The Jacksonville Jaguars are scheduled to lose this week, which is good news for the Cincinnati Bengals as they begin a three-game road stretch in northern Florida.
The Jacksonville road map to its 4-3 record looks like this: W-L-W-L-W-L-W
The Jaguars are one of two teams (Arizona) yet to win or lose two games in a row. Their most recent game was a 27-0 road victory against Indianapolis, the same team the Bengals barely survived 24-23 at home.
Despite the inconsistent production, Jacksonville is one win away from equaling its highest single-season total since going 8-8 in 2010, which was also the last time the team was two games above .500 at any point, starting that season 8-5.
But under first-year coach Doug Marrone, the Jaguars are tied for first in the AFC South thanks to a dominant run game and devastating defense.
Despite coming off a Week 8 bye, which means they have played one fewer game than 14 other teams, the Jaguars lead the league with 33 sacks. That’s six more than second-place Carolina, one of those teams who have played eight games.
Jacksonville has recorded 10 sacks twice this year — against Houston and Indianapolis — and that’s bad news for Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton and his struggling offensive line, whose 22 sacks allowed are tied for 10th most.
Calais Campbell, a 6-foot-8 defensive end signed as a free agent in the offseason, leads the Jaguars with 10 sacks, a half sack off the NFL lead, followed by linebackers Yannick Ngakoue (6.5) and Dante Fowler (5.5).
The heavy pressure is a big reason why Jacksonville owns the No. 1 pass defense, allowing 161.7 yards per game, and No. 1 scoring defense (15.7 points per game). But in keeping with their inconsistent nature, the Jaguars rank 32nd in rush defense (138.6). They are sixth in total defense (300.3), just behind the Bengals, who are fifth (295.0).
The defensive rise is hardly a surprise after the Jaguars took Fowler with the third overall pick in 2015 and used their first five picks in 2016 on defensive players, including starting cornerback Jalen Ramsey (fifth overall), starting linebacker Myles Jack and Ngakoue. The Jaguars recently added more depth to their defensive line by acquiring tackle Marcell Dareus — who sacked Dalton in Week 5 as a member of the Buffalo Bills — in a trade.
This year’s first-round pick, running back Leonard Fournette, is a big reason why the Jaguars own the No. 1 rushing offense (169.0).
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Fournette ranks sixth with 596 rushing yards, including 181 in a victory at Pittsburgh that stands as the highest single-game total in the league this year. He averages 4.6 yards per carry, while Chris Ivory (209 yards, 3.7) and T.J. Yeldon (122 yards, 13.6) share the workload.
But inconsistency, or at least a lack of balance, also is an issue on that side of the ball as the Jaguars rank 28th in passing (192.6) under the direction of quarterback Blake Bortles, who is completing just 58.7 percent of his passes with nine touchdowns and five interceptions.
And inconsistency was a staple on special teams, too, leading the Jaguars to cut kicker Jason Myers after he missed four field goals and two extra points through the first six games. Replacement Josh Lambo made both of his field goals and all three extra points in the Oct. 22 win against the Colts.
While Jacksonsville has had trouble stringing success together, the team owns double-digit wins against Baltimore (44-7), Pittsburgh (30-9) and Houston (29-7) – teams which beat the Bengals.
Bengals DE Chris Smith entered the NFL as a fifth-round draft pick (159th overall) of the Jaguars in 2014 and was with the team through the ’16 season. Cincinnati traded to acquire Smith on April 11. … Bengals DE Carlos Dunlap played at the University of Florida. … Bengals QB Jeff Driskel (Reserve/Injured) is from Oviedo, Fla., and played four seasons at the University of Florida, before transferring to Louisiana Tech University. …Bengals CB Josh Shaw played two seasons at the University of Florida, before transferring to the University of Southern California. … Bengals WR Kermit Whitfield (practice squad) is from Orlando, Fla., and played at Florida State University. … Jaguars LB Blair Brown played at Ohio University. … Bengals defensive coordinator Paul Guenther coached at Jacksonville University in 1997.
AFC North Outlook
Baltimore (4-4) at Tennessee (4-3) on Sunday afternoon. The Ravens are averaging just 15.7 points per game in their last seven against the Titans.
Cleveland (0-8) has a bye. The Browns get the week off after flying home from London, where they lost for the 26th time in the last 27 times.
Pittsburgh (6-2) has a bye. The Steelers get some time off to bask in their best start since 2011 before heading to Indianapolis in Week 10.
Cincinnati Bengals (3-4) vs. Jacksonville Jaguars (4-3)
When: 1 p.m. Sunday
Where: EverBank Field, Jacksonville, Fla.
TV: Ch. 7, 12
Radio: 700-AM, 1530-AM, 102.7-FM, 104.7-FM