Something Special Cooking in Duval County

Duval County is cooking up something special, and it’s not just a new stadium. Doug Pederson and Trevor Lawrence have brought life to the Jacksonville Jaguars. In 2022, this team became fun to watch and should be taken seriously.

What’s Cooking in Duval County?

A threat in the AFC is the answer. Going into their bye week, the Jaguars sat at 3-7 with the third-worst odds to make the playoffs. Lawrence pulled his best Michael Jordan impression and took it personally. To end the season, the Jaguars won six straight, snatched the AFC South away from the Tennessee Titans, and clinched a home playoff game against the Los Angeles Chargers.

Things didn’t start out well in the wildcard game at TIAA Bank Stadium. The Jaguars had five first-half turnovers and would fall behind 27-7. In the second half, Lawrence once again channeled his inner Jordan. He would throw four touchdowns and rally the team to another miraculous comeback. Riley Patterson would kick a game-winning field goal for a 31-30 victory.

Scary Hours in Jacksonville

Lawrence was special in his second year. He was named to the 2023 Pro Bowl, making him the first Jaguars quarterback to earn the nod since David Garrard in 2009. After his second-half resurgence, he has big expectations going into the year. He’s entering his third year but is already being considered a top-10 quarterback.

Christian Kirk, who is coming off the best year of his career, gets a new playmaker to draw some attention. Calvin Ridley is a much-needed veteran to help an explosive but underrated receiver core. Ridley will open up the offense and give Pederson more offensive versatility. The last time he played a full season he finished with 90 catches and 1,374 yards. He will be adding value to a wide receiver core that’s talented but has its issues. They tied for second in drops (29) but have much room for improvement.

Evan Engram recently signed a long-term deal. Locking up their weapons gives Lawrence a lot of options to spread the ball around to an offense that showed they’re capable of being one of the best.

How Good Can They Be?

A Super Bowl contender! It starts with winning the division, which they’re favored to do so. However, they need to start how they finished. After their week 14 victory against the Titans they turned into the 1972 Miami Dolphins and rode the momentum. From a rocky 10-game stretch to being a fumble away from the AFC Championship they’re headed in the right direction and could be playing in early February.

Who Stands In Their Way?

They will be tested this season and their schedule is tough. Their biggest matchups will come against the Kansas City Chiefs and the San Francisco 49ers. In 2009, the Jaguars beat the Chiefs but lost to the 49ers. Since then, they’re a combined 0-11 against both teams. They will also face the tall task of the Buffalo Bills, Cincinnati Bengals, and Baltimore Ravens.

Keys For Success

Protect the quarterback and the football. The offensive line showed value, especially by keeping Lawrence off the ground, he was only sacked 27 times. Holding on to the football will be a focal point. They fumbled 19 times and lost 13 of them. As long as Lawrence stays upright and healthy, along with ball security being addressed the sky is the limit for the offense.

The defense will be the difference maker. They have shown shades of being impactful but they need consistency. They tied fourth in takeaways (27) but struggled to sack the quarterback. They only had 35 which ranked 26th in the league. Foyesade Oluokun, who led the NFL in tackles in consecutive years, and Tyson Campbell have shown they’re studs but the surrounding cast has to step up.

It Was Always The Jags

The Jaguars have opened a lot of eyes and 2023 is their chance to prove they aren’t a fluke. The ceiling is high for Lawrence and the Jaguars. Weeks 14-18 along with the playoffs proved they found their franchise guy and are a force in the AFC. Don’t be surprised if Lawrence ends the year as an MVP candidate and possibly brings their first-ever Super Bowl to Duval.

Main Image: Corey Perrine/Florida Times-Union / USA TODAY

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