The Jaguars entered last season hoping to build on the slight improvement they showed the previous season. Instead, they regressed to a pitiful 3-13 record. On the bright side, the defense showed great improvement, finishing sixth in total defense in the NFL while breaking in talented rookies Yannick Ngakoue, Myles Jack and Jalen Ramsey. Unfortunately, the offense, which had shown signs of becoming a powerhouse in 2015, struggled mightily, with the wildly inconsistent play of quarterback Blake Bortles and a punchless running game among the main culprits.
For the Texans, 2016 was another year in which they were carried by their defense to a record just good enough to win the AFC South. And it was another year in which their quarterback play was lacking, as free agent acquisition Brock Osweiler turned out to be a bust and was replaced late in the year by rookie Tom Savage. As for the defense, it survived a season-ending injury to superstar defensive lineman JJ Watt and still proved the stingiest in the NFL. The Texans won their first playoff game at home over Oakland before falling in the next round to the eventual champion Patriots.
Oh Bouye – A year ago, AJ Bouye became one of the league’s finest cornerbacks and helped the Texans stifle opposing passing games. Now he’ll be helping to stifle them after signing a hefty free-agent deal with Jacksonville. The Jaguars now boast an impressive cornerback duo with Bouye and Ramsey, meaning that Texans’ star wideout DeAndre Hopkins is likely to see little daylight no matter where he lines up on the field.
Run-stuffers – If there was an area a year ago where the Jaguars defense lagged, it was against the run, finishing 19th in the league. They tried to rectify that by adding veteran defensive end Calais Campbell, who was a stalwart run-stopper and pass rusher for the Cardinals for years. Houston would like to control the ball with running back Lamar Miller to avoid putting the relatively inexperienced Savage in obvious passing settings, but Campbell makes that job much tougher.
Bortles bumbling – It looked for a while this preseason like new Jaguars coach Doug Marrone might turn to veteran Chad Henne in favor of Bortles behind center. But he eventually gave Bortles the nod. The former first-round pick squandered the momentum he built in 2015 by looking completely lost at times a year ago. The Jags added rookie Leonard Fournette at running back to balance out the offense, but Bortles has to play well against the rugged Texans defense.
Matchup to watch
Jaguars offensive line vs Texans DE JJ Watt – Watt underwent a pair of back operations a year ago but seems healthy now. It’s scary to think what this defense can do with the three-time defensive player of the year in fine form. He’ll line up all over the field to exploit the best matchups and avoid double teams, which means that any one of the Jaguars somewhat shaky offensive line, which saw its projected starting left tackle (Branden Albert) released after he attempted to retire in the preseason, could be on the spot.
Fantasy football tip
TE CJ Fiedorowicz – As mentioned above, the Jaguars provide some serious firepower at the cornerback position, meaning that the outside receivers for the Texans could be limited. But the middle of the field might be the place to gouge them, which means that Fiedorowicz, who is coming off his best season, could see a lot of footballs coming his way.
Prediction: Houston Texans 12-10 Jacksonville Jaguars
These two teams both feature strong defenses and suspect offenses, so the low-scoring outcome might be the easiest part of this game to predict. Give the advantage to the home team Texans in a nail-biter.
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