Off the back of the 2021 schedule release, I can’t be the only fan who goes through each team and painstakingly maps each game and marks it down as a W or L. I’ll look at what players might have a good season for fantasy, what coaches could be on the hot seat come the off-season and most importantly who could be making up the playoff bracket in January. Of course, it is impossible to predict and Week 1 usually acts as a bring-back-to-earth moment for me and my predictions but it’s still undoubtedly fun to look ahead and peer into what the season might hold for our AFC South teams. Let’s start with a look at the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Easiest Win- Week 1 @ Texans
Like a lot of teams all over the league, it is absolutely critical for the Jaguars to get off to a good start this season. Firstly, they are in a top-heavy division and will need to apply the maximum amount of pressure early on to Tennessee and Indianapolis if they are to stand any chance of competing. Secondly, they are a relatively inexperienced NFL team in some major departments- particularly with new coach Urban Meyer and Trevor Lawrence. A rocky start after all the pre-season hype and this is a season that could start to go downhill quickly after week 1.
Of course, none of this should worry any Jaguars as the football gods have handed them the tastiest of all cupcakes in the form of soon-to-be league punching bag, the Houston Texans. Now having a game in week 1 that everyone and I do mean everyone expects you to win is actually a poison chalice- if you win easily it will be “Well done you beat Tyrod Taylor, have a cookie” and if you lose, it’s all the more humiliating for all involved. I’m fairly confident however that the two games against the Texans will be the easiest of the season for the Jaguars, and I expect Lawrence most of all to set out his stall early and announce his arrival to the rest of the league.
Toughest Game- Week 13 @ Rams
This was actually a tough choice for what would be the toughest game in the schedule because boy there are some bad matchups for the Jags. Like just look at this mid-season schedule which begins after their week 7 bye- @Seahawks, v Bills, @Colts, v 49ers, v Falcons, @Rams, @Titans…yikes. Coming out of that stretch with anything more than a single win would be a massive bonus for the Jaguars. The Rams are a bad matchup for the Jags. I know that the last thing any rookie QB wants to see is Aaron Donald ripping through your left tackle. Add into that the Rams stingy defensive backfield and this game could be a really tough one for Lawrence and his under-powered offense.
Most Interesting Matchup- Week 16 @ Jets
This game might not sound like a humdinger were it not for the simple reason that last season was a race to the bottom between the Jags and Jets for a chance to pick up Lawrence. Now I know Jets fans have moved on by now and are very happy with BYU QB Zach Wilson, but I’m genuinely curious about how this matchup will look. Firstly, it’s taking place in week 16 so we’ll have known for a while what sort of teams we are dealing with here and more importantly we’ll have received a glimpse at what our rookie QB’s are both capable of. Secondly, we have two rookie coaches on opposing sides of the field. Will Meyer be able to recreate his Ohio State success, and will Robert Saleh be able to translate his success on the west coast to a team as dysfunctional as the Jets? Finally, what happens if the Jags march into the Meadowlands and put an absolute beatdown on the Jets (Personally I find this outcome unlikely), however I would be fascinated to see the reaction of NY fans either way. They either come out having more faith than ever in Wilson or sink ever deeper into misery knowing that they screwed up the chance to take a once in a generation QB.
Make or Break Period – Weeks 1-4 (@Texans, vs Broncos, vs Cardinals, @Bengals)
We’ve already alluded to the importance of the Jags Week 1 matchup against the Texans, but it’s only the beginning of a run that will probably decide how their season is going to fare. No team in this 4-week period had a winning record in 2020 and the two toughest matchups on paper are at home. Both matchups against the Broncos and Cardinals are difficult but in different ways. The Broncos boast one of the league’s toughest matchups defensively and the Cardinals have Kyler Murray who can light up any secondary, a position where the Jags look shaky at best. While tough matchups, neither are insurmountable. Finally, week 4 will see Burrow and Lawrence face off again, this time in very different surroundings and with very different teams. If I were Urban Meyer, at the very worst I would want to be leaving this four-game stretch with 2 wins and if Lawrence can truly change this team, then we could be looking at 3 or 4.
· 8 games against teams below .500 in 2020 (Texans x 2, Broncos, Bengals, 49ers, Falcons, Jets, Patriots)
· 9 games against teams .500 or above in 2020 (Cardinals, Titans x2, Dolphins, Seahawks, Bills, Colts x2, Rams)
· Week 7 bye
· Only 2 road games in the first 7 weeks (Texans, Bengals)
· 4 road games between weeks 13-17 (Rams, Titans, Jets, Patriots)
No matter how you look at it, this is a tough schedule for the Jags. The first 4 weeks or so will define how their season will look and ultimately they will be judged on how they handle the Texans and Bengals of the world rather than the Rams, Seahawks, and 49ers. There are some favourable matchups however the stretch I highlighted above facing 3 of the NFC West teams would put even the league’s strongest teams to the test.