Jaguars force doubters to change their tune

Michael Silver

Jack Del Rio was walking from the visitors' locker room at LP Field to the Jaguars' team bus Sunday afternoon when he stopped to answer a question from someone who'd spent the past several months expressing a great degree of skepticism about his team.

The reformed skeptic was 6-foot-2, incredibly athletic and armed with a pen, notebook, large eyebrows and an exceptional journalistic skill set – not to mention an ample supply of modesty.

Back in October, you guys played the Titans on Monday Night Football and got destroyed, I reminded the Jags' eighth-year coach. Today you tore them up. What changed?

Del Rio smiled, pondering a turn of events that has seen a team universally written off as innocuous take over undisputed possession of first place in the AFC South with four games to play.

"A lot [has changed]," Del Rio answered. "We've worked on many things, and we've just played better in a lot of different areas. Our guys, all year, it's been a fun group to coach. It's a younger group. We're an improving team, and we all know it. We've won four of our last five, and we're gaining confidence.

"What we've done is kind of keep our head down and keep working and stay positive despite others not really understanding how we could, or why we would. A lot less people notice what we're doing than with some other teams, and maybe that works to our advantage."

Del Rio didn't seem to be directing his comments toward anyone in particular, but in retrospect he was talking to the right guy. Though I didn't think much of the Jags' prospects going into this season and assumed they were going nowhere after that Monday night drubbing by the Titans, I was hardly a vocal critic.

However, as doubters go, it turns out I was without peers: As a reader informed me Tuesday on Twitter, I've picked against the Jaguars (7-5) in each of their 12 games this season. I thought he was paranoid – and mistaken – until I looked it up and saw that he spoke the truth.

My first reaction: Whoa! Perhaps I need to start keeping track of these things. Upon further review: Never mind; it's so much more fun when other people do. That said, I obviously underestimated this team. (And given my substandard record this season, believe me, those are seven correct picks I could have used.)

After witnessing the way the Jags controlled the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball against the Titans on Sunday, I'm duly impressed – and let's just say I'll strongly consider picking them to win some or all of their remaining games against the Raiders, Colts, Redskins and Texans.

In the meantime, you can see from this week's quizzical totem pole of truth that Del Rio's team is closer to the top than the bottom, and that a certain columnist is far less dubious about Jacksonville's legitimacy than he used to be.

1. New England Patriots: Will their next loss be next autumn?

2. Atlanta Falcons: Is Brent Grimes(notes) the best cornerback most people have never heard of – and will that change if he ends up in the Super Bowl?

3. Pittsburgh Steelers: Will Doug Simpson go to the prom with Ben Roethlisberger – or will he tell him that "something suddenly came up"?

4. Baltimore Ravens: Do you think Haloti Ngata(notes) – and Ray Lewis(notes) – wanted to break John Harbaugh's nose after the coach green-lit a Joe Flacco(notes) pass on second-and-5 with 3:13 remaining in Sunday night's game (and Troy Polamalu(notes) forced a game-winning fumble)?

5. New York Jets: How devastating is Jim Leonhard's(notes) injury to Rex Ryan's defense – and how overmatched did replacement Eric Smith(notes) look on Monday night?

6. New Orleans Saints: Are they headed for a sloppy second-place finish in the NFC South – or will the defending champs get it together and earn the No. 1 playoff seed once more?

7. Chicago Bears: Now that Jay Cutler(notes) has clinched his first winning season since his days at Heritage Hills High, will he hurl a football through the glass ceiling and take his team deep into the playoffs?

8. Philadelphia Eagles: When Andy Reid complained about Michael Vick(notes) taking big hits from defenders, how many defensive coordinators felt like telling him to break out the violins?

9. New York Giants: Hey, Justin Tuck(notes) – if Jason Paul-Pierre knocks Brett Favre(notes) out of Sunday's game, will the rookie pass rusher then be earning his paycheck?

10. Green Bay Packers: Can rookie halfback James Starks(notes) be a season-saver – or will he look a lot less effective against teams other than the 49ers?

11. Kansas City Chiefs: After giving Josh McDaniels a postgame hug and head pat Sunday, how much did Todd Haley wish he could've added a little Trumpian touch?

12. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Why can't LeGarrette Blount(notes) hit the hole in short-yardage situations as decisively and forcefully as he hit Byron Hout?

13. Jacksonville Jaguars: Are defensive tackles Tyson Alualu(notes) and Terrance Knighton(notes) starting to resemble Marcus Stroud(notes) and John Henderson(notes) in their primes?

14. Oakland Raiders: Will they finally get a win against a team outside the AFC or NFC West?

15. San Diego Chargers: Is Ryan Mathews(notes) on the way to becoming the worst first-round draft pick of the A.J. Smith era, or are the Davises (Sammy and Buster) too tough to top?

16. Dallas Cowboys: When people cite those stats which show the Cowboys are running the ball much more since Jason Garrett replaced Wade Phillips as head coach, they do know that Garrett called the plays under Phillips, right?

17. Minnesota Vikings: If Brett Favre can't start (or finish) on Sunday, don't you think the Vikings' brass is more interested in seeing what rookie Joe Webb(notes) can do at quarterback than in trotting out Tarvaris Jackson(notes) again?

18. Cleveland Browns: Is any rookie playing better than Joe Haden(notes) right now?

19. Miami Dolphins: If they keep playing this way, will Chad Henne(notes) suffer the same fate as that football that rookie cornerback Nolan Carroll(notes) managed not to catch against the Browns?

20. St. Louis Rams: When Rams general manager Billy Devaney quoted "Thunder Road" after Sunday's victory over the Cardinals, was halfback Steven Jackson tempted to belt out some "Born To Run" lyrics?

Hughes has just 3 tackles despite appearing in 9 games.
(Jeff Hanisch/US Presswire)

21. Indianapolis Colts: So, Bill Polian, how do you really feel about the play of first-round draft pick Jerry Hughes(notes)?

22. Seattle Seahawks: How badly did Leon Washington(notes) get carved up during Monday's special teams film session?

23. Houston Texans: Should their defense's motto be "Fight For 40 Minutes"?

24. Washington Redskins: Has Albert Haynesworth(notes) officially become the most ill-advised free-agent acquisition in NFL history?

25. Tennessee Titans: Why did they claim Randy Moss(notes) if they weren't going to involve him in the offense?

26. San Francisco 49ers: If Alex Smith somehow led the 49ers to the playoffs and saved Mike Singletary's job, would Niners fans boo him even more loudly?

27. Detroit Lions: Does any team get more consistently shafted by bad luck and/or bad calls?

28. Buffalo Bills: When Arthur Moats(notes) is 50, what are the odds he'll still be telling the story about the time he KO'd Brett Favre?

29. Denver Broncos: What did the Broncos' brass see in Eric Studesville before offering him the job as interim head coach – and can he possibly make enough of an impression in four games to have a shot at staying on?

30. Cincinnati Bengals: In honor of last Sunday's pivotal play, should defensive tackle Pat Sims(notes) be nicknamed "Brain Freeze"?

31. Arizona Cardinals: Can someone kindly explain to me how Daunte Culpepper's(notes) backup just got signed, but the Cards (and 31 other NFL teams) have no interest in Culpepper?

32. Carolina Panthers: When your starting quarterback's passer rating is 10 points worse than Derek Anderson's,(notes) isn't it time for someone to ask, "Are you serious?"