It’s the first full week of NFL preseason action and it brings us an interconference tilt of playoff teams from a season ago in the Sunshine State. The New Orleans Saints are on the road as they travel to take on the Jacksonville Jaguars Thursday night. New Orleans was 2-2 in the preseason last year before an 11-5 regular season mark that gave them the NFC South crown: they were defeated 29-24 on the road by Minnesota in the NFC Divisional Round. Jacksonville went 2-2 in the preseason followed by a 10-6 regular season mark that earned them the AFC South title: they advanced to the AFC Championship, where they fell 24-20 at New England. The Saints won the last matchup between the teams, 38-27, at home on December 27, 2015.
New Orleans Saints Try to Meet High Expectations
New Orleans has no shortage of offensive weapons and that’s part of the reason that there are high expectations for the team in 2018. The Saints seemed to have a trip to the NFC title game locked up before giving up a long catch and run score by Stefon Diggs as time expired, sending the Vikings on and the Saints home. With this being the opening preseason game, you won’t see a ton of Drew Brees, who hit 386 of 536 passes last season for 4,334 yards with 23 touchdowns and eight picks. You also likely won’t see much of the vaunted duo of Mark Ingram II (230 carries, 1124 yards, 12 TD, 58 catches, 416 yards, two TD) and Alvin Kamara (120 carries, 728 yards, eight TD, 81 receptions, 826 yards, five TD) either. Ingram II will see action in the preseason but will miss the first four regular season games as he serves a suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy.
Once Brees takes over clipboard duty, if he takes the field at all, you’ll see Tom Savage and Taysom Hill under center for the Saints. Savage played in eight games for Houston last season, hitting 125 of 223 passes for 1,412 yards with five touchdowns and six picks. He has played in 13 games in the NFL, starting nine, though he is just 2-7 in those contests. Hill played on special teams last season, making four tackles in five games: the former BYU quarterback turns 28 later this month and has not taken a snap as a pro. Other position battles to watch out for include the backup running back spot where Daniel Lasco, Shane Vereen and former Bill Jonathan Williams try to make a name for themselves. Meanwhile, receiver is a crowded field: with Michael Thomas and former Bear Cameron Meredith along with Ted Ginn Jr. locked in, can Michael Floyd, Brandon Tate, Brandon Coleman, Austin Carr and rookie Tre’Quan Smith make an impact?
Jacksonville Jaguars Seek to Take Next Step in 2018
Jacksonville won 10 games and the AFC South title mainly on the strength of their defense. The Jaguars won their first division title since 1999 and their first playoff game since 2007 despite 23 turnovers because of that defensive unit. Jacksonville finished second in scoring defense, yards allowed and turnovers forced with 33. The Jaguars were first in pass defense and first downs allowed while ranking second in interceptions with 21. Jacksonville was the epitome of ground and pound offensively as they led the league with 527 rushing attempts for 2,272 yards while ranking second with 18 rushing scores.
Blake Bortles continues to be the starter despite his maddening inconsistency and his penchant for bad mistakes. He completed 315 of 523 passes for 3,687 yards with 21 touchdowns against 13 interceptions while adding 322 yards and two scores on the ground. Bortles struggled against Buffalo in the wild card game throwing but contributed 88 yards on the ground to help the Jaguars to the win. Cody Kessler is currently the only other QB on the roster: he has played in 12 games, starting eight, in the NFL. That’s the good news: the bad news is he is 0-8, completing 139 of 218 passes for 1,506 yards with six touchdowns and three interceptions while getting sacked 27 times. Leonard Fournette will continue to be the feature back after rushing for 1,040 yards and nine scores as a rookie last year. Will T.J. Yeldon remain the backup or will Corey Grant, Brandon Wilds or Tim Cook steal the role? In the passing game, the Jaguars added Donte Moncrief to a crowded wide receiver group while Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Niles Paul are in the mix at tight end. It will be interesting to see who emerges from those groups.
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