Every NFL season brings with it outliers who far exceed expectations or disappoint miserably. With the futures odds set for the 2021-22 NFL season, we examine that broad range of possibilities for the Jacksonville Jaguars.
When Last We Met
While 2020 was a poor season for Jacksonville in the standings, the record helped net them Trevor Lawrence with the top pick in the NFL Draft, a player many consider a generational talent at quarterback.
After a 6-10 season in 2019, expectations weren’t too high for the Jaguars, but 2020 went about as poorly as possible from a win/loss standpoint.
After winning the opening game of the season against Indianapolis, Jacksonville dropped 15 straight games en route to a 1-15 record, the worst record in franchise history. Jacksonville ended the year with a -186 point differential, better than only the New York Jets, who finished -214.
The Jaguars’ season was clearly more invested in besting the aforementioned Jets for the worst record in the NFL. Lawrence was the prize for failure, and both teams visibly wanted the rights to bring him aboard.
The efforts to snag Lawrence were made clear based on the most important position in football. Gardner Minshew started nine games at quarterback and Mike Glennon started five. This combination of quarterbacks tipped Jacksonville’s hand for 2020: the aim was to lose as much as possible. This quarterback group was just one of many reasons for such a poor season. Minshew led the team in passing, throwing 16 touchdowns to five interceptions.
Pro Football Focus graded the Jacksonville offense 29th in the NFL and its defense an identical 29th.
James Robinson led the team in rushing, a rare bright spot. He finished with 1,070 yards rushing and seven touchdowns.
DJ Chark led the team in receiving, hauling in 53 balls for 706 yards and five touchdowns.
No one on the defense exceeded 5.5 sacks and no defensive back had more than two interceptions.
The Jaguars finished in last place in the AFC South and had the worst overall record in the NFL. Still, as mentioned above, the rights to the top pick in the draft netted Clemson’s Lawrence in the draft.
Lawrence has been pegged as the potential top pick in the 2021 draft since he was a freshman in college, and the Jaguars now have their guy as they begin a fresh era.
To Miss the Playoffs (-400)
It’s not hard to imagine a scenario where Jacksonville misses the playoffs. Since reaching the AFC Championship Game back in 2017, the Jaguars have missed the playoffs in three straight seasons, finishing last in the AFC South each year. Only three teams have worse odds to make the playoffs, those being the Houston Texans, Detroit Lions and New York Jets.
Coming off a 1-15 season, things can’t get much worse for Jacksonville, and the presence of Lawrence and new coach Urban Meyer should make the Jaguars a bit more competitive. Still, this is a team with a young passer, first-time NFL head coach, and a young nucleus on both sides of the ball.
Lawrence is the favorite to win Rookie of the Year and seems destined for a strong professional career, but it’s going to take time for him to get acclimated to the NFL.
Jacksonville graded out as one of the worst offenses and defenses in the league in 2020, and there’s work to be done to shore up each position group.
Also, going against Jacksonville is the top-heavy division they’re in and a conference with plenty of strong teams vying for the seven playoff spots.
Both the Tennessee Titans and Indianapolis Colts made the playoffs in 2020 and seem built to make another postseason run in 2021. Playing each of these teams twice and competing for a division title is a tall task for such a young team.
With so many quality teams in the conference, and Jacksonville is far more likely to be picking first overall again than clinching a Wild Card berth. As such, Jacksonville missing the playoffs in 2021 would not be a surprise. In fact, it’s an assumed outcome.
The Jaguars, along with everyone in the AFC South, have a tough schedule in 2021. For starters, the division will face off against the NFC West, the consensus toughest division in the league.
The NFC West had two playoff teams in 2020 in the Seattle Seahawks and Los Angeles Rams. The San Francisco 49ers suffered a rash of injuries but return much of the core that brought them to the Super Bowl in 2019, while the Arizona Cardinals are a team on the rise.
The Jaguars also draw the AFC East, with the Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins, New England Patriots and Jets. The Jets aren’t overly menacing, but the Bills went 13-3 in 2020, the Dolphins went 10-6 and the Patriots will always remain a threat as long as Bill Belichick is running the show.
The 2021 campaign is setting up as another sub-.500 season for the Jaguars.
Pro Football Focus graded the Jaguars’ pass-rush 28th in the NFL, and their coverage graded out 31st. We’ll touch on how the team addressed both problem areas in a moment, but if you can’t get to the quarterback or stop the passing game in this league, you’re not going to win.
Jacksonville will need to see a lot of improvement from these units moving forward, and expectations should remain low.
To Make the Playoffs (+300)
So, what would it take for Jacksonville to defy the odds and make the playoffs? For starters, Lawrence would need to have a historic rookie season.
“Trevor’s got a once in a generation arm.”@Jaguars LB Joe Schobert told us last week what stands out to him about QB Trevor Lawrence.
— SiriusXM NFL Radio (@SiriusXMNFL) July 6, 2021
Going in Jacksonville’s favor is the intriguing group of skill-position players on offense. The team drafted Clemson star running back Travis Etienne in the first round, who is projected to do a bit of everything out of the backfield.
The wide receiver group has potential with Chark, Laviska Shenault and Marvin Jones. Undrafted running back Robinson, coming off a breakout season, will also remain in the mix.
For all of Jacksonville’s shortcomings in 2020, its offensive line at least trended toward the average side for the league. The expectation is that second-round rookie offensive tackle Walker Little can come in and compete for the starting right tackle spot.
Retaining star left tackle Cam Robinson was a big win for Jacksonville this offseason, as protecting Lawrence’s blind side is imperative to his success and longevity in this league.
The Jaguars had a lot of cap room heading into this offseason and they certainly spent it. Jacksonville invested serious resources into the defensive side of the ball, signing cornerbacks Shaq Griffin and Jamal Agnew, along with drafting another corner, Tyson Campbell, in the second round.
Rounding out the secondary additions were safety Rayshawn Jenkins in free agency and Andre Cisco in the third round of the draft.
Significant money and resources were also poured into the defensive line. New additions include Roy Robertson-Harris, Malcolm Brown, Jihad Ward and a few mid-round draft picks.
If Lawrence has no growing pains and the defense can improve, Jacksonville can be competitive in 2021.
Lawrence has the blend of size, mobility, strength, accuracy and football IQ that a team covets in a franchise quarterback. Lawrence led Clemson to a national championship in his freshman season and guided the Tigers to the title game as a sophomore.
His college credentials and his abilities as a five-star player are everything you want in a young QB. The last player to be unanimously projected as the top pick was Andrew Luck in 2012. While Luck’s career was shortened due to injuries, there is no doubt he was a dynamic star.
Jacksonville is hoping for the same outcome, plus more seasons, out of its new quarterback.
To Win the AFC South (+900)
Jacksonville’s odds to win the AFC South are not high, flanked only by the abysmal Houston Texans, who have +1800 odds to win the division in light of the Deshaun Watson mess.
The Jaguars seem ready to be competitive in 2021 and improve on their lone win from last season, but it’s too much to expect them to win the AFC South.
Tennessee has made the playoffs in each of the last two seasons and added star wide receiver Julio Jones to round out a loaded offensive attack. An offense consisting of Derrick Henry and AJ Brown, and now Jones, is going to be incredibly difficult to stop.
Indianapolis has an elite offensive line, strong defense and playmakers. The addition of quarterback Carson Wentz will be interesting to study, but even average play from Wentz should be enough for the Colts to improve on their 11-5 record from 2020.
The Jaguars win this division if their defense takes a mammoth leap from 2020. Attempting to solve your team’s problems with lots of free agents is a risky strategy, but we’ve seen it pay off from time to time.
Jacksonville’s new additions will need to prove they’re worth the money and solidify a shaky unit.
In 2020, Jacksonville went 1-5 in the AFC South, with the lone win coming against the Colts in Week 1. The struggles in the division go further than just 2020. In 2019, the Jaguars went 2-4 in the division, and in 2018, the team finished divisional play with a record of 1-5.
It feels like the Jaguars are a year away from truly being competitive in this division.
To Win the AFC (+4000)
Jacksonville’s odds to win the AFC are better than only the Bengals, Jets and Texans. There are too many strong teams in the AFC to reasonably expect the Jaguars to somehow make the Super Bowl.
Beyond the division rivals we’ve touched upon, the AFC has the juggernaut Kansas City Chiefs, who have made two straight Super Bowls. The Buffalo Bills made the AFC Championship Game in 2020 and seem to just be getting started.
The Baltimore Ravens and Cleveland Browns both are projected for strong seasons, and expectations are also high for teams like the Los Angeles Chargers, Denver Broncos and Dolphins.
Lawrence may take his spot among the NFL’s best quarterbacks sooner before later, but don’t bank on his rise happening in his first season.
To Win the Super Bowl (+6600)
A scenario that saw Jacksonville raise the Lombardi Trophy in February would require an MVP season from Lawrence as a rookie, Meyer immediately translating his college success to the pros, and the rest of the team catapulting from the league’s basement to among the best in the NFL.
This seems unlikely, and the +6600 odds from the online sportsbook back up the claim.