When discussion comes up about the NFL’s greatest defenses, the 1985 Chicago Bears, the 1986 New York Giants and the 2000 Baltimore Ravens are often mentioned. But the 2017 Jacksonville Jaguars have made a strong case for being included in this illustrious group.
The Jaguars led the league in fewest yards allowed per game, fewest yards allowed per play and fewest yards allowed per pass and were second-best in sack rate, points per game and turnovers. In fact, among the all-time best defenses, only the 2017 Jaguars ranked first or second in all these key defensive categories.
The question for the Jaguars heading into their showdown with the Pittsburgh Steelers in Sunday’s AFC Divisional playoffs is whether they are as good as their statistics make them seem. They have padded their numbers by playing a bevy of weak offenses led by shaky quarterbacks, including Tom Savage, Jacoby Brissett (twice), DeShone Kizer, Blaine Gabbert and T.J. Yates. Even in their 10-3 playoff win over the Buffalo Bills, they were facing a quarterback, Tyrod Taylor, who had been benched earlier in the season.
On Sunday, the Jaguars will be facing one of the game’s most feared passers: two-time Super Bowl winning quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
But Roethlisberger is actually the best evidence that the Jaguars defense is legitimately great. In October, the Jaguars held the Steelers without a touchdown and forced Roethlisberger to throw five interceptions—the most he has ever tossed in a game. Jacksonville won 30-9.
The Jaguars remain underdogs this weekend. If the oddsmakers turn out to be right and the Steelers win, it doesn’t necessarily mean the Jaguars aren’t really good. It may just mean they’re not ready. Even the great defense of the 1972 Dolphins, who remain the NFL’s only unbeaten Super Bowl champion, fell short in the playoffs the prior two seasons. While the 1985 Bears were eliminated by the eventual Super Bowl champion 49ers in the 1984 season, before winning Super Bowl XX. In that season, the Bears knocked off the Giants in the divisional round, before New York won Super Bowl XXI.