It all begins Sunday at 1 pm when the Jaguars and Panthers take the field at EverBank Field and the regular season finally gets underway.
Coming into this season the expectations for Jacksonville aren’t very high.
Just get better and continue to develop into a winning team. Nobody other than Shad Khan really knows how much better the team will have to do for Gus Bradley to keep his job in 2016, but for now…it’s time to focus on the Carolina Panthers.
Cam Newton and the Panthers come into 2015 as the defending NFC South Division Champions, but have a lot to prove.
The Panthers edged out the Saints in what was a pretty pathetic NFC South in 2014 with just a 7-8-1 record. To add to the chip on the Panthers’ shoulders as a team, Cam Newton’s chip comes with a few added hurdles. Most notably the loss of rising superstar receiver Kelvin Benjamin.
In the 2014 season, Benjamin’s rookie year, the 6′ 5″ former Seminoles stand-out caught 73 passes for 1,008 yards and 9 touchdowns. That sort of safety net is very difficult to replace for a quarterback, and leaves Newton behind the eight ball entering the season.
That being said, the Jacksonville defense will still have to stay on their toes this Sunday afternoon.
The Panthers didn’t have a fantastic offense in 2014, but they were ranked 19th. The Jags defense was ranked 26th, and 27th against the run alone. Carolina will run the ball a ton in this game, and not just with straight hand-offs.
With Newton’s ability to get out and scramble, the Jacksonville defense will have to be sure to keep him from getting the edge and burning them with his legs. This is something I anticipate him doing more this year with the loss of Benjamin.
Offensively, the Jags will have another uphill battle.
Jacksonville ended 2014 with the worst team offense in football. They allowed 71 sacks and were only able to compile 4,634 total yards on the season. For reference, in 2011 Drew Brees, Tom Brady and Matt Stafford all threw for over 5,000 yards on their own. Brees has actually done it four times.
The keys to success are pretty obvious for the Jags. Protect Blake Bortles, and find some sort of running attack.
This should be a bit easier with rookie TJ Yeldon leading the charge and Denard Robinson’s versatile role behind him, but it still falls on that same offensive line that allowed 71 sacks in 2014. The line has had another year to mesh and did look better in the preseason, but it is just the preseason.
Another setback for the Jags is obviously the loss of their biggest off-season acquisition Julius Thomas, who has been ruled out for Sunday’s opener. This makes veteran Marcedes Lewis the main Tight End target for Bortles along with Allen Robinson, Allen Hurns as the lead receiving targets as Marquise Lee looking like he’ll be a game-time decision.
To supplant the absence of Thomas, Bortles will have to utilize his running back check downs and with Robinson’s ability to make plays out of the backfield that might not be too difficult…but again, it only works if the offensive line does their job.
I see a breakout game for Blake Bortles and the Jags offense…but unfortunately I think it comes up just a bit short as the defense may struggle to contain Cam Newton or slow the Panthers’ rushing attack. I think the game starts out very slowly in the first half, but picks up in the second as both offenses get more comfortable.
Final Score: 28-24 Panthers.
I’m going to also predict that Bortles throws for 300 yards and 3 TDs and even though moral victories are garbage this game will be a positive sign for the future of the Jaguars and a huge step forward for Gus Bradley to work with.
Any and all feedback welcomed! Get me on Twitter (@Ditti33) or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org!