The Jacksonville Jaguars (-165) are clear favorites in the preseason AFC South odds at DraftKings Sportsbook. That is no surprise, as the Jags are coming off an encouraging season and are projected to be the best team in the league’s worst division.
Jacksonville won a playoff game last season and stood up to the Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC Divisional Round. Inside its organization, there is likely heavy internal optimism that the team could push for a deeper playoff run in 2023.
Are the Jaguars, who made an amazing jump from three wins to a division title last season, poised to be a true contender in the AFC this season?
Below, I provide reasons why Jacksonville can and cannot threaten the conference’s traditional powers, such as the Chiefs and Buffalo Bills in 2023, and deliver an ultimate conclusion and season projection.
5 Reasons Why the Jaguars Can Compete for the AFC Championship
- They can because of the head coach: Doug Pederson is obviously a recent Super Bowl winner, and his instant rebuild of the clubhouse vibe and team chemistry while elevating the offense was a marvelous work of coaching art to behold. His goals are certainly higher in 2023.
- They can because of the quarterback: Trevor Lawrence made major strides in Year 2 under Pederson and his assistants. The talent is undeniable, and he has a terrific staff to guide him and a deep array of weaponry to work with.
- They can because of the defense: Jacksonville was sixth in the NFL last season with 27 takeaways. Bigger seasons from pass-rushers Travon Walker and Josh Allen can boost a unit that also features stout defensive lineman DaVon Hamilton, tackling machine Foyesade Oluokun, and standout cornerback Tyson Campbell.
- They can because of Calvin Ridley: The former Falcon was a second-team All-Pro as recently as 2020, and he has already caught nine-plus TD passes in two of four seasons. He is being touted as the true No. 1 wide receiver that is the new kingpin of a deep pass-catching crew.
- They can because of the offensive personnel: Ridley joins a receiver group that includes Christian Kirk, Zay Jones, and Evan Engram, who are coming off career years as pass-catchers. Running back Travis Etienne averaged 5.1 yards per carry and rookies Tank Bigsby (running back) and Brenton Strange (tight end) provide even more playmaking depth to a well-stocked bunch.
5 Reasons Why the Jaguars Can’t Compete for the AFC Championship
- They can’t because the team is still likely a year away: The Jaguars took a major leap from a complete mess to a playoff noisemaker last year and bowed out in respectable fashion. Becoming a winner was admirable, but another next-level jump to join the elite teams in the conference cannot necessarily be expected because the Jaguars executed a marvelous turnaround to respectability last year.
- They can’t because of the defense: Overall, the unit ranked 24th in the NFL last season and was 26th in sacks with 34. The defense didn’t make any significant additions in the offseason to improve the outlook.
- They can’t because of Calvin Ridley: Ridley has not played in an NFL game since Oct. 2021, and he should not be expected to be an instant and huge difference-maker. Getting back into game shape can take some time, and it remains uncertain how much of his best form he will be able to recapture by the playoffs.
- They can’t because of the competition: The Jaguars still have much to prove when it comes to being on the level of the Chiefs and Bills, or the Cincinnati Bengals. The New York Jets and Miami Dolphins certainly look improved and are better on defense than Jacksonville. The Baltimore Ravens should also be more balanced on offense and defense, and even the Browns might exceed expectations.
- They can’t because the odds say so: The Jaguars have the seventh-best odds to win the AFC at +1200. Jacksonville’s skill position depth chart on offense is impressive, but there are concerns about the offensive line and other top contenders appear stronger on defense.
Jacksonville Jaguars Season Outlook 2023
I am going to say no, the Jaguars are not on the same shelf as the conference’s top teams, and may be shoved aside by the likes of the Jets, Dolphins, or Ravens this year. This team deservedly earned a lot of respect last season, but due to their surprising postseason performance, the Jaguars will now command more respect and won’t sneak up on anyone.
Opponents are going to regard Jacksonville as a formidable foe and prepare well for it after getting more film last year. In 2022, the “new” Jaguars started to roll after the bye, winning six of their final seven regular-season games, and they were just starting to establish themselves.
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Jacksonville vaulted from the bottom to the playoffs last year, but now the team is regarded as a winner. Where it came from to get to such status will no longer be relevant this season, and ascending to even higher levels may prove difficult.
I can see the Jaguars getting to the divisional round again while maintaining the level of success they had last season, but it may take another year before Jacksonville rises to higher tiers of contention. The Jaguars are well-coached and have a rising star QB with many playmakers, but the franchise’s rebuild to join the AFC’s elite is still in progress and the team’s likely ceiling is how far it went last season.