All three state NFL teams are on the road with two of them playing division opponents on Sunday. And the Bucs, the Dolphins and the Jaguars all have different storylines in their matchups
First, for Jacksonville, the Florida NFL team with the most wins with four, will try to keep their fleeting hope to get into the AFC wildcard playoff picture alive. The Jags know that it will basically extinguish if, they do not come up with a victory against the Titans.
A week ago QB Nick Foles (above) returned from a 10-week absence with a broken collarbone, but led only one meaningful scoring drive in the first half as Indianapolis eventually beat them decisively 33 – 13.
Now the Jaguars plays in Nashville, a place where they have been repeatedly humbled recently, including us Thursday night loss a year ago. That’s where Titans running back Derrick Henry ran for over 200 yards and a 99 yard touchdown run to help seal the game.
Jacksonville did defeat Tennessee earlier this year when Marcus Mariota was still the Titans quarterback and they sacked him nine times in the game. Now, Tennessee is led by former Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill and the Titans at 5-5 are also hoping to be in the division and wild card playoff race. Tannehill has led them to victories in three of their last four games, since Mariota was benched.
In Atlanta, the Buccaneers stumble into an NFC South matchup at 3-7, having been also decisively beaten by one of the best teams in football, the Saints, 34-17 last Sunday at home.
Embattled quarterback Jameis Winston threw four more interceptions last week and leads the NFL with 18. While not all of the bad play has been his fault, Winston is the leader of the offense and is seeking a long-term commitment from Tampa Bay.
However, he’s only going to get a final few games at the end of the season to demonstrate that he should stick around. This is particularly because, Winston’s current record dating back two seasons ago is 7 – 22 in games that he has started. And, you couple that with all the turnovers, then at some point you run out of excuses as to why he deserves a massive contract.
The Falcons have had a mini resurgence since starting 1 – 7 with rumors everywhere that owner Arthur Blank would fire coach Dan Quinn on their bye week. Instead, Atlanta wiped out those same Saints in New Orleans two weeks ago, and last week picked off Carolina quarterback Kyle Allen four times in a blowout win in Charlotte.
And, as we wrote earlier this week, it will be the first time the Tampa Bay will play a game against two of its head coaches on the opposing sideline. Falcons offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter certainly would love to have a huge day against the team that fired him at the end of last season.. And likewise, Atlanta’s secondary coach Raheem Morris would be all smiles if his Falcons are able to put a win together against the team he coached from 2009-11.
Finally, in Cleveland the 2-8 Dolphins appear ready to battle with the “bottom feeders,” like the Bengals and Redskins for the #1 or #2 draft position. This after coming off of a division loss and season sweep to the Bills 37-20 last Sunday at Hard Rock Stadium.
Miami had controversy off the field this week, when their former starting running back Mark Walton was arrested again for the fourth time this season and the team released him. Walton had already been suspended and missed two games by the NFL for violating the conduct policy.
It doesn’t seem to matter who runs the ball for Miami, as Kalen Ballage had nine carries for nine yards in the loss last week. Miami has also placed veteran defensive backs Bobby McCain and Reshad Jones on injured reserve after they were both hurt last Sunday.
The Fins will have one of the youngest and most anonymous defenses in the NFL on the field Sunday afternoon.
And, their opponent, the Browns are trying to stay in the AFC playoff picture themselves after a controversial win last Thursday night over the Steelers.
Despite the victory on the field for quarterback Baker Mayfield and Co., it has all been overshadowed by the ugly brawl at the end of the game. That’s where defensive end and former #1 overall pick, Myles Garrett, ripped the helmet off of Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph and swung it at him, connecting with the top of his head.
Garrett has subsequently been suspended the remainder of this season and several other Browns were fined for their involvement for dirty plays earlier and the fight at the end of the game.
Jaguars DE Yannick Ngakoue hinting he’s gone again?
One of the key free-agent questions for the Jaguars continues to be whether or not they’re going to allow their best pass rusher, Yannick Ngakoue, to test the free-agent market coming up? And, once again, the player may be giving a clue that he’s going to do just that.
Ngakoue tweeted Wednesday morning the following phrase, which seems to indicate, yet again, that he will be playing somewhere else in 2020:
— Yannick Ngakoue (@YannickNgakoue) February 26, 2020
This goes along with something that we wrote earlier in January. That’s when just a couple of days after the season Ngakoue posted essentially a goodbye message to Jaguar fans. This came on the heels of him having held out for a new contract for the first few days of training camp last August, but not receiving a new deal during the season, etc.
Ngakoue, whose 37.5 career sacks are the most by a Jaguars player after 63 career games, is sure to be a sought-after player from many different teams. GM Dave Caldwell said at the end of the season when asked about re-sgning his star pass rusher, “He is a tremendous player and even a better person. How he handled his business this year was tremendous. But, I would say that’s priority No. 1, to make sure he comes back to Jacksonville. Hopefully, we can get that done. ″
It’s also worth noting that at Tuesday’s NFL Scouting Combine at media availability in Indianapolis, coach Doug Marrone repeated that he wants Ngakoue to remain in Jaguars teal and white:
Doug Marrone: ‘’No doubt where I stand or the coaches.”
—They want Yannick Ngakoue back. pic.twitter.com/vOorH4hH95
— John Reid (@JohnReid64) February 26, 2020
However, it remains to be seen if Marrone and Caldwell are willing to “pony up” huge money for him or even potentially, put the franchise tag on him before free agency begins next month?
Ngakoue figures to want a contract close to what the top ends are getting paid right now. Demarcus Lawrence and Frank Clark both signed five-year, over $100 million deals in 2019 and received guaranteed money that exceeded $62 million. That is massive for Jacksonville.
If the Jags opt for the “franchise tag,” then the talented end will be making around $19 million dollars, which is the current average of the top five players at his position. The Jaguars could also put the tag on him and then work on a longer term, salary cap friendly, deal that would replace the tag later in the off season.
Jaguars confirm they are declining option on DT Dareus
At Tuesday’s media session at the NFL Scouting Combine, Jaguars GM Dave Caldwell made official what had been rumored for the last couple of days regarding defensive tackle Marcell Dareus: he will not be brought back for a fourth season in Jacksonville.
Caldwell confirmed the Jaguars are not picking up DT Marcell Dareus' option.
— John Reid (@JohnReid64) February 25, 2020
Dareus only played briefly in 2019, as he suffered a core muscle injury that sidelined him after only six games and he was placed on injured reserve. The former number one pick of the Buffalo Bills had played for coach Doug Marrone for a couple of seasons in Western New York.
Marrone and Caldwell traded for Dareus during the 2017 season and he helped them with their rise to the AFC South title and two playoff wins. This included Darius registering two sacks and four other tackles-for-loss in the Jaguars three playoff games that year.
Dareus made the Pro Bowl twice in Buffalo in 2013-14.
However, he has not lived up to his hefty contract that was reworked Jacksonville last February. Last season, Dareus made over $8 million dollars and the team would have been on the hook for $20 million this year had they picked up the option. That obviously wasn’t going to happen.
Dareus also has had legal troubles off the field, including a civil suit against him in Tampa for alleged sexual misconduct. As we wrote previously, a woman alleged that Dareus had sexually assaulted her in January of 2018 at a North Tampa Florida home, while Dareus was in town for the Alabama-Clemson College Football Playoff Championship Game.
However, that suit filed in Hillsborough County court was “dismissed with prejudice” last April, which means it cannot be re-filed.
Dareus, if healthy after the core muscle injury rehab, may have some value as a defensive tackle on the free agent market.
As for the Jaguars, they have former #1 pick defensive tackle Taven Bryan to play more in the middle and are trying to decide if free agent-to-be, DE Yannick Ngakoue, can be afforded for their 2020 salary cap?