As Cleveland Prepares for Jacksonville, You Always Wonder Which Team You'll Face

Every year, there is at least one constant in the NFL: the Jacksonville Jaguars are that one team that you can't quite put your finger on. One week, they will be blown out so badly that people start discussing the futures of QB David Garrard and head coach Jack Del Rio in Jacksonville. The next week, they will come up with a season-saving win in impressive fashion. The trend just seems to alternate like that, year after year, and I didn't even mention how you can count Jacksonville out whenever they have to make a trip across the country.

This season hasn't been any different for the Jaguars. They have a good record at 5-4 and are certainly in the playoff hunt again, but look at how their schedule has played out so far...

Jacksonville Jaguars' First Nine Games So Far

  • Jacksonville 24, Denver 17 - home game
  • San Diego 38, Jacksonville 13 - away game
  • Philadelphia 28, Jacksonville 3 - home game
  • Jacksonville 31, Indianapolis 28 - home game
  • Jacksonville 36, Buffalo 26 - away game
  • Tennessee 30, Jacksonville 3 - home game
  • Kansas City 42, Jacksonville 20 - away game
  • Jacksonville 35, Dallas 17 - away game
  • Jacksonville 31, Houston 24 - home game

Is that not baffling? The Jaguars get blown out two weeks in a row, then come home to beat Indianapolis. After a win over Buffalo, they get blown out two more times in a row, before coming back to blow out a team on the road and win on a Hail Mary pass versus Houston last week. If you ever bet on Jacksonville straight up, you're kind of nuts. If you tally the nine games up, Jacksonville's distribution of "types" of games they've played have been like this:

  • Competitive Victories: Denver, Indianapolis, Houston. All three were home games.
  • Blowout Victories: Buffalo, Dallas. Both were away games.
  • Blowout Losses: San Diego, Philadelphia, Tennessee, Kansas City. Two were home games, and two were away games.

That doesn't help much, doesn't? In only reinforces the point that there's no rhyme or reason as to when and who the Jaguars will bring their A-game against. Jacksonville clearly has the potential to be a solid team, but we've been saying that for years. Until they remove the inconsistency gaffe, it's impossible to take them seriously as contenders. If someone is looking for a stretch, one could argue that the Jaguars were blown out by teams with winning records, blew out teams with terrible records, and were competitive more times than not in division games. In which category would you put Cleveland, a team with a losing record but has been highly competitive? Certainly not in the group with Buffalo and Dallas, but the other two categories seem like a tossup.

While it didn't help Cleveland when they faced Kansas City earlier this year, maybe the Browns' Week 17 victory over the Jaguars last season will be of help to them. If you don't remember, Cleveland beat Jacksonville 23-17 at home behind minimal passing from Derek Anderson and a strong ground game.  The final score was a little deceptive. Cleveland was up 23-10 before Jacksonville scored a touchdown with no time left in the game.

Offensively, David Garrard has had a couple of down games, but he's on pace to have a career year. He's thrown for 15 touchdowns to 7 interceptions and is completing a remarkable 69% of his passes. Maurice Jones-Drew's numbers are down a little bit this year, but he still ranks among one of the league's top backs and is consistent. Jacksonville has quietly had good numbers from receivers Mike Thomas, Mike Sims-Walker, and Marcedes Lewis, but I don't think Cleveland will treat them with the same "respect" as they did the Jets' receivers.

A big difference between the Jaguars this week and the Jets last week? The Jaguars aren't very good defensively. On average, they give up more points than any of the opponents Cleveland has faced this season -- 27.8 points per week. You can pretty much pick and choose how you want to attack them, as they don't particularly excel at defending the run or the pass. When it comes to making plays on defense, they don't come very often either -- they rank below average in sacks, forced fumbles, interceptions, and passes defended.

The bottom line is that Cleveland can't head into this game expecting to have an easier matchup than the ones they've had over the past three weeks. Based on the way Jacksonville's season has gone, this could end up being the toughest game since the one against Pittsburgh. Cleveland also has big holes to fill with the definite absence of Scott Fujita on defense and the probable absence of Joshua Cribbs.

If there's an X-factor to this game, it could be coaching. When Jacksonville plays inconsistent, I do blame that on Del Rio. If Cleveland, even with their setbacks on the injury front, continues to play motivated and physical football, I think they can wear Jacksonville down and come out on the winning side.

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