A Thought About the Jacksonville Jaguars: Point Differential Problems

The Jacksonville Jaguars got destroyed by the New England Patriots in the first preseason game, 47-12. We can’t make too much of a preseason opener, as plenty of players didn’t play. Of course, one of those players was Tom Brady. The Jaguars had a decent first drive to get inside the 20 and score a field goal and then immediately got a fumble, which was squandered when Mike Thomas dropped a pass on third down. They were up 6-0 early, so that score line was a bit deceiving, but then again, the manner in which Brian Hoyer and Ryan Mallett carved up the Jaguars for the rest of the game may be a statement about the depth, or lack thereof, on the Jaguars roster heading into the season.

The bigger concern for this year, though, is that the Jaguars were a paper version of a member of the big cat family in 2010. They went 1-5 against teams with a winning record last year, and allowed over 30 points a game in those contests. Jacksonville won several close games (5-2 in games decided by a touchdown or less), including some in improbable fashion. They had a chance t0 make the playoffs at 8-6 before dropping the last two, but were fortunate to be in such a position.

In evaluating their chances this year, we need to consider that point differential along with their record. As it turns out (using the pro football reference team game finder), Jacksonville’s -66 point difference in 2010 is tied for the 7th worst point differential for a team finishing 8-8. Here is a summary of the 23 teams that went 8-8 with a point differential of -30 or worse since 1978, and what they did the following season, sorted by win total the next year:

Year	Team	Diff	Wins	Diff, N+1
2006	GB	-65	13	144
1989	MIA	-48	12	94
1980	MIA	-39	11	70
2006	TEN	-76	10	4
1981	GB	-37	10	101
1992	DEN	-67	9	89
2008	DEN	-78	8	2
2003	CIN	-38	8	2
1998	OAK	-68	8	61
2006	CAR	-35	7	-80
2001	WAS	-47	7	-58
2004	STL	-73	6	-66
2009	TEN	-48	6	17
1996	SD	-66	4	-159
1994	ARI	-32	4	-147
2002	SD	-34	4	-128
1979	NYJ	-46	4	-93
2008	WAS	-31	4	-70
1983	MIN	-32	3	-208
2004	NO	-57	3	-163
2000	BUF	-35	3	-155
1983	BUF	-68	2	-204
1999	SD	-47	1	-171

*GB wins and pt diff prorated to 16 games for 1982 strike season

As a group, they averaged a -50 point differential, so a little better than Jacksonville last year. Six of these 8-8 teams (out of 23) with a bad point differential ended up making the playoffs the following season. Of course, half of those were quarterbacked by guys named Elway, Favre and Marino. Almost as many (5) won 3 or fewer games the next year as reached the playoffs, and nearly half (10 of 23) went 4-12 or worse the following year. The average win total the following season was 6.4, and the average point differential was -48.6.

I would personally be stunned if Jacksonville ended up as a 7th playoff team from that list. Jack Del Rio is entering year 9, and the team seems to be stagnating or going backwards, masked by that 8-8 record last year. I thought Blaine Gabbert looked better than his numbers (9 for 16 for 85 yards, 2 sacks), was hurt by the Thomas drop, and made strong throws when he wasn’t pressured. I suspect he’ll get an opportunity to play and struggle as a rookie, because I don’t look for Jacksonville to be in playoff contention. The next time it happens will probably be with a new coach after the team plays in line with their underlying numbers, sees the luck regress in 2011, goes through growing pains with a rookie quarterback, and finishes in the 4-5 win range.

[photo via Getty]

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