Jacksonville Jaguars head coach Gus Bradley stands on the sidelines in the second half against the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey on November 8, 2015. The Jets defeated the Jaguars 28-23. Photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Prior to the start of the 2016 season, when local media were predicting the Jacksonville Jaguars' final record for this season, the general consensus was that the Jaguars would win between six and eight games.
That would be the best mark in the Gus Bradley era, which has seen just four, three and five wins, respectively, the first three years.
But with a strong returning offense and what looked to be a considerably better defense, there was cause for optimism.
Most predicted that the Jaguars would be better, which meant more than the previous year's total of five wins. Coupled with the notion that the AFC South Division looked mediocre, an 8-8 record, maybe higher, seemed within reach.
The notion that the division would be mediocre was correct. The other three members of the AFC South all have 6-6 records with four games left in the regular season. Jacksonville and Houston both play three division games in the final four weeks while Indianapolis and Tennessee play two each. It had all the makings of a great finish for those four teams.
The Jaguars' home game against the Minnesota Vikings was expected to mean something.
That is until the Jaguars failed to hold up their end.
With their horrendous 2-10 record, the Jaguars have been officially eliminated from title consideration. Even if they were to sweep their final four games, the best they could finish would be 6-10. With the other three teams having several games between them, at least one of them is guaranteed to finish with seven wins.
Bottom line is that the Jaguars wasted an opportunity to be a title contender while just being average. At season's end, they'll look back and grimace at the seven-game (maybe longer after Sunday) losing streak. In each of their last five games (all losses by 10 points or less), they had possession in the final three minutes and could have either tied the game or taken the lead with a touchdown.
That's how close the Jaguars were to winning any of those five games. Granted they would have needed four victories in the five-game stretch to create a four-way tie for first place with four games left to play.
The difference between the Jaguars and the other three teams is that the Jaguars continue to find ways to beat themselves. Much of it starts with turning the ball over, and it ends with the Jaguars' inability to create turnovers on defense.
They are still stuck on three interceptions for the year, all of which came in the first four weeks of the season. And yet, the Jaguars' secondary and pass rush have been good enough for Jacksonville to rank second in fewest passing yards allowed. It would seem the secondary would have picked off at least one pass in the 233 passes thrown by opponents in the last eight games.
It's been similar regarding fumbles. The Jaguars recovered a fumble in two of its first three games and pounced on a pair of fumbles by the Detroit Lions in Week 11. The Jaguars have been without a fumble recovery in the other nine games.
They haven't had many chances. Five times, their opponent fumbled once but recovered it. The other four opponents didn't fumble at all, suggesting the defense isn't doing enough to cause fumbles.
On the flip side, Jacksonville has been more than willing to cough up the ball. Blake Bortles has not only thrown 15 interceptions, but three of them have been returned for touchdowns. The Jaguars have fumbled 19 times in 12 games, losing the ball on 10 occasions. That's 25 turnovers for Jacksonville compared with just seven for its opponents. The minus-18 turnover margin is easily the worst in the league.
All four of Jacksonville's remaining have 6-6 records heading into the last quarter of the regular season. All four teams are still in position to win a division title, leaving Jacksonville with nothing but a spoiler's tag.
The Jaguars hold a win already over Indianapolis but have lost to the Titans (by 14) and to the Texans (by three).
Without a clean sweep, the best Jacksonville can do is match last year's record of 5-13. Anything less than that would match one of the three previous year's mark of two, three or four wins.
When team owner Shad Khan gave Bradley a one-year extension on his contract during the offseason, he threw in a stipulation that he expected the Jaguars to show improvement and be a contender. The latter hope has already vanished, and the Jaguars won't be able to claim improvement unless they sweep their remaining four games.
Bottom line is Bradley will likely get a pink slip from Khan at season's end.
SERIES HISTORY: Sixth meeting, Minnesota leads the series 4-1. Jacksonville's only win came in 2001, 33-3 in Minneapolis. The Jaguars have never beaten the Vikings in Jacksonville, one of just two NFL teams (New England is the other) that the Jaguars have not beaten at home. Last meeting between the teams was on Sept. 9, 2012, in Minneapolis with the Vikings winning 26-23 in overtime.