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Are Jacksonville Jaguars the favorite in the AFC in 2018? – Jacksonville Jaguars Blog



JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Even with recent cuts and the departure of two front-line players who signed elsewhere, the Jacksonville Jaguars are a slightly better football team right now than they were when they lost in the AFC Championship Game.

The New England Patriots, who beat the Jaguars 24-20 at Gillette Stadium to advance to the Super Bowl, and Pittsburgh Steelers are not.

So it’s logical to argue that what has happened over the past week should make the Jaguars the slight favorite to win the AFC in 2018. That’s over the Patriots, who have played in three of the past four Super Bowls (winning two). And over the Steelers, whom the Jaguars beat twice at Heinz Field last season.

Certainly, other teams in the AFC improved significantly through free agency, specifically AFC South rivals Houston and Tennessee. The Texans added safety Tyrann Mathieu and cornerback and former Jaguars nickelback Aaron Colvin, while the Titans added cornerback Malcolm Butler and running back Dion Lewis.

The Los Angeles Chargers, who barely missed the playoffs last season, added center Mike Pouncey. The Denver Broncos may have found a quarterback in Case Keenum, and the Oakland Raiders gave Derek Carr an additional playmaker in Jordy Nelson.

But the Jaguars’ addition of 2017 first-team All-Pro left guard Andrew Norwell is arguably the free-agent signing of most impact in the AFC. Per Pro Football Focus, Norwell had just 42 negative blocks in the running game (8.7 percent of all his run blocks) and didn’t allow a sack or quarterback hit all season. His pass-blocking grade of 90.0 was significantly higher than that of any Jaguars guard last season.

Norwell was arguably the best non-quarterback player available in free agency, and the signing was a perfect fit. He should help make the running game consistent and prevent the late-season drop-off that saw the Jaguars rush for 51.3 yards per game less in the final six weeks of the season than they did in the first 11.

Losing receiver Allen Robinson to the Chicago Bears hurts, but it may not be as significant as it first seems. The Jaguars went 10-6 and won their first division title since 1999 without him last season and added Donte Moncrief, re-signed leading receiver Marqise Lee and are expecting big strides from second-year players Keelan Cole and Dede Westbrook.

The Jaguars tried to bring Colvin back but he wanted to be a starter outside. They still have Pro Bowlers Jalen Ramsey (a first-team All-Pro) and A.J. Bouye, and while Colvin was a good tackler he didn’t make a lot of big plays: 14 pass breakups and no interceptions in 48 regular-season games. That includes just seven pass breakups when he started 15 games on the outside in 2015.

The Patriots suffered much more critical losses. Left tackle Nate Solder left for a big contract with the New York Giants (four years, $62 million with $35 million guaranteed). His Super Bowl benching aside, Butler was one of the Patriots’ best defensive players. Lewis was a significant part of the offense. Danny Amendola, who signed with the Miami Dolphins, led all players in receptions and receiving yards in the postseason.

New England does get receiver Julian Edelman and linebacker Dont’a Hightower back from injuries and they still have Tom Brady, but the offensive line is weaker and the pass rush needs work. The Patriots will win 11-plus games and the AFC East title and will be in contention for home-field advantage in the playoffs again, but the Jaguars nearly — and should have — beat them in January.

The Steelers didn’t lose significant players but they didn’t gain any, either. Their best defensive player (Ryan Shazier) isn’t going to play in 2018 as he recovers from spinal stabilization surgery.

This doesn’t mean the Jaguars are by any means the clear favorite to win the AFC. There are a lot of things that must take place for that to be the case:

  • The elite defense must stay healthy again (linebacker Telvin Smith was the only starter to miss a start) and players must produce at similar levels.

  • Blake Bortles has to continue to improve and take care of the football the way he did last season.

  • Leonard Fournette must stay healthy, have a complete understanding of the offense and produce at a higher level than he did as a rookie.

  • The Jaguars must navigate a first-place schedule that includes the Patriots, Steelers and the Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles.

The draft and inevitable injuries obviously will play a large role in what happens in 2018, but the Jaguars’ work in free agency, which includes adding tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins and beefing up special teams, arguably should make them the slight favorite to win the conference.

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Antonio Brown ‘looked fantastic’ during first Bucs workout



TAMPA, Fla. — Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Bruce Arians said wide receiver Antonio Brown “looked fantastic” in his first day of work with the Bucs.

“He looks fantastic. I think we had really good conversations today, he and I,” Arians said Wednesday, the first day Brown could enter the facility since incoming players are required to test six consecutive days for the coronavirus and if negative on the five previous tests, may enter on the sixth day. “He was in the meetings and everything. And he’s working with Anthony Piroli and the strength staff. He looks in great shape. Yeah, ready to go next week.”

Brown is in the final week of his eight-game suspension though, so he was only permitted to work out with the strength and conditioning staff and attend meetings. He was not allowed to practice with the team.

“It went real well. He and I had a good conversation this morning,” Arians said. “He’ll be ready to go next week and in good shape.”

A big part of Brown’s success in Tampa will hinge on his relationship with quarterback Tom Brady. The two spent 11 days as teammates when Brown was with the New England Patriots last year before he was cut, but became fast friends, as Brady even offered Brown the chance to stay with him in New England until he found a place to live.

Some have questioned why Brady would risk his own reputation by not only befriending Brown, but going to bat for him. Brown has twice been accused of sexual misconduct in the last year, and he’s currently on felony probation for burglary with battery charges. Brady explained that it’s about more than winning and has tried to have a positive impact on Brown, as well as other teammates who have run afoul with the law or gotten into trouble with the league.

“I had a lot of people support me over the years, realizing that I was far from where I needed to be and they would guide me and provide me with the help that I needed as a player to reach my potential,” Brady said Wednesday. “I think that’s – how you impact people, and we talk about that a lot as professional athletes – how you impact people on the field is one thing, how you impact people off the field is another. So whether that’s teammates that you can impact or people in the community that you can impact, I think all those things are important.

“You just try your best every day, realizing that a lot of people weren’t born with the same advantages that I’ve had growing up, they weren’t born with the same background or support systems that I had. I think that when you recognize that and bring that to relationships, all’s you can do is the best you can do. For me, I think that’s something I really enjoy still about playing football, is that I probably have more perspective than just about every player in the league right now, based on my years of experience and what I’ve seen. I want to see other guys succeed. And I think a lot of joy in my experience comes from seeing other people be their best and seeing people succeed in ways that can set their family up. I think that’s a really important aspect of football for me.”

Brown will be permitted to start practicing with the Bucs right after their Monday Night Football game at the New York Giants. Getting him up to speed quickly will be imperative because Pro Bowl wide receiver Chris Godwin, who had 1,333 receiving yards last year – third-most in the league – may not be ready to play in Week 9 when the New Orleans Saints come to town. Godwin underwent surgery Tuesday after suffering the injury on a fourth-quarter touchdown catch.

“I was totally surprised by it when we got back,” Arians said. “He looked fine leaving the stadium and we find out he has to have surgery. I think it’s very optimistic that he’ll be back in a week. But it could be possible. We don’t really know how long but yeah, so that’s why we have the insurance policy (Antonio Brown).”

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Dallas Cowboys release Dontari Poe, Daryl Worley



FRISCO, Texas — A day after trading defensive end Everson Griffen to the Detroit Lions, the Dallas Cowboys have cut veteran defensive tackle Dontari Poe and cornerback Daryl Worley as they look for ways to jump-start a defense that has been woeful.

The Cowboys had hoped to make a trade involving Poe or Worley, but opted to move on when they were unable to do so.

Poe and Worley were not on the practice field during the portion open to the media, and coach Mike McCarthy would not get into the players’ status at his daily news conference.

Poe had just nine tackles in seven starts. He signed a two-year deal worth up to $10.5 million as a free agent that included $3.5 million guaranteed. He was limited in training camp after coming back from quadriceps surgery, but he did not help stop the run.

The Cowboys are last in the league in run defense, allowing 178.3 yards a game on the ground. They have given up more than 200 rushing yards in three of the last four games.

Poe became the first Cowboy to kneel during the national anthem, but the decision to let him go was strictly about his play and not his protest, according to a source.

Worley, who signed a one-year deal worth $3 million, started four games after injuries to Anthony Brown and Chidobe Awuzie. He had 13 tackles and just one pass deflection and was beaten numerous times. With Brown back from injury and Awuzie expected to return against the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday, Worley became expendable.

Because Poe and Worley are vested veterans, their base salaries are fully guaranteed and the Cowboys do not gain any immediate salary-cap space. They will save $4 million in cap space in 2021 for Poe.

Griffen was dealt to the Lions for a conditional sixth-round pick in 2021. Depending on how much he plays and how many times he is on the Lions’ game-day roster, the Cowboys could receive a fifth-round pick.

With these moves, the Cowboys open up chances for younger players such as Randy Gregory, Bradlee Anae, Justin Hamilton and Reggie Robinson to see more action as they look to the future.

“I don’t really rely on actions or transactions to really send messages,” McCarthy said. “I’ve had the opportunity to talk to the football team every day. They know clearly how I feel as far as the process of where the team needs to get to and how we’re going to do it. This business is about opportunity and making the best of your opportunity. That’s really what all of the personnel decisions will come down to.”

The Cowboys (2-5) are in third place in the NFC East, but still have hopes of winning the division. The Eagles are in first place with a 2-4-1 record.

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New York Jets shutting down trade rumblings on DT Quinnen Williams — ‘He’s going to be here’



FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — The New York Jets say they have no plans to trade defensive tackle Quinnen Williams, the third overall pick in 2019 whose name has been circulated in media speculation.

“He’s going to be here. Those [stories] are false,” coach Adam Gase said Wednesday. “I talked to Quinnen. I have not heard one thing from anybody in the front office about him being traded. … There’s nothing to that. It’s false.”

General manager Joe Douglas also spoke to Williams and his agent to put to rest the rumors. The NFL trade deadline is 4 p.m. ET Tuesday.

Williams has attracted interest, as he did at last year’s trade deadline, but the Jets (0-7) — the NFL’s only winless team — view him as a piece to their foundation.

The Jets have made two recent trades, dealing nose tackle Steve McLendon and linebacker Jordan Willis, fueling the perception they are in fire-sale mode. Douglas isn’t averse to trading big names, as he dealt star safety Jamal Adams before training camp, but that involved a contract dispute.

Williams’ contract isn’t an issue. He has two years remaining on his rookie contract, plus a fifth-year option, and isn’t eligible for a new deal until after the 2021 season.

The 22-year-old Williams hasn’t lived up to draft expectations but has elevated his play this season. He leads the team with three sacks and is coming off a strong performance against the Buffalo Bills.

The Jets like his upside, although they want to see more consistency.

“There have been some times where I really see him show up,” Gase said. “It’s the consistency of down in and down out, max effort, playmaking ability, finishing the plays and doing the right thing, not having roughing-the-passer penalties. That’s the maturation of a young player.”

Williams has been flagged three times for roughing the passer and once for a face mask, which proved costly in a loss to the Denver Broncos.

“Honestly I just don’t read it, man,” Williams told SiriusXM radio of the trade rumors. “Just don’t look at it, just don’t read it. You just don’t really listen to it, just don’t really pay it any attention, man.”

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