Jacksonville Jaguars' Blake Bortles and Leonard Fournette (USA Today Sports)
Jacksonville Jaguars' Blake Bortles and Leonard Fournette (USA Today Sports)

2018 win total (via Bovada): 9

2017 ATS record: 9-7

Optimist view: For the first time in forever, the Jaguars were not picking at the top of the draft. They turned a 3-13 2016 season into a 10-6 record last year and a shocking playoff run: two wins and a 14-point lead in the fourth quarter of the AFC title game at New England. Being within an eyelash of the franchise’s first Super Bowl sent a clear message to the rest of the NFL that the Jaguars were for real.

Bringing back the core of their starting unit, along with some solid depth, the Jaguars have a talented roster — especially on defense. That unit ranked first or second in several major categories (yards per game allowed, passing yards allowed, INT rate, sack rate, first downs allowed, red-zone effectiveness and points allowed), improved against the run and scored seven defensive TDs. The majority of the group returns, most of them in their physical prime.

QB Blake Bortles, for all the guff he takes, stood tall in playoff games against the Steelers and Patriots and didn’t turn the ball over in 180 postseason minutes. He has a stout run game and a good offensive line in front of him, as well as the foundation of an intriguing receiving corps.

Pessimist view: Bortles still has much to prove, and despite receiving a contract adjustment that keeps him around at least another year, he remains a QB with a leash of somewhat short length. No, Bortles won’t be benched, we don’t think — not with Cody Kessler and Tanner Lee behind him — barring a disastrous fall. But it stands to reason he might play his way out of a long-term job, so there’s still tangible pressure to improve now.

And he’ll have to do it without the return of Allen Robinson, who in essence was replaced following a lost season by the mercurial Donte Moncrief. Also gone is Allen Hurns, so some of these young receivers must be more consistent and do more than flash every few games.

Leonard Fournette had three monster games, missed three more and was fairly ordinary in the other 10 regular-season contests as a rookie. Against the Steelers, Rams and Seahawks, he averaged 5.6 yards per game; in the other 10 games, he was at 3.2 per. He must be a steadier force to help buoy a passing game that could be hit or miss.

On schedule: First, let’s talk weather. The Jaguars have not done well in early-season home games — when it’s often hot — in recent years, whether they were favored or not. But three home games in September (two against 2017 playoff contenders in New England and Tennessee) means they’ll have to reverse that. On the flip side, the Jaguars shouldn’t have to endure much in the way of cold weather, outside of trips to Buffalo (Nov. 25) and Tennessee (Dec. 6).

Beating the Titans will be important. The Jaguars were swept by them last year, and both games come in interesting spots. The first matchup comes in Week 3, immediately following the AFC title game rematch against the Patriots, so it’s a good test of focus and will for the young Jags. The second, at Tennessee, will be in a short week (Thursday game) in Week 14 following a home game against the Colts.

The Jaguars avoided playing Andrew Luck in two matchups last year and only saw one half of Deshaun Watson in his NFL debut in relief in Week 1. That’s expected to change. The Jaguars also must face a pretty good battery of experienced and talented quarterbacks in Eli Manning and Tom Brady early and Ben Roethlisberger and Alex Smith late.

In between, the Jaguars face a tough October — at the Chiefs, at the Cowboys, home against Texans, followed by the London game against the Super Bowl-champion Eagles, the team the Jaguars would have faced for all the marbles last season. Better start out strong, as five of the final eight games (and three of the final four) are on the road. The season concludes with what could be a winner-takes-the-South showdown against the Texans in Jacksonville.

Overall, it’s not a brutal slate of opponents. The Jaguars could be favored in 10 or more games, including a few by at least a touchdown. But it’s the configuration of the schedule that could trip them up in a few spots.

Prediction: Over

Even with a few landmines here and there — and the still shaky ground on which Bortles stands — we are going "over." The Texans could still win the South, for instance, and there’s absolutely a road to 10 wins. If they split with Houston and Tennessee, drop both games against the Eagles and Patriots and lose one of that tough road duo early, either at Kansas City or Dallas, you’re looking at only five losses there.

This defense will still dominate most opponents, and a few young weapons on offense could emerge. The special-teams concerns are not overwhelming. We think 10 is a reachable number, so the “over” it is.

Previous projected win total breakdowns

Arizona Cardinals

Atlanta Falcons

Baltimore Ravens

Buffalo Bills

Carolina Panthers

Chicago Bears

Cincinnati Bengals

Dallas Cowboys

Denver Broncos

Detroit Lions

Green Bay Packers

Houston Texans

Indianapolis Colts