The Jacksonville Jaguars are not going to win the Super Bowl this season; they probably won’t even make the playoffs or even finish with a winning record. But as they enter the second year of a colossal rebuilding effort undertaken by general manager Dave Caldwell and coach Gus Bradley, the key for the Jaguars will be progression.
The Jaguars finished with a record of just 4-12 in their first year under Bradley, but showed improvement towards the end of last season, going 4-4 in the final eight games. The goal for 2014 will be to continue to build on that late season success.
The Jaguars open the regular season with a rather difficult five-game stretch that includes games against three playoff teams from last season in the Philadelphia Eagles, Indianapolis Colts and San Diego Chargers. However, a Week 2 meeting with the Washington Redskins on the road and a Week 5 home game against the Pittsburgh Steelers are winnable games. It is not inconceivable for the Jaguars to be 2-3 or potentially 3-2 heading into Week 6 if they can pull off a couple of upsets.
The next five-game stretch features road games against the Tennessee Titans and Cincinnati Bengals, as well as home games against the Cleveland Browns and Miami Dolphins, and ends with a trip to London to take on the Dallas Cowboys. The Titans are a division rival the Jaguars always play tough, while the Bengals, a playoff team from a year ago, could be tough to beat on the road. The Browns could be starting quarterback Johnny Manziel by this point in the season, and the Dolphins are a talented team that underachieved last season. The Cowboys are the most unpredictable team in the league. Again, the Jaguars could come away with two or three wins out of this stretch.
It is important not to overlook the Jaguars’ bye in Week 11. Following the bye, four of the team’s final six games are against a divisional opponent, starting with a road game against the Colts in Week 12. Depending on where they stand in the division, this would be a logical point in the season for the Jaguars to consider making a switch at quarterback from Chad Henne to Blake Bortles, if it hasn’t already happened.
After playing the Colts, the Jaguars return home to take on the New York Giants and Houston Texans in consecutive weeks. They follow that up with a road game against the Baltimore Ravens. Then there is a quick turnaround for a Thursday night home game with the Titans, and then the team wraps up the season on the road against the Texans. By this point, the Jaguars will likely be out of contention for a playoff spot and will have handed the keys off to the rookie Bortles.
With an influx of talent to the roster, the Jaguars should continue to show improvement not just in their play on the field, but in the win-loss column as well. It is not out of the question for this team to finish the season with a record of 6-10 or even 7-9. For Caldwell and Bradley, this rebuild has always been a three-year process, so if the team can continue to progress, they should be set up to contend for a playoff spot in 2015.