Jaguars clinch first playoff berth since 2007 to cap incredible turnaround

Jacksonville Jaguars are in the playoffs for the first time since 2007It would have been impossible to foresee the Jacksonville Jaguars as a playoff team 12 months ago, when the team was struggling through yet another lost season and a dismal 3-13 record. But a new head coach and some important additions turned Jacksonville around, and the Jaguars are 10-4 and on their way to the postseason for the first time in a decade with arguably the most complete team in franchise history. Even their quarterback is playing well.

Jacksonville promoted Doug Marrone to interim head coach in December 2016 after firing Gus Bradley, and the interim tag was removed one month later. Under Marrone, the Jaguars have become the toughest defense in the NFL, allowing fewer points and passing yards per game than any other team. Offseason additions Calais Campbell and A.J. Bouye are playing a leading role on Jacksonville’s defense, with Campbell leading the team in sacks with 14.5 and Bouye boasting a team-high six interceptions.

On offense, 2017 first-round pick Leonard Fournette has reinvigorated the Jaguars’ running game, which is averaging a league-leading 149.1 yards per contest. The passing game has lagged behind for most of the season, largely due to the play of quarterback Blake Bortles, but Bortles has been terrific over the last three games, powering Jacksonville to victory with seven touchdowns and no interceptions on 883 yards passing. Fournette missed Sunday’s clinching victory over the Houston Texans due to a quadriceps injury, but thanks to Bortles the Jaguars had little trouble scoring a season-high 45 points.

Jacksonville owns a two-game lead in the AFC South and still has an outside shot at a first-round playoff bye and home-field advantage, a position made more remarkable by the fact the Jaguars had not won more than five games in a season since 2010. One more Jacksonville victory or Tennessee Titans loss will secure the Jaguars’ first division title since 1999, and any stumble by the New England Patriots or the Pittsburgh Steelers will open the door for a top-two spot in the conference. Fournette is expected to return next week, and if Bortles can keep playing like he has so far in December, Jacksonville could be ready for a deep playoff run.