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2018 Giants opponents: This Jaguars team might be better and scarier than 2017

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Giants open the season at home vs. Jacksonville

AFC Championship - Jacksonville Jaguars v New England Patriots Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

Training camp is used for players to get ready for the upcoming season. We’re not going to leave you out of that — you’re getting prepared, too. As players report and training camp opens, we’re contnuing to preview the opponents on the 2018 New York Giants schedule. We’ll look at how 2017 played out and what 2018 might look like to get everyone ready for the season to come.

Tom Coughlin will have a homecoming to start the 2018 regular season as the Jacksonville Jaguars come to MetLife Stadium to open the season.

When will they play?

Week 1 at home

2017 in review

Record: 10-6

Expected W-L (Pythagorean Expectation): 11.8-4.2

DVOA rankings: Eighth overall, 16th offense, first defense, 24th special teams

Jacksonville was one of last year’s surprise teams, well, a surprise if you weren’t sold on the defense they built last offseason. The Jaguars came incredibly close to a Super Bowl berth, but a shift to conservative play-calling in the second half of the AFC Championship Game against the New England Patriots cost them the game. Jacksonville should still be considered one of the top teams in the AFC and could be even better in 2018. The Jaguars underperformed their Pythagorean win expectation by nearly two wins last season (point differential is a better indicator of future record than the previous season’s record — teams that underperform tend to improve the next season and teams that overperform tend to take a step back). The only other teams last season to underperform by 1.5 wins or more were the four-win Houston Texans (-1.7), five-win Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-1.8), and zero-win Cleveland Browns (-3.3). Jacksonville managed to be one of the league’s biggest underachievers while also being one of the league’s best teams. That bodes well for 2018.

Offseason overview

Draft picks

1 (29) Taven Bryan, DL, Florida

2 (61) DJ Chark, WR, LSU

3 (93) Ronnie Harrison (S) Alabama

4 (129) Will Richardson, OT, NC State

6 (203) Tanner Lee, QB, Nebraska

7 (230) Leon Jacobs, EDGE, Wisconsin

7 (247) Logan Cooke, P, Mississippi State

Key losses

Allen Robinson, Allen Hurns, Patrick Omameh, Paul Posluzney, Aaron Colvin

Key additions

Andrew Norwell, Donte Moncrief, D.J. Hayden

Jacksonville really went big on committing to an offensive line to create holes for last year’s fourth overall pick Leonard Fournette. They went out and got one of the top free agents on the market, left guard Andrew Norwell. Norwell will replace Patrick Omameh, who will likely be a starter on the Giants’ offensive line this season. Norwell should also be a help to second-year left tackle Cam Robinson. Robinson was the third-most penalized left tackle in the league last season and had one of the worst snaps per blown block rates in the league, per Football Outsiders Almanac.

The biggest changes in Jacksonville will come at wide receiver. Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns had breakout 2015 campaigns, but struggled with injuries and inconsistencies since. Robinson tore his ACL in last year’s season opener and Hurns, despite ranking ninth in DVOA among receivers, saw just 56 targets. Both will be on new teams this season — Robinson in Chicago and Hurns in Dallas. Marqise Lee and last year’s breakout Keelan Cole could be the top-two receivers, but the Jaguars spent $9.6 million on a one-year deal for Donte Moncrief, a former second-round pick who never really clicked with the Indianapolis Colts.

Former first-round pick D.J. Hayden will take over slot duties for the departed Aaron Colvin. Last year with the Lions, Hayden saw 48 targets on the outside and in the slot, allowed a Success Rate of 53 percent, and 6.8 yards per pass, per Football Outsiders. Colvin saw 44 targets mostly in the slot, allowed a 52 percent Success Rate, and 5.4 yards yards per pass. Hayden’s job should be much easier in Jacksonville, playing alongside Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye.

Numbers to know

3.7: Jacksonville allowed 3.7 adjusted yards per attempt on defense last season, the best in the league and almost a full yard better than the No. 2 Baltimore Ravens (4.6). It’s the lowest figure since the 2013 Seattle Seahawks (3.2).

17 percent: Due to the defensive line and secondary, opposing offenses were petrified to run play-action against the Jaguars’ defense — just 17 percent of passes, the lowest opposing rate in the league. However, teams should have run it more. The Jags allowed 7.3 yards per play on play-action (14th-best), but that’s way more effective than the league-best 5.1 yards per play Jacksonville allowed on non-play-action passes.

10: Jacksonville is now known as a heavy run-first team, but the Jaguars were also one of three teams to run at least 10 percent of offensive plays out of 10 personnel (four wide receivers), per Sharp Football Stats. The Giants were first (13 percent), followed by the Cardinals (12 percent) and Jaguars (10 percent). The league average was just two percent.

83.7 percent: On defense, the Jaguars rushed just four players on 83.7 percent of plays, the highest rate in the league. When players like Calais Campbell and Yannick Ngakoue are rushing on the defensive line and creating consistent pressure, it makes having players like Ramsey and Bouye even more dangerous in the secondary.

Opponent Q&A

Big Cat Country managing editor Ryan Day (@ryaneatscake) answered a couple questions about the current feelings surrounding this Jaguars team.

Is there a sense a Super Bowl can be won with Blake Bortles or does he put a lower ceiling on an otherwise talented roster?

Ironically, the answer to both of your questions is yes. Blake Bortles is the most volatile quarterback in the league. There was a stretch of games last season where he was quite literally the best quarterback in the league. But a few weeks before that he lost us games on the road against Arizona Cardinals and New York Jets. It’s maddening, but he showed he can put the team on his back in the playoffs last year with an ugly, ugly win at home against the Buffalo Bills and then probably his best performance to date against the Pittsburgh Steelers. If a couple of calls go our way in the fourth quarter against the New England Patriots, I think we give the Philadelphia Eagles a harder time in the Super Bowl than they got from Bill Belichick & Co. and who knows?

But I’d be naive to say that Bortles doesn’t put a ceiling on this team. His best-case scenario is to be a game manager, throwing for 200 yards a game with zero turnovers. He’s not the centerpiece, but he should be able to connect on half of his third down conversions and not lose us the game. Even in that best case scenario, I don’t think the expectation can be that he will necessarily win us the game. He’s capable, but it’s not the expectation.

Can this defense be better in 2018? Is that even possible?

It can and I think it will be. First-round pick Taven Bryan will spell Calais Campbell so that he’s fresh for the playoffs. The starting four for the secondary have another year under their belts. Marcell Dareus will have had a full offseason to cement his position and technique at the center of this defensive line. It will be an improved defense that will carry us through our best shot at a Super Bowl in franchise history. We have all the pieces. It’s time to get it done.

What’s the most underrated aspect of this team heading into 2018?

Probably the wide receivers. They’re by no means a top unit in the league but Keelan Cole is really flying under the radar when he was at the top of the league in the second half of last season when he really started to get an opportunity. Marqise Lee is a fine piece to have on third downs and on crossing routes. Donte Moncrief is... honestly, I don’t know anything about Moncrief. But we paid him and he’s on a 1-year contract so he’ll be working hard. And Dede Westbrook was a fringe first round talent for a reason. This is a good enough receiving corps that is tailor made for a guy like Blake Bortles.

If you had to predict a regular season record, what would it be?

12-4 and the No. 1 seed in the AFC. I’m dead serious. I think an early-season win against New England Patriots is what seals it for home field advantage throughout the playoffs.