The Philadelphia Eagles (3-4) and Jacksonville Jaguars (3-4) are set to play on Sunday at Wembley Stadium in London. In order to preview this Week 8 matchup, I reached out to our enemies over at Big Cat Country. The radiant Ryan O’Bleness took the time to answer my questions about the upcoming game. Let’s take a look at the answers.
1 - To what extent do you think the Jaguars having extensive experience playing in London will help Jacksonville this week?
I actually think it’s a bigger advantage than people may realize. Jacksonville will be playing its sixth game in London this week, while Philadelphia will be competing in its first international game. There is long travel and jet lag involved. There’s a time zone difference. There is a completely new atmosphere. There’s an unfamiliar stadium. There are just different nuances to deal with. These are not impossible obstacles to overcome for a team playing across the pond for the time, and it may seem a bit trivial to the common fan, but I do think the players are going to have to adjust on the fly. There is a reason why the majority of teams lose their first game in London.
Plus, the Jaguars have played really well at Wembley Stadium the past three years (3-0). Many of Jacksonville’s starters are familiar with what this process entails. The coaching staff is familiar with what kind of practice plan and game plan it takes to win there. The Jaguars also have huge fan support in London, and will have the majority of the crowd on their side. This is a big game for the Jags, as a loss this week would put Jacksonville in a deep hole, so a game in the U.K. may be exactly what Jacksonville needs right now. Although, I think the Eagles are just as hungry and probably the more talented team at the moment. It won’t be easy.
2 - Blake Bortles has been pretty terrible. But he also has a history of playing well in London. On a scale of 1-10, what’s your confidence level in him this week? (10 being the most confident.)
I have a very strong feeling that “Good Blake” is going to show up this week, as he often does in London (just in time to shut people up during the bye week, then continue to be terrible afterward). However, the thing with Bortles is that he’s a turnover machine and as inconsistent as they comes. If Bortles can make better decisions and limit his mistakes (you know, not give the ball to the other team multiple times per game), I think the offense will be in good shape despite a lack of weapons. If I had to put a number on it from a scale of one to 10, I would say I’m about a six this week (and this week only). Not supremely confident because he hasn’t earned that, but as noted, he plays very well across the pond.
3 - What is the Jaguars’ biggest strength? Where do they have the biggest edge in this game?
Despite the recent struggles, the biggest strength remains the defensive unit, and in particular the passing defense. While Jacksonville has not forced a ton of turnovers this year, the secondary has held strong for the most part. The team ranks No. 1 in the NFL in passing yards allowed per game, and No. 2 in the league in total yards allowed. The defense is still star-studded acros the board with players like Jalen Ramsey, A.J. Bouye, Calais Campbell, Telvin Smith and others, but you probably have not heard a lot about them this season because the sack and interception numbers just have not been there. The Dallas Cowboys and Kansas City Chiefs were both able to expose the Jacksonville defense, but the offense in particular has played very poorly and often put the defense in impossible situations to get out of. Not to mention, it’s very hard to play elite defense this year given the many rule changes that clearly gives an advantage to the offense. Bottom line is that the defense is still one of the most talented units in the league, but it needs to make more plays to help out an abysmal offense.
4 - What is the Jaguars’ biggest weakness? What concerns you the most about the Eagles?
Obviously the easy answer here is to say Bortles, and that’s probably true, but I’ll go a little bit outside of the box and say the offensive line is equally as weak right now. The Jaguars have now lost their first and second string left tackles to the Injured Reserve list, and are so desperate at the spot that the team recently signed New York Giants castoff Ereck Flowers, and may start him this week. Several other starters are playing banged up and the unit has allowed a ton of pressure on Bortles (see, it’s not completely his fault). This offensive line was built of road graders and was expected to be strong in the rushing game, but Leonard Fournette has not even played four quarters of football this season, and while T.J, Yeldon has been a fine replacement, the running game has fallen out of the game plan these past three weeks because Jacksonville was in deep holes early. We’ll see if Carlos Hyde can provide a needed boost on the ground this week.
5 - Who wins this game and why? Score prediction? And what are your expectations for the rest of this Jaguars season?
This is an interesting matchup. Two teams with very high expectations entering the season, but have fallen to 3-4 due to injuries and other things. This is a desperation game for both teams, as 3-5 is not a hole either team will be able to easily climb out of. If this game were being played in Jacksonville or Philadelphia, I think the Eagles would win and it wouldn’t be particularly close. But, since this game is indeed being played in London, I have to favor the Jaguars for the experience there and the fact that Jacksonville always seems to put on a show in the team’s home away from home. The offense seems to come alive in Wembley Stadium, and despite Jacksonville’s impressive defense, Philly’s offense should be able to keep pace for a while. I think we are going to see a close, hard-fought game, but the Jaguars are able to survive. As for the rest of the season, I am still holding hope that the Jaguars can still win a very weak AFC South, but the team’s performance these past few weeks have not inspired much confidence in those aspirations. In my opinion, this is a “pendulum” game for the Jaguars: a win this week will swing momentum forward and set this team up for a successful run, while a loss will basically completely sink the ship.
Final score prediction: Jaguars 30, Eagles 27.