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The Jaguars Finally Rank First In Something Besides Ineptitude

We would like to use this moment to offer a formal apology to the Jacksonville Jaguars. Over the past few years, pointing out Jacksonville’s many hilarious inadequacies has been one of our favorite hobbies (like we did here, here and here). And on occasion, we’ve gone out of our way to insert jokes about the Jaguars into articles that weren’t even about them (such as here and here). In our defense, they did deserve it: Between 2011 and 2016, Jacksonville won just 22 games — the fewest in the NFL. But this season, no one is laughing about the Jaguars, who are 5-3 and tied for first place in the AFC South. For the first time since 2010, the Jags have an Elo rating of more than 1500, meaning that after seven years, they’re finally an above average team again.1

The last time Jacksonville was this good, the Apple iPad was just a few months old, “The Social Network” had just been released, and the Chicago Bears were playoff-bound. And the Jaguars aren’t just above average. With their 23-7 win over the Bengals in Week 9, the Jags now have an 83 percent chance of making the postseason for the first time since 2007, according to our NFL Elo predictions. While much-maligned (by us) quarterback Blake Bortles has shown marginal improvements this year, it’s been the defense that’s had the biggest influence on the Jaguars’ winning ways. (“Jaguars” and “winning ways” sounds so strange to say aloud.)

In the past two drafts, almost two-thirds of Jacksonville’s picks have been on the defensive end, including Yannick Ngakoue, who has 6.5 sacks so far this season. In free agency this year, the Jags signed Calais Campbell to a four-year, $60 million deal, and Campbell currently leads the league in sacks with 11. The dividends this season of the team’s focus on defense have been tremendous: Through Week 9, the Jags rank No. 1 in the league in points per game allowed with just 14.6 and expected points added with 11 per game.

Jacksonville (yes, Jacksonville) has the NFL’s best defense

The Jaguars’ defensive ranks since 2012

PER GAME
YEAR POINTS YARDS PASS YARDS RUSH YARDS EPA
2017* 1 3 1 27 1
2016 25 6 5 19 13
2015 31 24 29 15 24
2014 26 26 22 27 18
2013 28 27 25 29 27
2012 29 30 22 30 28

*Through Week 9

Source: ESPN Stats & Information Group

The Jags’ rapid ascent to the top of the league’s defensive rankings has been sudden, so you’d be forgiven for missing it. Of their eight games so far this year, they’ve held opposing teams to 7 points or fewer in four of them (most in the NFL), compared with zero all of last year. And they’re not just the best in 2017. Seth Walder of the ESPN Stats & Information Group neatly detailed before Week 9 that the Jags’ secondary is on pace to become the best pass defense since 2006 — yes, better than the Legion of Boom. From an overall view, of the 10 defenses with the highest expected points added per game since 2006, only Ray Lewis’s 2008 Baltimore Ravens rank ahead of Doug Marrone’s defense.

Jaguars defense could end up being the best in a decade

Top 10 defensive expected points added per game since 2006

RANK YEAR TEAM EPA/GAME RECORD PLAYOFFS
1 2008 Ravens 11.6 11-5 Lost in conference championship
2 2017* Jaguars 11.0 5-3
3 2006 Ravens 10.8 13-3 Lost in divisional playoffs
4 2008 Steelers 10.2 12-4 Won Super Bowl
5 2006 Bears 9.1 13-3 Lost Super Bowl
6 2008 Eagles 9.0 9-6 Lost in conference championship
7 2009 Jets 8.9 9-7 Lost in conference championship
8 2012 Bears 8.4 10-6 Missed playoffs
9 2013 Seahawks 8.0 13-3 Won Super Bowl
10 2011 Ravens 7.9 12-4 Lost in conference championship

*Through Week 9

Source: ESPN STATS & INFORMATION GROUP

Another half of the football season still remains, and Jacksonville has work to do to ensure a playoff berth. But their chances of making the postseason are partly predicated on the strength of their remaining schedule: Of their eight remaining games, the Jags have a higher Elo rating than seven of their opponents. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll finish with a 12-4 record — they do play four of those remaining games on the road, and they are still the Jaguars after all. (Sorry, we had to slip one more in.)

FiveThirtyEight vs. The Readers

Week 9 in the NFL saw plenty of teams fighting for their playoff spots — in some cases quite literally. Jacksonville’s Jalen Ramsey and Cincinnati’s A.J. Green’s double ejection sparked an all-out brawl. And things got heated in New Orleans when the Saints and Buccaneers got into it on the Tampa Bay sideline. In our NFL prediction game this week — in which we invite you to outsmart our Elo algorithm — the readers had a couple of double-digit wins, the largest of which came as the Lions beat the Packers on the road to net the readers a whopping 18.8 points. For some reason, Elo picked Jay Cutler and Miami and was punished for doing so in the Raiders’ 27-24 win over the Dolphins, which netted readers 12.4 points. Make sure you get your Week 10 predictions in early — see you next week.

Elo’s dumbest (and smartest) picks of Week 9

Average difference between points won by readers and by Elo in Week 9 matchups in FiveThirtyEight’s NFL prediction game

OUR PREDICTION (ELO) READERS’ PREDICTION
PICK WIN PROB. PICK WIN PROB. RESULT READERS’ NET PTS
GB 66% DET 54% DET 30, GB 17 +18.8
MIA 60 OAK 54 OAK 27, MIA 24 +12.4
NYG 51 LAR 62 LAR 51, NYG 17 +9.5
SEA 76 SEA 73 WSH 17, SEA 14 +1.8
JAX 62 JAX 65 CIN 7, JAX 23 +0.1
PHI 75 PHI 77 DEN 23, PHI 51 -1.0
TEN 56 TEN 55 BAL 20, TEN 23 -2.6
ATL 51 ATL 52 ATL 17, CAR 20 -2.7
NO 79 NO 74 TB 10, NO 30 -4.2
HOU 72 HOU 73 IND 20, HOU 14 -4.5
ARI 66 ARI 62 ARI 20, SF 10 -5.7
BUF 59 BUF 64 BUF 21, NYJ 34 -8.4
KC 52 KC 59 KC 17, DAL 28 -10.1

The scoring system is nonlinear, so readers’ average points don’t necessarily match the number of points that would be given to the average reader prediction.

Footnotes

  1. An Elo rating of approximately 1500 is considered average.

Daniel Levitt is a sports writer at FiveThirtyEight. He’s an alum of the University of Missouri.

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