Believe it or not, folks, the NFL season is much closer than you can possibly imagine. So close, in fact, that, if we're going to fit in every NFL team preview by the start of the season, we have to go this early. So there you have it.
Last year, we asked some of our favorite writers to opine why Their Favorite Team Was Better Than Yours. Ultimately, we found this constrictive, and it also might have killed James Frey. So this time, we've just asked them to just run free, talk about their team, their experience as a fan, their hopes, their dreams, their desires for oral sex. All our teams are now assigned; if you sent us an email and we didn't get back to you, we're sorry, and we accept your scorn. But today: The Jacksonville Jaguars.
Your author is Dan Shanoff, who blogs daily and with remarkable shallowness at DanShanoff.com. His words are after the jump.
One year ago, in this space, I announced my newfound allegiance to the Jaguars. I was inspired by my interest to write a Deadspin NFL team preview; I really didn't care which team, and the Jags were available. Of course, I couldn't write the preview without rooting for the team, and I didn't have an active NFL allegiance. Result: Instant Jags fandom.
It became an experiment to determine whether there is really all that much difference between "Super Fans" and "Sorta Fans." (Short answer: There isn't. The real hurdle is "Fan/Not a Fan," rather than degrees of fandom. Just ask Pats fans, 90 percent of whom didn't register their "die-hard" fandom until the 2001 season.)
But in the process, I grew to love "my" Jags, sort of like the way you grow to love a girlfriend after sleeping with her on the first date. Since we last talked about it, let me catch you up on what has happened with the Jags - and why there is even more reason for excitement as I head into Jags Fandom, Year 2:
WHUPPED THE CHAMP'S ASS
The good news: Absolutely annihilated the future Super Bowl champion Colts, 44-17, in the type of Week 14 win that makes you sincerely believe that your team has a chance at postseason success.
The bad news: Three weeks (and three straight losses) later, the Jaguars meekly finished the season 8-8 - and on the outside looking in at the playoffs.
Looking ahead: Football Outsiders is so baffled that the '06 Jags could perform so well yet so inconsistently that they have them picked as one of their breakout teams for '07. You might quibble with F.O. on some things (I don't), but their track record on projecting overall team performance for the upcoming season is unmatched.
THE "SPACE-DOCK" BACKFIELD
The good news: Maurice Jones-Drew is a revelation at running back, a 5-foot-6 ass-kicking, stat-racking, draftnik-debunking, fantasy-rocking pinball who put up 15 TDs and nearly 1,400 yards combined rushing and receiving yards... as a rookie. Who's Reggie Bush?
The bad news: If you fantasy-drafted Fred Taylor last season, anticipating him finally having a healthy season, only to see all of his TDs go to MJD. Not that I'm bitter.
Looking ahead: What sucks as a dilemma for fantasy owners rules in real life. Taylor and MJD are the poster pair for the hot new NFL trend to split the "feature" RB role (particularly near the goal line). It hedges a team's risk and doubles their strategic options. And, consequently, it makes fantasy roster decisions an increasingly maddening process. In honor of Deadspin commenters and the Jags' backfield, I'm dubbing the strategy the "Space Dock Platoon." Because, like its real-life counterpart, you are effed either way.
LEFTWICH? IT COULD BE MUCH WORSE
The good news: QB Byron Leftwich is as healthy as he has been in years, in a contract year and paired with a trigger-happy new offensive coordinator (Dick Koetter of Arizona State) who seems to get along with Leftwich fabulously.
The bad news: Coach Jack Del Rio seems to hate Leftwich, to the point that it was an open secret that Del Rio would have liked the team to draft Brady Quinn. Brady Quinn! (I'm ready for Del Rio to go. The only thing less inspiring than the Del Rio Era would be replacing it with the Tice Era.)
Looking ahead: For those of us who consider ourselves Leftwich fans, the fact that the best QB competition that the team could find to pressure Leftwich is Tim Couch shows that the job is Leftwich's for as long as he is healthy enough to waddle onto the field. (Yes, Leftwich remains so plodding that he makes Drew Bledsoe look like Vince Young.)
THE BEST NICKNAME IN FOOTBALL
The good news: The defense should be even better than last year, with the addition of first-round pick Reggie Nelson, affectionately known on Florida Gators message boards as "RFN"... as in "Reggie Fucking Nelson"... as in "Fuuuuck! Did you just see that play by Reggie Nelson?" When your new safety is so jaw-dropping spectacular that nothing less than the "F-word" can articulate it, you have something special there. (As opposed, say, to Brady Quinn, drafted one pick later than Nelson and more likely to earn the nickname "Fucking douchebag.")
The bad news: The Jags still play in the brutal AFC, where they will have to beat out the Pats, Colts, Chargers or Ravens to escape the Wild Card round (and out-place the North runner-up, West runner-up, VY and the Mangenius just to MAKE the playoffs).
Looking ahead: One year later, I'm still a believer. Here was my litmus test: During the Yahoo Bloggers' League fantasy draft, I was set to draft the Jags D as my token "Draft at least one player from a team you root for" pick. Just before my selection, Big Daddy Drew took them. I was crushed, so much so that I immediately drafted the Vikings (Drew's team) in the hopes he would trade. After mockingly toying with me, he made the deal. I look forward to introducing him and the rest of the league - fantasy and NFL at-large - to Reggie Fucking Nelson.