2018 marks the sixth season that Jacksonville has played a home game in London, and they will continue to do so through at least 2020. London is their home away from home, and if recent seasons are any indication, they’ve settled in nicely.
Jacksonville lost their first two London games but won the next three. During that span they’ve changed head coaches and front office regimes, and only two players, Abry Jones and Carson Tinker (who is on IR), remain on the roster since their first London game. But plenty of staff have been there the whole time.
Getting players physically prepared for the time difference and equipment logistics are obstacles for an organization to deal with for the London games. Though the jet lag going to London is minimal compared to the return flight, the game is being played at 9:30 am Eastern Time so players, have to adjust to London time, teams can’t operate as if they haven’t changed time zones like west coast teams sometimes do when traveling to the east coast. Every team has to deal with transporting equipment to 8 road games, but not every team has to play in Europe in a stadium not designed for an NFL team to play in. Except the Jaguars, who have been doing this for years. Their head of Strength and Condition has made the London trip every year, while heads of Equipment and Training joined the team in 2014, and several of their assistants have been with the Jaguars for as long, as well as many front office members. The Jaguars don’t go to London every year by chance, Shad Khan has a whole staff just for international development. The players and coaches may change, but the support staff hasn’t and after a couple of games to get their feet under them, the Jaguars have made playing at Wembley as seamless as possible.
On their first trip to London in 2013, the team departed Jacksonville on Monday night and arrived Tuesday morning. The result was a 42-10 thrashing by San Francisco.
The following year, the Jaguars flew directly from a road game in Cincinnati on Sunday night and arrived Monday morning. That didn’t work much better - they lost 31-17 to Dallas.
The idea behind leaving Thursday - in addition to continuing a winning pattern - is to best create a normal game week feeling for players. They had a customary day off Tuesday and practiced and prepared at EverBank Field on Wednesday and before flying out Thursday.
Or perhaps their success there is nothing more than random chance. A funny thing about the small data points that is NFL 16 game seasons is that you can do all kinds of things when you place outcomes in buckets. Carson Wentz has 10 TDs and 0 INTs in a former Confederate state, but that won’t give the Eagles an advantage when they visit the Saints. The later the opening kickoff the better Michael Bennett is, his per game sack rate is 0.31 for early games, 0.44 for late games, and 0.67 for night games, but that doesn’t mean he should be ineffective against the Jaguars.
Nor does the familiarity of travel mean guarantee that the Jaguars have an advantage. The 1982 Raiders practiced in Oakland but played in Los Angeles, they went 5-1 at home. Oakland to LA is a comparatively short commute, but add in the disruption of the players strike in the middle of the season and you’ve got quite a few distractions to deal with. However, after back to back 8-8 seasons the Saints went 3-13 in 2005 when they were displaced by Hurricane Katrina. The Saints played home games in three different stadiums, including four straight at LSU’s Tiger Stadium, which gave them some stability. They lost all four games.
But the performances of the Jaguars in London can’t be overlooked. It’s not just that the Jaguars have won three in a row, it’s that they’ve played much better in London and their opponents haven’t. Of course teams that play better than their opponent win a lot, but this is more than just playing better.
Over the last three seasons the Jaguars second highest scoring game has been the London game. Opponents have had notably bad games.
In 2016 the Jaguars turned the ball over in 9 of their first 10 games and had multiple turnovers in 7 of them, but in London had no turnovers. Their London game against the Colts was one of just two games all season with a positive turnover rate. They won three games all year: the London game, the game following their bye, and a divisional game where the opposing team’s starting QB got hurt.
The Jaguars playing better in London the past three seasons could simply be selection bias. But given the logistics of the game and the Jaguars familiarity with it, no one should take it lightly.