Are the Jaguars poised to win the AFC South again in 2023?

JACKSONVILLE, Florida. The impressive career turnaround for the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2022 and a fair amount of uncertainty about their divisional rivals in 2023 indicate the Jaguars could be the team that wins the AFC South next season. much longer.

The Jaguars have two of the most important ingredients for success: franchise quarterback Trevor Lawrence and one of the best players in the NFL, and Super Bowl-winning head coach Doug Pederson. Add to that young talent in key offensive and defensive positions, and an owner willing to spend money, and the Jaguars will be AFC South’s favorites for the next few seasons.

“Look at our foundation,” Lawrence said. “We just have a very consistent coach and quarterback, key offensive players, key defensive players. Obviously, everything will change from year to year, but this is the most important thing. The chemistry we’ve built this season is really huge.”

Lawrence finished his second season as one of only nine quarterbacks to throw for at least 4,000 yards, 10th in the NFL in passer rankings and completed 66.3% of his passes. From a 9–18 week that coincided with the Jaguars’ rise from a 2–6 start to a 9–8 record, he was second in the league in passer rating and completion percentage.

He rallied the Jaguars 17 points behind against the Las Vegas Raiders and Dallas Cowboys, beat the Baltimore Ravens with a TD pass and a two-point pass 14 seconds into the game, and overcame four first-half interceptions and a 27- 0. deficit to lead the Jaguars to a 31-30 victory over the Los Angeles Chargers in a wildcard game.

Pederson, who led the Philadelphia Eagles to Super Bowl victory after the 2017 season, has restored confidence in the Jaguars locker room. He treated the players the same way he had during his five-year tenure as head coach of the Eagles: with respect. He also made sure he was consistent in his message and conduct.

Players say this was a big factor why they were able to bounce back from a 0-5 record in October, beat the Tennessee Titans in Week 18 to win their first division title since 2017, beat the Chargers in the playoffs and have a chance to upset the Chiefs Kansas City in the divisional round.

“He grabs his players for sure,” tight end Evan Engram said. “You will find other gear when you have a trainer like this.”

Lawrence and Pederson explain why things might be different than last time, when the Jaguars won the division and were considered one of the favorites to win the Super Bowl next season.

The 2017 Jaguars had one of the best defenses in the league — they scored seven touchdowns and finished second in the NFL with 55 sacks and 21 interceptions — but the offense was built on running play and rookie Leonard Furnette. Blake Bortles had 21 touchdown passes and 13 interceptions and played well in key moments, most notably in the division playoff win at Pittsburgh, but he wasn’t an elite quarterback and that showed in 2018 when he had 13 touchdown passes and 11 interceptions. . and ended up on the bench. The 2018 team also suffered from injuries, especially in the offensive line, where they had four starting players at tackle points, and the starting left back and center were substitutes at the end of the season.

The current Jaguars may not have the same elite defensive talent as the 2017 team — six players made the Pro Bowl and two were on the All-Pro first team — but they have much better offensive talent, especially wide receivers Christian Kirk ( 84 catches for 1,108 yards and eight touchdowns – all career highs) and Zay Jones (82 catches for 823 yards, both career highs) and running back Travis Etienne Jr. (1,125 yards and five touchdowns after he missed the rookie season in 2021 due to Lisfranc’s injury).

The Jaguars have four major hurdles—pass rush, red zone production, tight end, and salary cap—and how well they are handled this offseason will play a big role in whether they can take control of the division. .

The Jaguars finished third in the NFL with 209 pressings (according to NFL Next Gen stats), but they only had 35 sacks, which equals They need more from outside linebacker Josh Allen, who has had 7 and 7.5 sacks in the past two seasons, and outside linebacker Travon Walker. Walker was selected No. 1 overall and had just 3.5 sacks in 2022. Guard Davuan Smoot has been the Jaguars’ most consistent pass rusher in the past four seasons (22.5 sacks), but he’s coming off a torn Achilles and set to be a free agent. Guard Arden Key had 4.5 sacks in 2022 but is also a free agent. Young pass rushers (Ki 27) are usually heavily harassed, so he may be out of the Jaguars’ price zone.

In the red zone, the Jaguars shot 53.4% ​​of possession, below the league average of 56.1%. Eight of the top 10 teams by redzone touchdown percentage have qualified for the playoffs in 2022.

Luke Farrell is the only tight end on the roster with a 2023 contract. Re-signing Angram, who set single-season franchise records for tight ends in catches and receiving yards in 2022, should be the No. 1 team’s priority. The team may also use the franchise tag. The return of blocking tight end Chris Manhertz depends on how much interest he generates from other teams.

The Jaguars are $31.5 million over the salary cap but can free up significant space by releasing a few players, most notably cornerback Shaquille Griffin ($13.1 million in savings) and restructuring others to push some of the ceiling’s limits into future.

Even with these key issues, the Jaguars are in much better shape than the other three teams in the division.

The Houston Texans and Indianapolis Colts averaged just 17 points per game last season (30 points per game).th) are looking for quarterbacks and will have new head coaches. Texans who averaged 283.5 yards per game (31st.) have the second overall pick, so they are guaranteed to get one of the best quarterbacks in the Bryce Young, CJ Stroud And

Will Lewis. Indianapolis could go the veteran route (again), use the fourth pick on the quarterback, or try to trade the Chicago Bears for first overall to get the rookie they crave.

The Titans ended the 2022 season with seven straight losses, the second-longest losing streak of the Titans era (beginning in 1997). Quarterback Ryan Tannehill enters the final year of his contract, and rookie QB Malik Willis struggled in his three starts when Tannehill was injured: 51% completions, 234 yards, three interceptions. The team traded wide receiver AJ Brown in the first round of the 2022 draft, which played a big role in GM John Robinson being fired during the season. Robert Woods has caught 53 passes in 2022 but will have 31 in April, and first-round pick Trailon Burks has only caught more than four passes in a game once.

Running back Derrick Henry led the NFL in carry for the third time in four seasons and turned 29 in January. How long can he keep up this pace and bear the onslaught of the Titans?

So, barring something out of the ordinary — like injuries to a few key players — the Jaguars have a chance to control the division for a while, and Lawrence knows it.

“The stability that we have, I think, sets us up for a big window to work for many years to come.”


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