The Tampa Bay Buccaneers were not the only Florida team to win a championship last season in the NFL. The Jacksonville Jaguars lost 15 straight games to end the season and claim the league’s worst record. The Jaguars persevered through everything from a Week 1 win no one wanted to Gardner Minshew’s strong social media game to the Jets starting 0-13. No NFL team had gone 1-15 after winning the season opener since the 2001 Panthers, a team with Chris Weinke at quarterback.
To the loser goes the spoils, and no one lost better than Jacksonville last season. The rewards for such an unsuccessful season are a new head coach in Urban Meyer and hopeful franchise quarterback Trevor Lawrence, the No. 1 pick from Clemson and one of the highest-graded draft prospects in recent history.
Now two titans from the college game are tasked with rebuilding a franchise that has lost double-digit games in nine of the last 10 seasons. Many of the top sportsbooks have the Jaguars with an over/under of 6.5 wins. Of the 10 teams in NFL history to finish 1-15, their average wins the following season turned out to be 6.5 on the dot. Imagine that.
Regardless of how the Jaguars perform this year, we are entering a whole new era of football in Jacksonville. What kind of results should we expect from this latest experiment?
On the Last Season of JAGUARS: The Trevor Tank Bowl Is a Success
In the words of Kevin Garnett, anything is possible. Despite spoiling a Philip Rivers comeback attempt for the Colts in Week 1, the Jaguars did nothing to build on that early upset win. In fact, consider some of these coincidences. The 2020 Jaguars are the first NFL team to finish 1-15 since the 2016 Browns, who also got their lone win against a Rivers-led team (Chargers).
The 2020 Jaguars are also the first team in NFL history to allow at least 24 points in 15 straight games in the same season. If they do it in Week 1, they will snap their tie with the 1950-52 Packers for the longest streak in NFL history of allowing 24 points. The only other team in the Super Bowl era to allow at least 24 points in 13 straight games were those 2016 Browns, who then finished 0-16 in 2017.
Coincidentally enough, at Green Bay was the only other game besides the opener last season where the Jaguars allowed fewer than 27 points and had a lead in the fourth quarter. That near upset went to waste after Aaron Rodgers led a game-winning drive.
In the end, the Jaguars finished 1-7 in close games. They may have played more of them if Gardner Minshew started more games at quarterback, but he missed seven games while the Jaguars reaffirmed that Mike Glennon is tall, and Jake Luton is not going to be another sixth-round success story.
Despite the historic 15-game losing streak and the Jaguars allowing a franchise-worst 492 points, this was not an all-time awful team. The 2020 Jaguars were outscored by 186 points, which only ranks as the 47th-worst scoring differential since 1970. The 2020 Jaguars were outgained by 1,465 yards, which also ranks 46th since 1970.
The Jaguars were more of your garden variety terrible football team last year, but we know this franchise has been practically irrelevant for a decade outside of that 2017 run to the AFC Championship Game. That was a year where Andrew Luck missed every game for the Colts and Deshaun Watson tore his ACL midseason for the Texans. The division is not overly daunting for Jacksonville to overcome, but this team has a lot of changes to make fundamentally with a new regime.
The Notable Changes for 2021
Urban Meyer is an intriguing choice to try to turn the tide of college coaches not having much success at the NFL level. Meyer was 187-32 in college and sent many players to the NFL, but he has zero coaching experience at the game’s highest level. He also has not coached college football since 2018 after citing some health problems at Ohio State.
Meyer’s general manager is Trent Baalke, who helped put together a successful run in San Francisco in the early 2010s when Alex Smith, a former product of Meyer’s offense in Utah, was the quarterback. That team did not take off until Jim Harbaugh, one of the most successful college-to-pro head coaches, took the job in 2011. The 49ers went to three straight NFC Championship Games and lost Super Bowl 47.
Meyer and Baalke would love to have a run as successful as what the 49ers did, but much of it will be based on how well Trevor Lawrence pans out at quarterback. He was the consensus No. 1 pick in a draft that saw five quarterbacks go in the top 15 picks, so there is some added pressure for him to deliver as the best, but he was always the logical choice for Jacksonville.
Most football coaches dabble in nepotism, but it could be interesting to see how that impacts this Meyer era as he is just getting started with the rebuild. He already saw the resignation of a controversial hiring of a strength coach he knew (Chris Doyle), and Tim Tebow, who won a Heisman under Meyer at Florida, is still making NFL headlines in 2021 thanks to the Jaguars signing him as a tight end. He is unlikely to have an impact though.
For offensive coordinator, Meyer has gone with a trusted NFL veteran in Darrell Bevell, who has had successful stints with Brett Favre (Packers-Vikings) and Russell Wilson (Seahawks) in his career. Running the spread offense in 2021 with Lawrence’s varied skills should be a success for the Jaguars even more than it would have been had Meyer made the jump to the NFL 10 or 15 years ago. Defensive coordinator Joe Cullen is a first-time coordinator at the NFL level, but he has plenty of experience coaching defensive lines, including the Jaguars back in 2010-12.
Beyond Lawrence, the draft was really important to a Jacksonville team that did not wisely spend its money in free agency. Wide receiver Marvin Jones should be a good replacement for Keelan Cole, but the Jaguars overpaid for cornerback Shaquill Griffin, safety Rayshawn Jenkins, and defensive tackle Roy Robertson-Harris.
The first draft pick after Lawrence was his Clemson teammate, running back Travis Etienne. It was a bizarre pick after James Robinson had one of the best rookie seasons ever by an undrafted running back in 2020 with 1,070 rushing yards in 14 games. He also caught 49-of-60 targets for 344 yards and three more touchdowns. The Jaguars also signed Carlos Hyde, who played for Meyer at Ohio State and was a Baalke draft pick in San Francisco. Yes, the nepotism is strong in this one.
Few will remember this for good reason, but Hyde spent half of the 2018 season in Jacksonville when he averaged a career-low 3.3 yards per carry. Robinson might already be wondering what he did wrong to deserve this, but the chance to add another starter at a more valuable position of need is the biggest problem with the pick. Meyer also did not help matters in defending the Etienne pick by saying he could play receiver a la Percy Harvin, another Meyer staple in the Florida days.
It is hard to criticize someone for wanting to bring back the old days of what worked for them in the past. But the game evolves, and this is a league where Meyer is coming in cold with no track record whatsoever. Maybe some of these moves are going to work wonderfully, but none of them are really going to matter if the Lawrence pick is not a massive hit.
Regression Alert: Following a Weinke
In honor of Chris Weinke and the 2001 Panthers, it should be known as a “Weinke” to win your first game and lose the final 15 like Jacksonville did last year. We have now seen as many of those as we have seen teams finish 0-16 (2008 Lions and 2017 Browns). The 2002 Panthers rebounded with a new coach (John Fox) and quarterback (veteran Rodney Peete) and won seven games. The 2009 Lions hired Jim Schwartz and drafted Matthew Stafford first overall but only won two games. The 2018 Browns drafted Baker Mayfield and finished 7-8-1 as the most recent example of a turnaround.
Bad teams turning things around quicker than you expected is not a new thing in the NFL. Even for as horrible as Jared Goff played as a No. 1 overall pick on the 2016 Rams, all it took was replacing his head coach (Jeff Fisher) with Sean McVay and the result was the highest-scoring team in the league and a playoff appearance in 2017.
Is Lawrence a better prospect than Goff was? Yes, he is. Is Lawrence a better prospect than Sam Bradford was in 2010? Absolutely. In fact, the 2009 Rams were another horrific 1-15 team, they added Bradford with the top pick in 2010, and despite his weak play, the team finished 7-9 thanks to the defense rarely allowing more than 17 points.
The play of the defense would seem to be the breaking point for if this Jacksonville team is good enough to be a surprise playoff team or to at least hit the over with seven wins. I do not see the pieces here at the skill player positions for the Jaguars to turn into the 2017 Rams, who also added Sammy Watkins, Cooper Kupp, and Robert Woods to the wide receiver corps. McVay also had success coordinating an NFL offense in Washington, while Meyer has been out of all coaching the last two years.
Lawrence is also going to have a lot to prove. At Clemson, he had the support of one of the best defenses in the nation, which means he rarely had to play from behind or in disadvantageous situations. Lawrence was 34-2 as a college starter, but he was only 1-2 in games where Clemson allowed at least 24 points, including both playoff losses the last two years when Joe Burrow (LSU) and Justin Fields (Ohio State) easily upstaged him.
Jacksonville fans have every right to be more excited about their long-term quarterback prospects than the other AFC South teams at this moment. However, you also have to consider the nightmare potential of this offense asking Lawrence to throw a jump pass to tight end Tim Tebow while Etienne sets a single-season record for plays that lose six yards from scrimmage as a miscast Percy Harvin 2.0.
Jacksonville’s schedule absolutely should provide the chance for a fast, surprise start by the Jaguars. None of the first six opponents look likely to win 11 games, and four of the games are at home. As for the two road games, Deshaun Watson, who is 6-0 as Houston’s starter against Jacksonville, may not be available for the opener with his legal woes, and Cincinnati’s Joe Burrow (Week 4) could be on a slow start from his ACL recovery.
If Meyer cooks up an innovative offense, then this has the potential for a great start to the Lawrence era. However, things get much tougher after the Week 7 bye, and it is hard to see the Jaguars finding success against the Seahawks, Bills, or Rams. A trip to New England in January once Bill Belichick has plenty of tape on this offense also sounds undesirable. We also know the Jaguars allowed 253 rushing yards to Jonathan Taylor (Colts) in Week 17 and Derrick Henry (Titans) has multiple 200-yard games against Jacksonville, so the division has been running this team over for years.
Chip Kelly was thought to be an instant innovator with bringing his hyper-fast pace from the college game to the 2013 Eagles as they won their first game in front of a national audience. But that team started 1-3 before rallying to finish 10-6 and make the playoffs. Who is to say Meyer can rally the troops if the Jaguars get off to a disappointing 2-4 start?
But with anything even resembling a competent offense from Meyer and Lawrence this year, the Jaguars will certainly be a trendy playoff pick for the 2022 season. But when it comes to your NFL picks this season, I do not see enough talent or trust to place in this team winning more than six games. Bet against them until they prove it at this level of competition.
*The line and/or odds on picks in this article might have moved since the content was commissioned. For updated line movements, visit BMR’s free betting odds product.