The Jacksonville Jaguars came within striking distance of the Super Bowl in the 2017 season, only to be defeated by the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship game. Under Doug Marrone the club were transformed in the last campaign. In 2016 they struggled to a 3-13 record, but just one term later were competing for a Super Bowl berth. Jacksonville won their first Afc South Crown since 1999 and won their first playoff game in 10 years.
The Jags defeated the Buffalo Bills and Pittsburgh Steelers in the opening two rounds of the post-season. They held a 10-point lead over New England in the Conference title game, but succumbed to Tom Brady and Danny Amendola’s late salvo. Their last three playoff exits have resulted in defeats to the Patriots, highlighting the challenge ahead of Marrone’s men to reach the Super Bowl.
Jacksonville are backed in the latest NFL betting odds at 22/1 to win the Vince Lombardi trophy for the first time. The Philadelphia Eagles proved that it is possible to triumph even without the presence of an elite quarterback, handing hope to the Jags and a host of other sides in the NFL.
Blake Bortles has struggled during his four-year NFL career – so much so it was believed that the club were prepared to move on from the quarterback last season. However, he managed to hang on to his starting berth and with the aid of a strong running game, Bortles guided the Jags to the AFC South crown. There were factors aiding his stable performances, such as the elite level of play from the club’s defense – dominating against the run and pass throughout the campaign.
Calais Campbell, Malik Jackson, Dante Fowler Jr and Yannick Ngakoue were a force on the defensive line. Jalen Ramsey and AJ Bouye led a shutdown secondary, with Myles Jack patrolling the middle of the field. The unit is poised to be a potent threat to any offense for the long-term future, with All-Pro players at every level of the defense.
As a result, Bortles was allowed to play within himself and pick his moments. The selection of Leonard Fournette in the 2017 Draft proved to pay dividends as he was outstanding in his rookie term carrying the ball, with opposing defenses being fully aware that he was receiving the ball. The system allowed the Jags to clinch the division, albeit the Houston Texans were ravaged by a number of injuries to key players.
Bortles did enough against the Bills in a match dominated by defense. However, against the Steelers, he was nothing short of outstanding, helping his side put 45 points on the board in a spectacular win on the road. He carried that form into the contest against the Patriots to put the Jags into a 10-point lead heading into the fourth quarter. However, when it mattered the most he could not make the throws when it counted, including a narrow underthrow to Dede Westbrook.
Jacksonville have put their faith in Bortles by handing him a three-year contract extension. The 25-year-old played well when the game was in his control, but for the Jags to take the next step, he will have to make the crucial connections under pressure. Nick Foles rose to the occasion for the Eagles, firing decisive strikes against the Patriots to win Super Bowl LII. Bortles has to channel that type of performance in big matches in the regular season and playoffs to take Jacksonville into the Vince Lombardi title game and end it with the ultimate triumph.
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