The Jacksonville Jaguars are in the playoffs for the first time in a decade. A 45-7 beatdown of the Houston Texans in Week 15 clinched the team its first berth in the postseason since 2007, even if losses in the last two weeks took a little shine off the crown.
Still, the last time Jacksonville won a division title was 1999 when it topped the AFC Central.
The rest of the AFC field will feature many of the familiar faces of the last 10 years. Namely, it’s the Pittsburgh Steelers and New England Patriots who grabbed the top two spots in the conference and earned first-round byes.
The Jaguars are a fresh addition, but they’re more than just that. They’re the NFL’s annoying swarm of gnats pissing off every opponent on the schedule — and they may be the most fun team in the league.
The Jaguars have been fighting everybody
The Jaguars took back the AFC South lead from the Titans with a 30-24 win against the Seattle Seahawks in Week 14. The crucial victory left little doubt that the Jaguars are a legitimate contender, but it was also marred by an ugly, chaotic ending.
Jacksonville just needed to kneel out the clock on the win, but both attempts by Blake Bortles to take a knee ended with scuffles. Ultimately, when the dust cleared, two Seahawks players were ejected and several fines were dished out later in the week.
That chaos came about a month after Jaguars cornerback Jalen Ramsey and Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green got into one of the most unhinged fights of the season.
Ramsey spent most of the game talking trash and taunting Green until the Bengals’ wide receiver snapped and punched the Jaguars’ cornerback.
“I told him almost every play that he was weak, that he was soft,” Ramsey later told reporters. “Them is straight facts. He just couldn’t handle the truth. ... I told him that it was easy, which it was. He had one catch for six yards.”
The melee between Green and Ramsey garnered so much attention that the Pittsburgh Steelers even used it as inspiration for a touchdown celebration.
So what’s the Jaguars’ problem?
For one, there’s definitely a chip on the shoulder of a team that spent the entire Obama presidency as a doormat and a joke for other teams. Just listen to second-year defensive end Yannick Ngakoue, who took offense to Seahawks defensive lineman Michael Bennett saying in the offseason that games against the Jaguars are usually decided by 50 points:
louder for the folks in the back pic.twitter.com/i9YZOjj2HQ— MadeByTim (@MadeByTim) December 11, 2017
Ramsey, another second-year player who went through a 3-13 season a year ago, was miffed by the suggestion that the Jaguars should treat the Seahawks game as a huge opportunity to take down a power.
“We were sorry last year, but we’re not this year,” Ramsey said. “We ain’t talking about last year.”
But the Jaguars didn’t actually start those fights. The push from Ramsey that set off Green was the kind of thing that happens several times in a football game. Against Seattle, Jacksonville was just trying to kneel out the clock.
The better question is what are the Jaguars doing that’s pissing every other team off?
Jacksonville aims to get under your skin
Just winning after years of being terrible is a formula that can frustrate opponents.
There’s a little more frustration that comes with losing to a team that has struggled forever like the Browns than there is after a loss to a perennial contender like the Patriots.
Blake Bortles on recent games being chippy.— Brian Chojnacki (@BroadcastingBri) December 11, 2017
“Teams aren’t used to getting beat by the Jags. We beat the crap out of them for 60 minutes.” #Jaguars
It’s probably what Jadeveon Clowney was so annoyed about after losing to the Jaguars by 38 points:
Jadeveon Clowney was asked if Blake Bortles is improving his reply 'He's trash'— Aaron Wilson (@AaronWilson_NFL) December 17, 2017
Jaguars fans responded by shipping trash cans to NRG Stadium in Houston, addressed to the Texans defensive end.
“I’m done with the Jaguars. Don’t ask me no Jaguars questions. Any more questions?” Clowney told reporters later in the week.
The Jaguars are also just uniquely annoying. On offense, Jacksonville runs the ball more than any other team and aims to score points via mauling. On the other side of the ball, the Jaguars thrive on forcing negative plays for opponents. Only the Steelers finished the 2017 season with more sacks, only the Ravens forced more turnovers, and only the Vikings allowed fewer points.
They’re the bullies of the NFL, and no player embodies that role more than Ramsey, who talks trash to the receiver he’s facing after ... Every. Single. Damn. Play. It’s no wonder Green, a usually reserved and quiet receiver, lost his cool.
Jalen Ramsey on AJ Green pic.twitter.com/UoLHECdlDh— Samoan Grand Champion (@PrinceMarcus_25) November 8, 2017
They’ll suffocate you on defense, slowly eat you up on offense, and dance right in your face every step of the way. Marqise Lee even danced in the face of a Chargers defender after an incomplete pass when he saw a flag thrown.
The attitude from the Jaguars was enough to set off a few teams during the regular season, and the emotions are only going to ramp up in January. It might make you love the Jaguars or hate them, but you won’t want to miss them either way.
When keeping it real goes wrong
A 44-33 loss to the 49ers showed the dangers of being a team that lives on the edge. On several occasions, the Jaguars’ defense afforded San Francisco significant chunks of yardage via personal fouls.
The cherry on top was a headbutt by defensive tackle Malik Jackson in the final two minutes when the Jaguars trailed 37-33 with enough timeouts to stop the clock and get the ball back. The penalty on Jackson gave the 49ers a critical first down, and they took advantage with a touchdown a few plays later that put the game on ice.
It came during a game that saw Jackson and cornerback Aaron Colvin get into a shouting match on the sideline, followed by another argument between receiver Keelan Cole and receivers coach Keenan McCardell.
Head coach Doug Marrone was fine with the latter but said the team needs to cut the costly personal fouls.
Marrone on sidelines stuff: I’m ok with the sideline stuff. It’s emotional. Where I do have an issue is with composure on field.— Brent Martineau (@BrentASJax) December 25, 2017
Jacksonville toes the line with its bully mentality, and the Week 16 loss was a reminder of how that attitude can be a downfall.
The Jaguars are built to make a run
The Jaguars’ 10-6 record wasn’t fluky. There are a few things that the team is great at, and it leaned on those to earn seven wins in an eight-game span during the middle of the season.
- An unbelievable defense
- A powerful rushing attack
- A positive turnover margin
The biggest, and perhaps the only reason why everyone isn’t on the Jaguars bandwagon is that it’s difficult to trust Bortles. He completed the highest percentage of passes in his career and avoided interceptions better than ever, but inconsistency has always been a problem.
In a 27-24 loss to the Cardinals, he finished with 160 yards passing, no touchdowns, one interception and one fumble. A week later, he had 309 yards, two touchdowns, and no interceptions.
After starting December with seven touchdowns and no interceptions in his first three games, Bortles finished with two touchdowns and five interceptions in two losses to close out the season.
Even in a rebound season by his standards, Bortles was below the league average in passer rating. It was good enough to get to double-digit wins only because the Jaguars are great at everything else.
It’ll be largely on the defense and rookie running back Leonard Fournette to lead the Jaguars to postseason success, but if good Bortles shows up in January, Jacksonville is a force to be reckoned with.
And ultimately, that’s a positive for football fans because the Jaguars are a breath of fresh air in the postseason. We know the Patriots, and we know the Steelers. The rest of the AFC field includes teams that are unconvincing at best, or downright boring at worst. (Looking at you, Titans.)
The Jaguars are neither. After years as a punchline, they may be the most entertaining team in January — and the best reason to watch the playoffs.