Making predictions about a home team is loaded with potholes that can unwittingly alter the best of intentions, research and professional insight.
As a local media person covering the Jaguars on a daily basis, I should know more about the team than the national pundits. But that advantage can be offset by hometown bias even from someone determined to be neutral.
From a national perspective, the Jaguars are expected to stink. ESPN the Magazine has them going 1-15. Sports Illustrated predicted 2-14. Las Vegas oddsmakers are predicting five victories. Several power polls I read have them ranked between 29th and 32nd in the 32-team NFL.
These commentators see a franchise coming off of a 5-11 season and without a winning record since 2007. They see a franchise with a second-year quarterback in Blaine Gabbert who as a rookie had one of the worst seasons ever by an NFL QB. They see a franchise that is depending on two new receivers, one an untested rookie with off-the-field issues and the other a free agent who did a disappearing act in preseason games. They see a franchise whose best player was a holdout until last weekend. They see a franchise with a new head coach who was unsuccessful in his first head coaching stint (Buffalo) and a new offensive scheme.
What should they expect from the Jaguars in 2012?
These predictions have angered a lot of local fans and some local media reps who openly cheer for the Jags.
From a local perspective, Gabbert has shown considerable improvement on the field and maturity off the field. They have seen players rejuvenated by a coaching change and new ownership. In rookie Justin Blackmon they’ve seen a receiver who catches everything he touches and runs well after making the catch. They are confident a healthy Rashad Jennings will be a solid runner and Maurice Jones-Drew will soon be MoJo again now that he’s ended his holdout. They are confident the defense will play as well or better than last season when the Jaguars statistically ranked among the 10 best in the league.
Locally, no one I know is talking about making the playoffs, but 8-8 or even 9-7 seems reasonable to them.
So what am I expecting from the Jaguars? Gabbert can’t be worse than last season. Nor can the receivers. The defense wasn’t as strong as the statistics indicated because of a mediocre pass rush and the failure to force turnovers, but it is solid. The coaching was a joke last year because of the lame duck status so any change is a step in the right direction. Playing the strong NFC North doesn’t help.
The Jaguars have made some positive steps, but I see another 5-11 season before the improvements create more victories.