers and the abolition of slavery, the Greatest Generation and the Vietnam vets.

When you are grilling on Monday, hanging out with friends and cracking open a cold one, enjoy it. Live it up. Just remember that our freedom wasn’t a given. It was fought for, and in many cases, died for.



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