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The Jacksonville Jaguars Will Have the Best Record in the AFC

Written by: Grant Mitchell
Published July 18, 2023
10 min read

It only sounds crazy until it happens. For those that aren’t convinced, let’s take a trip down memory lane.

The Philadelphia Eagles topped the NFC in 2022 with a 14-3 record. The year before? They were only 9-8.

This is not an uncommon occurrence, either. The Cincinnati Bengals added six wins in 2021, the Indianapolis Colts and Tennessee Titans jumped the ladder in 2020, and so on, and so on.

The reality is that every year there are teams that take somewhere between a large step and a leap up the standings and outperform their expectations. The job of NFL fans, industry experts, and sports bettors alike is to discern which team will be the next to follow the trend.

Consider this not just a prediction, but a warning that the team to turn heads this season—and the one that has a great chance of securing the top seed in the AFC—is the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Jaguars AFC Best Record

Revisiting 2022 

The Jags finished the 2022 regular season with six wins from a possible seven and outscored their opponents by more than a touchdown per game in the process. They then came back from a 27-0 deficit in the first round of the playoffs against a strong Los Angeles Chargers team in QB Trevor Lawrence’s first-ever playoff appearance and played the eventual Super Bowl champion  Kansas City Chiefs to a seven-point difference on the road in the divisional round.

Over his last nine games (including the two playoff appearances), Lawrence threw for 253.7 yards per game, 17 touchdowns, and seven interceptions, and started to fulfill the potential many believed he had when grouping him with Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck as the greatest modern QB prospects.

On the other side, the defense improved as the season progressed and heads into the new campaign as a unit overflowing with potential. Many of the players are still raw, but they are highly athletic and can help form a top-10 unit with the proper guidance (note: Jacksonville ranked 14th in scoring defense in 2022).

The Jags were also the fourth-youngest team in the NFL in 2022 with an average age of 25.4 years. They needed time not only to mature but also to take on the image of their head coach, Doug Pederson. The 55-year-old is a risk-taker and 2018 Super Bowl champion, and his infectious spirit could be felt in the Jags’ impact plays in key moments and unity.

The modern NFL can be boiled down to having an MVP-level quarterback, a playmaking defense, a younger roster (to help fit under the salary cap), and an intelligent head coach. The Jaguars look to have all of that available and are one season of “putting it together” away from earning the conference’s top spot.

Schedule Breakdown

The Jags will be spurred along in their journey to an AFC conquest by a manageable schedule. Their foray through the AFC South will see them play the Houston Texans, Tennessee Titans, and Indianapolis Colts twice each.

According to major sportsbooks, the Texans are expected to vie with the Arizona Cardinals for the worst record in football. Both the Colts and Titans are also in the bottom five for Super Bowl odds and will likely hand the reins over to rookie quarterbacks, each with major question marks before the season ends.

Many of the Jags’ out-of-division games are on the easier side too, which is why their overall strength of schedule is 12th in the league. They have four tough outings against the Kansas City Chiefs, Buffalo Bills, San Francisco 49ers, and Cincinnati Bengals, but also get easy games against the NFC South to match.

It’s also important to note that all four of the “tough” games will take place in Jacksonville. That’s a significant boost to a young team that will still feel as if they’re in their element instead of being thrust into a hostile environment.

Opponents for the Pennant

According to DraftKings, the favorites to win the AFC are as follows:

That means that Vegas believes that six teams have a better chance of securing the number-one seed than the Jags. Let’s dive into that.

The Chiefs are the obvious pick to win the AFC since they have in three of the last five seasons. They also had a young roster that should be better with more experience, but they are heavily reliant on 33-year-old Travis Kelce to stay healthy and also have to face a tough and improved division.

The Bills are on a downward trajectory that the public has not caught onto. Josh Allen took a step back without Brian Daboll and needs to hope the team’s relationship with Stefon Diggs doesn’t continue to fray, especially since DeAndre Hopkins opted to sign with the Titans instead of them. Star linebacker Tremaine Edmunds also left and was not replaced in the middle of the defense.

The Bengals are the “sexy” pick to win the AFC but are in the toughest top-to-bottom division in football, the AFC North. The same can be said for the Ravens, who are also in question because of Lamar Jackson’s injury history and lack of progression as a passer.

The Jets and Dolphins also have to face a gauntlet in the AFC East and have major questions that are yet to be answered. For the Jets, will Aaron Rodgers play like the 2020 and 2021 MVP, or will he play like the guy who finished 26th in QBR last season? And for the Dolphins, will Tua Tagovailoa manage to kick the injury and concussion problems and stay on the field for 17 games?

Even if they are not the consensus “best-overall team,” the Jags have the clearest path to the AFC, and it’s hard to deny that.

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What to Watch 

The story of the Jags’ season will be told through a couple of situations, starting with Lawrence. He simply has to play at a top-seven, potentially top-five level for his team to achieve legitimate success. He improved drastically during his second season and drove his team to a six-win improvement, but it will take sustained excellence to hit 13+ wins.

The defense also needs to get even better. Despite the front office investing heavily in top picks such as Travon Walker and Josh Allen, the Jags ranked 26th in sacks and 24th in yards allowed. Their saving grace was their ability to generate takeaways (1.4 per game, tied-ninth-best), but they can’t continue to rely on that in place of stout defensive play.

The offensive line also needs to show progression as yet another young unit on the team. Pro Football Focus ranks Jacksonville 26th in O-line play entering the new season, and top tackle Cam Robinson has been suspended four games for violating the league’s rules on PEDs. First-round pick and Oklahoma product Anton Harrison could see the field in his absence and has a golden opportunity to make a name for himself with a Week 2 matchup against the Chiefs.

Pederson has earned the trust of even his critics with his ability to transform teams even without the big-name stars. He is the perfect man to start a new culture with and has already put that into motion in Duval County.

The Jaguars open their 2023 season on the road against the Colts. If they hit their full potential, they will earn the best seed in the AFC when it’s all said and done.

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AUTHOR

Grant Mitchell

480 Articles

Grant is a sports and sports betting journalist who prides himself on delivering breaking news and insightful analyses of the industry. Grant graduated from Virginia Tech in 2021 and is feverishly pursuing his ambitions in the sports betting field.

In his free time, Grant can be found passionately watching sports, doing a workout, or searching for adventure with his friends.

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