Preseason over, Shurmur has Giants focusing on Jaguars

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — With the preseason behind them, Pat Shurmur has given the New York Giants three days off and told them to start focusing on the season opener against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

While many players may not be going far from the team’s facility, they have been given film of Jacksonville to study before returning Monday.

New York finished a 2-2 preseason Thursday night with a 17-12 loss to the Patriots when all of the starters rested.

Players did a little lifting and running Friday before being sent home. The coaches will spend the next day cutting the 90-man roster to 53 for the regular season. A 10-man practice squad will be added once the front office tweaks the final roster with cuts and additions from the waiver wire.

General manager Dave Gettleman has promised the team will work the wire. Coming off a 3-13 season, New York has the second pick on all players waived.

“We’ve got a decent idea of the direction we’re going to go with things, but we still have some conversations,” Shurmur said Friday. “I told that to the players, it’s a credit to them. Every year, the players want to make it tough on us as to this guy or that guy. I think sometimes, you’re right, you can be in a situation where it’s pretty cut and dry. But I think we’ve had some guys that have played themselves into the mix.”

The Giants’ roster is not deep, so it’s unlikely Shurmur is going to have to shed any major talent. He plans to meet with all players cut and says he will tell them where they need to improve and to be ready in case a roster spot opens.

For those who remain, the opener at home is Sept. 9. Some preparations have already started.

“We have sort of leaned towards Jacksonville in some of our drill work, even though we didn’t say, ‘hey, this is a Jacksonville play’ or ‘this is Jacksonville’s defense,'” Shurmur said. “It’s out there, and I’m sure some of them will look at it, but we’ll get them re-centered on Monday.”

Two-time Super Bowl MVP Eli Manning, who was 21 of 30 in the preseason, started looking at the Jaguars a couple days ago.

“Their front seven is talented, their back four is talented,” Manning said of the team that blew a 10-point fourth-quarter lead against New England in the AFC title game in January. “They have a good scheme and they do it very well. They play fast and are in the right spots. It will be fun to pick coach Shurmur’s brain and see what plays we will have installed and what’s the best way to attack them.”

The season opener will be the first time the Giants will try to put all their weapons on the field.

Odell Beckham Jr. did not play in the preseason as Shurmur took a cautious approach with his star receiver coming off a broken ankle in early October. Halfback Saquon Barkley, the No. 2 overall pick in the draft, missed the final three preseason games after injury a hamstring on Aug. 13.

NOTES: Shurmur gave backup quarterback Davis Webb the night off against the Patriots because he felt the second-year pro had enough snaps. He threw 53 passes in three games. Rookie Kyle Lauletta and veteran Alex Tanney played against New England. … LB Alec Ogletree said the new 3-4 defense is slowly coming along. “We got a good group of guys that come to work every day and do the right things. This up- and-coming week will be a really big test of how close we are to be the defense that we want to be.”


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FANTASY PLAYS: Rookies beyond Barkley to consider in drafts

Fantasy football players needn’t worry if they miss out on Giants running back Saquon Barkley. While he’s the crown jewel of the 2018 rookie class, there are a host of first-year players who will contribute to the success of those who select them.

The rookie crop did receive a significant hit when Redskins running back Derrius Guice — who had been a consensus No. 2 pick in dynasty/keeper leagues that use rookie drafts — was lost for this season with a torn ACL in the second preseason game.

Most of the top rookies that fantasy players will pursue have the spotlight on them, yet there are a handful of others who have made a jump up draft boards with their exhibition play.

Barkley: He will receive a high volume of touches and will benefit from the presence of a healthy Odell Beckham Jr. and a revamped offensive line. There will be moments where he will look like a rookie, but Barkley will fully emerge as an RB1. His value is further enhanced by his impressive receiving skills, making him a strong bet to catch 50-55 passes. Barkley looks like he will be a double-digit touchdown scorer and should begin a run of fantasy dominance out of the gate.

Royce Freeman, RB, Broncos: Based on his preseason performance, it’s hard to believe Freeman fell to the third round. Coach Vance Joseph may be saying Freeman will share time with Devonta Booker, but Freeman will be the eventual starter and will soon end any talk about sharing the job. Freeman has home run ability once he gets in the open field and is also a solid receiver that will get 35-40 passes from Case Keenum. He’s now in the top 50 range of the draft and has a reasonable chance to hit the 1,000-yard mark should he win the job outright.

Michael Gallup, WR, Cowboys: Tight end Jason Witten retired to the Monday Night Football booth and receiver Dez Bryant was released. Dallas selected Gallup in the third round and has seen him flash signs of becoming an impact receiver in a rookie class that lacks immediately ready wideouts. He’s a good play near the end of the draft and will likely start from Week 1.

Kerryon Johnson, RB, Lions: Detroit knew that Johnson had the ability to overtake LeGarrette Blount and Ameer Abdullah as the lead back. What they didn’t know was that the former Auburn star was an exceptional pass catcher. Johnson averaged nearly 5 yards per carry in the preseason and will eventually squash the Lions’ projected running back by committee. He should be drafted with the expectation of him being the lead back by midseason.

Sony Michel, RB, Patriots: If the Pats are using a first-round pick on a running back, consider him special. Michel has missed much of the preseason with a knee injury but has explosive, game-altering moves that will allow him to become the go-to back on early downs. There is risk in taking Michel in the later rounds, but there’s also a good chance he can put up more than 1,000 yards from scrimmage while offering 7-9 touchdowns.

Courtland Sutton, WR, Broncos: Already nicknamed “Megatron Jr.” by his teammates, the 6-5, 230-pound Sutton has played worthy of the nickname former Lions receiver Calvin Johnson earned. Sutton’s size and leaping ability will make him a nightmare in jump ball situations and while his catches could be limited behind Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders, look for Sutton to be a sneaky good WR3/flex with 7-9 touchdown potential.

Rashaad Penny, RB, Seahawks: A broken finger in mid-August slowed down his momentum toward winning the starting job. He will open the season behind Chris Carson and is still expected to play a major role in the Seattle offense. His draft stock is low, which means Penny can evolve into a value pick.

D.J. Moore, WR, Panthers: Opens the season as the fourth receiver on the roster but has the skills to become a sneaky good stash who pays off later in the season.

Nyheim Hines, RB, Colts: An explosive element the Indianapolis offense has lacked in the backfield, Hines could be a solid third down back and return specialist who could amass over 1,000 all-purpose yards. His fantasy value is strongest in leagues where individual players are credited with return yards.

James Washington, WR, Steelers: Has earned the coveted slot position in a lethal Pittsburgh passing attack and was a big reason why the team traded Martavis Bryant to the Raiders. Don’t be shocked if Washington finishes with 7-9 touchdown catches.

Sam Darnold, QB, Jets: The third overall pick is a near-lock to start Week 1 and has an underrated receiving corps that will help him develop. His best fantasy days are down the road; however, Darnold will be an intriguing pick in two-quarterback leagues along with being a streaming option when the Jets get a favorable matchup on the schedule.

Calvin Ridley, WR, Falcons: He will start the season as the team’s third receiver while nipping at the heels of Mohamed Sanu’s starting job. Ridley will need time to develop but in one-year leagues, he should be considered in the back end of drafts.

Mike Gesicki, TE, Dolphins: Has a lock on the starting job and will become a reliable check down option for quarterback Ryan Tannehill. There is sleeper potential with Gesicki, who could become a red zone-friendly TE2 with the ability to grab 35-40 passes in his first season.

Baker Mayfield, QB, Browns: The first overall pick has looked sharp in the preseason (71 percent completion rate) but coach Hue Jackson is expected to give veteran Tyrod Taylor the starting nod. He’s more valuable in a dynasty/keeper league.

Lamar Jackson, QB, Ravens: The 2016 Heisman winner won’t see a lot of time, but Baltimore will utilize his athleticism in a variety of packages. A best case is him either getting a handful of starts later in the season or coach John Harbaugh turning him into a 2018 version of former Steelers multi-threat Kordell “Slash” Stewart.


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Chiefs, Cowboys finalize swap of OL Ehinger for CB Ward

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Kansas City Chiefs had been searching for help at cornerback and had a surplus of talented offensive lineman, while the Dallas Cowboys were in precisely the opposite situation.

So they decided to make a deal.

The Chiefs sent backup offensive lineman Parker Ehinger, who had lost his starting job in training camp, to the Cowboys for undrafted but promising cornerback Charvarius Ward. The deal was struck Thursday night but became official Friday, one day before teams are required to trim their rosters.

“I’ve had a chance to look at Charvarius and he’s a big kid that’s really had a pretty good training camp for them,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said on a conference call. “He’s somebody that will come in and work into that mix there. He’s young, so we’re not bringing him in to be the starter or any of that, but he sure is a nice addition to that group.”

The Chiefs have been chasing help at cornerback ever since trading Marcus Peters, a standout but malcontent, to the Rams earlier this season. They acquired Kendall Fuller in a trade with Washington for quarterback Alex Smith, signed David Amerson in free agency, chose Tremon Smith in the draft, and picked up a couple more prospects that went undrafted in April.

So far, Fuller has been the only one to distinguish himself during the preseason.

He’s poised to start alongside Steven Nelson, who missed part of camp with a concussion, but the depth beyond that gets thin. Amerson has been burned in preseason games, while Smith was a sixth-round pick from Central Arkansas who is trying to adapt to a major upgrade in competition.

Chiefs general manager Brett Veach evidently thought enough of Ward that he didn’t want to risk someone else grabbing him on Saturday, assuming he was cut by the Cowboys. So he made the deal to send them Ehinger, a fourth-round pick in 2016 who earned the starting job as a rookie.

Ehinger tore his ACL later that season, though, and with the exception of a start in Week 17 of last year, he’s been unable to earn back the starting job. Cam Erving beat him out in camp.

The Cowboys were searching for interior depth after losing backup Marcus Martin to a torn ligament in his toe this preseason. They also have a rookie, Connor Williams, poised to start at guard.

“They needed offensive linemen,” Reid said. “They’ve been checking on our group there and Parker will go in and do a nice job for them, and we appreciate everything he did here and how he fought back from his injury to get himself back to where he is now. He did a nice job.

“They wanted him and we wanted Charvarius, so it all worked out well.”


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Aaron Donald ends holdout with record deal from LA Rams

LOS ANGELES (AP) — All-Pro defensive tackle Aaron Donald has agreed to a massive new contract with the Los Angeles Rams, ending his second consecutive preseason holdout as the highest-paid defensive player in NFL history.

The Rams on Friday announced a new six-year deal through 2024 for Donald, the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year. Donald is already under contract this season for $6.89 million.

ESPN and the NFL Network reported the new deal is worth $135 million over six years, with a $40 million signing bonus and $87 million guaranteed.

Donald was chosen for the Pro Bowl after each of his four NFL seasons. The 27-year-old Pitt product is the centerpiece of the Rams’ defense and one of the NFL’s most dominant linemen.


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Former Eagles tight end Brent Celek retires

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Former Philadelphia Eagles tight end Brent Celek has announced his retirement after 11 seasons in the NFL.

Celek was released in March after spending his entire career with the Eagles. He told a crowd of 8,000 fans at a radio station event last Saturday that he was planning to retire and made it official on Friday.

Celek had 398 receptions for 4,998 yards and 31 touchdowns in 175 regular-season games. He caught 27 passes for 257 yards and three TDs in nine playoff games, including a 41-33 victory over New England in the Super Bowl in February.

He missed only one game in his career and is fourth on the team’s all-time list for games played.

Celek was a fifth-round pick out of Cincinnati in 2007.


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Barkley has top-selling NFL jersey without playing a down

Nice job, rookie.

A guy who has yet to take a snap in a real NFL game has the best-selling jersey in the league.

Saquon Barkley, the All-America running back from Penn State selected second overall in the draft by the Giants, is the leader according to DICK’S Sporting Goods Jersey Report .

Barkley is one of two rookies in the top 10; top overall pick Baker Mayfield, Cleveland’s quarterback, is ranked ninth.

Only one defensive player makes the top 10: Denver linebacker Von Miller.

Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz ranks second, followed by Tom Brady.

A year ago, Cowboys QB Dak Prescott was first, followed by Brady. Prescott is fourth this year.

Along with Barkley and Mayfield, popular rookie jerseys belong to Buffalo QB Josh Allen, followed by Denver DE Bradley Chubb and Cleveland DB Denzel Ward.

Joining Miller on the defensive list are Carolina LB Luke Kuechly, Houston DE J.J. Watt, Cleveland DE Myles Garrett, and Chubb.

The NFC East dominates sales on the Jersey Report with the top three teams: the Giants, Eagles and Cowboys, New England is fourth, Denver fifth.

San Francisco is the least-popular club, though if Jimmy Garoppolo and remain unbeaten as a starting quarterback, who knows if that will last.


The story of the Philadelphia Eagles’ first NFL championship since 1960 has been told in many ways and with many angles.

None has been as refreshing or unique as the theme taken by AP Football Writer Rob Maaddi in his new book, “Birds of Pray.”

With a foreword by Carson Wentz , Maaddi examines how the strong faith and religious devotion in the Eagles’ locker room helped drive them to the highest achievement in pro football. Maaddi, who has covered Philadelphia sports since 2000, not only interviews dozens of players and their families, he chronicles the ups and downs of the team’s title season with a pinpoint focus on the power that belief — whether it be in God or each other — can bring.

“The real story of the Super Bowl champions can’t be told without talking about the strong faith and the unique bond many of the players shared,” Maaddi says. “I’ve never seen a team that was more united than the 2017 Philadelphia Eagles, and their faith is what created that special brotherhood, and their faith is what allowed them to persevere and overcome so much adversity and ultimately become champions.”


The Dallas Cowboys are the NFL’s No. 1 team, while the Jacksonville Jaguars and San Francisco 49ers are coming on strong?

Who says?

Ticket buyers on the secondary market, according to StubHub .

For the fifth straight year, demand for Cowboys tickets is the highest in the league. StubHub sees an increase of nearly 300 percent in sales over the average when the Cowboys are the visiting team.

“The Cowboys are an iconic franchise with a reputation that continues to draw a crowd season after season,” says Scott Jablonski, StubHub’s general manager of NFL, NBA & NHL.

But a Cowboys contest is not the most-sought ticket heading into the season. That game actually is in London, where the Jaguars host the Eagles on Oct. 28. It’s the first time an international series game has appeared in StubHub’s top 10 most in-demand games.

“Eagles fans have always been passionate, but their Super Bowl win has truly ignited the fan base to unprecedented levels,” says Jablonski. “We’re seeing Eagles fans willing to travel long distances to watch their team play, including internationally for their game in London.”

The Jaguars and 49ers have seen large demand growth compared to last season; San Francisco has moved up from 19th to sixth, while sales for Jacksonville games are up 318 percent following the team’s run to the AFC title game last January.


Like many — probably most — athletes, Josh Rosen is impressed by the career and stature of LeBron James. The rookie quarterback of the Arizona Cardinals, who has drawn criticism from some for being arrogant because of his frankness and willingness to take a stand, has strong praise for the latest venture of the NBA’s biggest star.

Asked by Adam Schein on his SiriusXM satellite radio program how Rosen sometimes has been perceived, the 10th overall selection in this year’s draft noted: “I think it is always about crafting the message. There is always a good intention at heart; anything I do or say in putting myself out there is for the sake of helping others and trying to give people a voice who don’t actually have one.

“And on that topic, LeBron’s new show, ‘The Shop,’ it is exactly what this country means when they talk about ‘We need to have a conversation.’ And people are like, ‘What does that even mean, it’s conceptualist.’

“This show and that concept of athletes taking a lead and taking a role of sort of progress is really admirable, and that is exactly what we all should be rooting for, not criticizing.”


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Jaguars built loaded D with draft-day gems, free-agent hauls

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — The Jacksonville Jaguars have assembled the most expensive defense in NFL history. They believe it’s among the most talented, too.

The group will cost more than $110 million (nearly $90 million to starters) in 2018 and includes eight guys with at least one Pro Bowl appearance. It’s loaded front to back, a mix of youth and experience, budding stars and wily veterans, huge egos and team players.

Together, they make the Jaguars a trendy pick to reach the Super Bowl for the first time.

Getting Jacksonville to this point was no easy endeavor, considering the team lost 63 of 80 games before breaking through and making the playoffs in 2017. General manager Dave Caldwell (with some recent help from Tom Coughlin ) built most of the stacked defense over the last three years, benefiting from the best draft class in franchise history, one of the top free-agent hauls in NFL lore and a midseason trade that made a difference.

Here’s a look at how Jacksonville pieced together its high-priced and highly touted D, which returns 12 of its top 14 players from 2017:


Linebacker Telvin Smith turned out to be a steal in the fifth round of the 2014 NFL draft. The former Florida State standout has 447 tackles — more than any other player over the last four seasons — seven interceptions and 6 1/2 sacks while missing just four games. He signed a four-year, $45 million extension in October that included $20 million guaranteed.

Bigger contracts are likely in store for Jacksonville’s 2016 class, which included All-Pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey (first round), linebacker Myles Jack (second) and Pro Bowl defensive end Yannick Ngakoue (third). The trio is a rare find in the same draft and a major part of the team’s core.

Ramsey is a lock-down defender, quite possibly the best at his position. Jack makes plays all over the field as part of one of the fastest linebacker corps in the league. Ngakoue has 20 sacks and 10 forced fumbles in two seasons.

“Not everyone hits on their draft picks,” defensive coordinator Todd Wash said. “We are lucky that happened, but it is also a credit to the three individuals that come in every day and they work and strive to be the best that they can be.”


After pinching pennies and rolling over salary-cap space for several years, the Jaguars spent big in 2016 and ’17. They signed five defensive starters to contracts totaling $275 million, including $122.5 million guaranteed. Here’s the unique part: The team has no regrets about a dime spent because they hit on all five.

They gave defensive tackle Malik Jackson a six-year, $85.5 million contract in 2016 and signed safety Tashaun Gipson to a five-year, $36 million deal. Jackson made his first Pro Bowl last season, and coach Doug Marrone was adamant that Gipson should have been there, too.

As good as that duo performed, Jacksonville’s 2017 class was even better. All-Pro defensive end Calais Campbell, Pro Bowl cornerback A.J. Bouye and hard-hitting safety Barry Church exceeded expectations, no easy task in free agency.

Campbell had a career year, finishing with 14 1/2 sacks in his 10th NFL season, after signing a four-year, $60 million contract. Bouye, who inked a five-year, $67.5 million deal, tied for third in the league with six interceptions and didn’t allow a touchdown in the regular season. Church notched a career-high eight pass breakups to go along with four interceptions and 1 1/2 sacks.

None of the five has missed a game or even a start since joining Jacksonville, either.

“We just have too many athletes on defense,” Bouye said. “We have to capitalize on this opportunity while it is here.”


Needing to shore up a shaky run defense in late October, Jacksonville traded a conditional, sixth-round draft pick (it ended up becoming a fifth-rounder) to Buffalo for two-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Marcell Dareus. The Jags ranked 30th in the league against the run without Dareus and eighth with him down the stretch. Dareus and his $10.175 million salary will be in the starting lineup in 2018.

“We think it all starts up front,” Wash said. “It’s a situation where we are very fortunate.”


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An Early Look at Week One Totals (Best Bets)

Now that we’re one week removed from the start of the 2018 NFL regular season, it’s finally time to start breaking down specific games from a betting perspective. This year, we’re making a point to analyze often-neglected totals, so here some initial over/unders to size up for Week 1. To see how the total began and for some tips on wagers, check out our history of the total

Let’s go game-by-game from high to low.

51 — Houston Texans at New England Patriots: It feels as though this one will come down a little between now and game day. The Pats have been known to start slow and will be far from comfortable on offense, while it’s tough to tell how Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson will look in his return from a major knee injury. Both defenses struggled at times last year, but Houston has J.J. Watt back and New England always has Bill Belichick. Only 17 games had totals of 51 or higher last season, and only six of those went over. Stats say: Bet the under. 


49.5 — Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New Orleans Saints: This was in the 50s earlier in the offseason and still has room to come down. The Saints defense is underrated, the Bucs will be using a backup quarterback and New Orleans will also be without a key offensive weapon in Mark Ingram. When these teams met in New Orleans last November, they combined for 40 points.


49.5 — Los Angeles Rams at Oakland Raiders: You should probably wait for clarity on both Aaron Donald and Khalil Mack before pulling the trigger here, but the under would be a no-brainer at 49.5 if both play. There’s a very good chance these offenses fail to live up to the hype out of the gates.


47.5 — Kansas City Chiefs at Los Angeles Chargers: These teams scored a grand total of 77 points in their two meetings last season, and now the Chiefs have a less proven quarterback. Buying this line is buying Patrick Mahomes, and I’m not ready to do that yet.


47.5 — Chicago Bears at Green Bay Packers: This looks like one of the least bettable totals of the week, just because we don’t know what to expect from a new-look Chicago offense. I’d wait a week or two before putting big money on or against the Bears under Matt Nagy. Wouldn’t touch this unless it dropped dramatically, and the under seems risky considering the firepower both teams possess.


46.5 — Pittsburgh Steelers at Cleveland Browns: Nobody knows what to make of the new-look Browns, and let’s remember that Le’Veon Bell and the Pittsburgh offense started slowly after Bell’s holdout last year. The last five matchups between the Steelers and Browns that have involved regular starters have all contained 41 points or fewer.


46 — San Francisco 49ers at Minnesota Vikings: This might be inflated by the fact there’s hype surrounding Jimmy Garoppolo and the 49ers scored 78 points in their last two games in 2017. The Vikings have one of the best defenses in the league, and they’ve had months to study Garoppolo and the San Francisco offense. Thinking this should be in the low-40s.  


46 — Cincinnati Bengals at Indianapolis Colts: So much has changed with the Colts that you’d be better off waiting here, especially since this total is basically in toss-up territory and the Bengals are pretty erratic.


45.5 — Atlanta Falcons at Philadelphia Eagles: Last year’s season opener was one of the highest-scoring games of the year, but I’m digging the under here. The Eagles have questions at quarterback regardless of who starts, the Falcons offense hasn’t been right since 2016 and both teams are stellar on defense. I’m expecting big things from a young and fast Atlanta D in 2018, and that could start here.  


45 — Tennessee Titans at Miami Dolphins: Miami is going to be really bad this season and the Tennessee offense still has a lot to prove. This total should be lower.


44 — Washington Redskins at Arizona Cardinals: Alex Smith and Sam Bradford can light it up when they’re right, and both are healthy entering the regular season. Neither defense looks great, so it wouldn’t be shocking if this were a shootout.


44 — New York Jets at Detroit Lions: Too many variables with the Jets for this to be predictable, which is why the total is basically the NFL average. The median and average total last season was 44.


43.5 — Jacksonville Jaguars at New York Giants: Both of these offenses have the ability to explode this season, but both teams are stronger on the other side of the ball. This isn’t the week to get cocky regarding Eli Manning or Blake Bortles.


43.5 — Dallas Cowboys at Carolina Panthers: I get why this is a bit low because both defenses look as though they’ll be strong and there are questions regarding both offenses. Still, this is a game with Ezekiel Elliott, Cam Newton and Christian McCaffrey. You might want to take advantage of the fact Vegas hasn’t shaded the over in a game involving America’s Team.


42 — Seattle Seahawks at Denver Broncos: I don’t think Vegas has accounted for how much worse the Seahawks defense has become and how much better the Denver offense has become. The Seahawks also look strong (and balanced for once) on the offensive side of the ball, so I’m expecting 45-50 points here. If you want to bet an over, this is a good game.


41 — Buffalo Bills at Baltimore Ravens: Vegas rightly went low here. This is a Ravens team that surrendered just 10 points in the first two games of the 2017 season, and the Bills have a strong defense and a questionable offense. I don’t see this going over 41 unless there’s a bunch of scoring on D or the Baltimore offense goes off. Would prefer a slightly higher total for an under bet, but I think this one is still higher than it should be.


To recap: With each new year, hope springs eternal as we have all offseason to talk ourselves into new offenses. So do oddsmakers. 10 of these games are over the average and median total of 44 last season. While the over is always bettors favorite, in Week One, smart money will find the unders.

Brash Jaguars want to 'dominate world' with stacked defense

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Standing on the sideline and watching one-on-one drills, Jalen Ramsey had an up-close look at this touchdown.

The receiver used a triple move to beat one of Ramsey’s fellow defensive backs.

Ramsey shook his head in disbelief and hollered a few choice words across the practice field.

“That ain’t happening in a game,” Ramsey said, noting how long it took the play to develop. “Our defense is too good.”

Ramsey was being modest. Jacksonville’s D has a chance to be great, maybe even generational.

The bold, brash Jaguars , who relied on stout defense to win the AFC South and reach the conference title game last season, believe they will be even better on that side of the ball this fall. The unit allowed too many rushing yards early in 2017 and gave up too many big plays late, but pinned those problems on having three newcomers and three second-year players learning how to mesh while honing the details of coordinator Todd Wash’s 4-3 scheme.

Nowadays, they feel like they’ve figured out each other and the playbook.

And in a Super Bowl-or-bust season for Jacksonville, the talent-laden group plans to do whatever it takes to hoist the Lombardi Trophy and join a list of revered defenses that have carried teams to championships.

“Every great defense has won it all,” Pro Bowl linebacker Telvin Smith said. “That is what we want to be. A great defense is not mediocre. It is not to say you won a couple (division) championships. No, we want to say we dominated the world. That is the next step.”

The Jaguars finished second in the NFL in yards (286.1 per game), points (15.8), sacks (55), takeaways (33) and interceptions (21) last year. Players wanted more and were admittedly disappointed with the final rankings.

Coach Doug Marrone has since used it as motivation, publicly and privately needling his defenders.

“Make no mistake about it, I like it when people have a chip on their shoulder,” Marrone said. “I have a boulder on my shoulder.”

The Jaguars feel they have plenty to prove, mostly because of how last season ended .

Jacksonville squandered a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter of the AFC championship game at New England. The vaunted defense gave up an 85-yard touchdown drive — the key play was a 21-yard completion on third and 18 that left players openly questioning the scheme — and then allowed Tom Brady and Danny Amendola to hook up again for another score late.

“I would be lying if I said that didn’t keep me up all offseason,” said safety Tashaun Gipson, who blamed himself for the rare conversion. “Got lax. … I have to make that play.”

Even though they don’t want to look back, the Jaguars will try to make amends.

Jacksonville returns 12 of its top 14 defenders from 2017, including six Pro Bowl selections. The only guys missing are veteran linebacker Paul Posluszny, who retired from the NFL after 11 seasons , and nickel cornerback Aaron Colvin, who signed a four-year, $34 million contract with division rival Houston.

Even without them, the Jags will have eight starters on that side of the ball who have made the Pro Bowl in the last four years. That’s talent at every level of the defense, a mix of youth and experience.

All-Pro defensive end Calais Campbell is coming off a career year that included 14 1/2 sacks and is the undisputed leader of what is widely considered the most disruptive front in the league. Defensive end Yannick Ngakoue (20 sacks and an NFL-leading 10 forced fumbles in two seasons) is a budding star. Malik Jackson is one of the most complete defensive tackles in the league. Fellow inside guy Marcell Dareus, acquired from Buffalo in late October, helped shore up a shaky run defense. Jacksonville ranked 30th in the league without him and eighth with him.

Speedy linebackers Smith and Myles Jack benefit most from the star-studded D-line, free to chase ball-carriers and make plays all over the field. Smith and Jack had a hand in three of Jacksonville’s seven defensive touchdowns in 2017.

The secondary scored just once, but was nonetheless a big part of the group’s success.

Jacksonville led the league in passing defense, giving up 20 yards a game fewer than anyone else, and was the only team in the league to have four players with at least four interceptions. Ramsey, Gipson and fellow safety Barry Church had four apiece.

While Ramsey emerged as the league’s best — and most vocal — lock-down cornerback, A.J. Bouye was just as good on the opposite side. Bouye had six interceptions, knocked down a dozen more passes and didn’t allow a touchdown in the regular season. According to Pro Football Focus, quarterbacks posted the lowest passer rating in the league when throwing his way.

“We put up all those numbers, but it is a new year,” Bouye said. “There are teams that are really studying us now as a defense. We are just going to be ready for everything and we are going to continue to make plays.”

The Jags can only hope to get their money’s worth.

Their defense is the most expensive ever assembled, with the small-market franchise slotted to pay more than $110 million to the D in 2018.

The Jags are built to win now, and even though a number of rising stars have Jacksonville well-positioned for years to come, the defense may never been stacked like this again.

It has drawn comparisons to some of the NFL’s greats, including the 1976 Pittsburgh Steelers, the 1985 Chicago Bears, the 2000 Baltimore Ravens, the 2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the 2008 Steelers, the 2013 Seattle Seahawks and the 2015 Denver Broncos.

All those teams have a Super Bowl victory in common.

So there’s only one way for Jacksonville to join the list. And in a league that seems to make playing physical defense more difficult every year, it’s nothing short of a daunting task. But the Jaguars welcome the challenge.

“I’m sure everybody has different opinions on what they believe elite is,” Ramsey said. “As a defense, we are going to set our goals and figure it out. But ‘win’ is at the top of everything.”


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