After a dominating win against the defending AFC Champion New England Patriots, the Jacksonville Jaguars have gotten off to a fast 2-0 start to the 2018 NFL season. Power rankings across the internet have them as a top-five team, if not the best in the league. However, it’s early. Playoff berths don’t happen in week two. They don’t happen in week three either, but every win gets you a little closer. The most important game is always the next one, and for the second week in a row the Jaguars have a huge game that feels like it’s worth a whole lot more than the others.
In 2017, the Jaguars quickly rose to prominence after years as an NFL bottom-dweller. Finishing the year 10-6 and a fourth quarter away from the team’s first Super Bowl berth, the season was a success by any metric. If there was one flaw, it was getting swept by the Titans. The second matchup in week seventeen was a meaningless game in Nashville, but it still stung. Just the week two loss in Jacksonville.
Of course, it wasn’t the first season the Jaguars couldn’t find a way to beat the Titans. The Jaguars-Titans rivalry was forged in 1999, when both teams were part of the AFC Central. The Jaguars were a league best 14-2, securing a first-round bye and home field advantage. The only two losses in the regular season? Both to the Titans. The AFC Championship brought the Titans back to Jacksonville, giving the Jaguars a chance at redemption and a Super Bowl berth in just their fifth season. The chance was squandered and after two AFC Championship appearances in four years, it would be eighteen long seasons until the Jaguars would get another shot at a Super Bowl. As the Jaguars faded from the NFL’s center stage, so too did the Titans. The two franchises have risen and fallen together, with both teams ending long playoff droughts last year. It was the Jaguars’ first appearance since 2007, the Titans’ first since 2008.
Now, the Jaguars are back to the prominence they enjoyed so early in their existence. They have a dominating defensive line, a lightning-fast linebacking corps, and a smothering secondary. There is a strong argument that, top to bottom, their roster is the best in the NFL. As ever, the Titans aren’t far behind. This weekend is the Jaguars first divisional game of the 2018 season. With a win and a Colts loss, they will have a two-game lead in the AFC South after just three games. With a loss at home, the Titans could top the division and once again secure a leg-up on the Jaguars in the head-to-head tiebreaker.
The Jaguars are a talented young team in an AFC that is seeing a changing of the guard. The Patriots may have the best quarterback of all-time, but he’s forty-one years old. The Steelers are in disarray as their best players ride jet-skis and tweet trade requests. The Colts and Ravens are not the perennial contenders of old.
The AFC is seeing new, young teams rise to power. The Chiefs look like the most explosive offense we’ve seen in years. The Jaguars have a defense that everyone agrees is something special. The Colts and Texans were plagued by injury last year, but both teams should have a quality franchise quarterback for at least the next five years. Even the Browns are feeling like a team on the rise with an underrated defense led by DE Myles Garret and CB Denzel Ward and QB Baker Mayfield looking like the real deal.
This weekend the Jaguars have a chance to help cement themselves as one of the new powerhouses in the NFL. We know the Jaguars are good, really good. But what kind of team will they be this year? The kind that drops games to mediocre teams like the Jets and the Cardinals? The kind of team that can get caught sleeping at home against a banged-up Titans roster? A team that could lose to…shudder…Blaine Gabbert?
Or is this a team that can bring the tenacity we saw against the Patriots, every single week? A team that can take firm hold of the division early and staunchly defend their home field all year? A team that can win three consecutive home games to start 4-0 heading into a tantalizing week five matchup with the red-hot Chiefs?
The season is still young, but the result of this game will help shape the first half of the Jaguars 2018 campaign. A loss puts them right back into the muck of the AFC South. A win puts an early stamp on the division and a statement that it now belongs to Jaguars. Whatever happens, we’ll see a lot more of what the 2018 Jaguars team is made of this weekend when the Jaguars’ biggest rival comes to Jacksonville.