The Jacksonville Jaguars are in the playoffs for the first time in a decade...
Now, how far they go depends on the play of 4th-year quarterback Blake Bortles.
Welcome to the Orlando Sports Weekly Rundown, I'm David Baumann.
The Jags defense is sound... ranked 2nd in the NFL in yards and points (286 yards, 16.8 PPG allowed.)
The running back stable is fantastic, ranked 1st in the NFL with 141 yards per game. Leonard Fournette is quickly proving to be a terrific first-round draft pick.
The offensive line is the best its been in years.
The receivers are banged up, but even the replacements are making big plays.
Yet the quarterback position almost ALWAYS has a giant question mark around it.
Blake Bortles ranked outside the Top 15 quarterbacks in QB rating (84.7), touchdown passes (21), yards per game (230) and completion percentage (60.2%).
I'd estimate that 99% of all NFL fans and pundits doubt Bortles.
Hell, several NFL players doubt Bortles.
Jadeveon Clowney called him "trash" after Bortles threw for 326 yards and three touchdowns in a 45-7 Jaguars win on December 17th.
Dozens of Jaguars fans then delightfully sent trash cans to Clowney as a Christmas gift the following week.
And now there's Titans defensive lineman Jurrell Casey talking trash.
Orlando Sports Weekly Rundown: Jacksonville Jaguars Make The Playoffs
It should be mentioned that Casey will be watching the playoffs from home because the Titans choked away this season.
But back to Bortles.
He gets it.
It's not like criticism is anything new to him.
But opposing players taking cheap shots in the media is a little different.
"The players or peers talking about you is a little new," Bortles said Wednesday.
"I’ve never been somebody that felt that is the way you should handle things, but guys are different. I had the chance, was fortunate enough to play for George O’Leary in college and playing for Coach O’Leary, you learned very quickly how to take criticism. I had four years of practice doing that, so there’s nobody that can say anything worse to me than he did.”
How often did O'Leary tell Bortles he sucked?
"Daily," Bortles said. "I got benched every other day."
Now that's pretty funny.
While Bortles does a good job of saying the constant criticism "doesn't bother" him, it clearly irks his family and friends.
"It fu*king pisses me off," Jaguars center Brandon Linder has said. "I get so angry about it."
And Bortles' father Rob was asked by The Ringer whether he's reached out to pundits who've said bad things about Blake.
"I'd love to," he said, adding that he's actually considered hopping in his vehicle to meet critics face-to-face, only to back down after further consideration.
"I have family and stuff all over social media and they can’t help but see some of it," Bortles said. "I know it makes them mad because I don’t think anybody would want a loved one or friend or family member being talked about in a negative light that somebody else is playing against them. I’ve talked to my close family and close friends and they understand how I feel about it and know that it doesn’t bother me. I think they do their best to try and do the same.”
Bortles says he hasn't told people closest to him whether to respond or not respond to critics.
“They make their own decisions. They can if they want. I don’t care. I just know how I handle it and how I’m able to ignore that stuff and focus on what I think is important and focus on winning football games.”
So now, Bortles takes the 10-6 Jaguars into the playoffs as a favorite at home against the Buffalo Bills (who are in the playoffs for the first time in 18 years).
The Las Vegas oddsmakers expect it to be a very low scoring game (39.5 points), the lowest point prediction of any postseason opening weekend game.
Bortles is embracing his big chance.
"Playing a playoff game in Jacksonville hasn’t happened in a while, so having that opportunity to play in front of our fans and our city and our stadium, I think, is awesome," he said.
"I think that the emotions and the energy in the stadium will probably be a little heightened, but as far as what happens between the lines, I’d imagine it’s similar. It’s probably a little amped up a little bit. I think everyone realizes it’s your last chance. If you lose, you go home, it’s over. So there’s no reason and no excuse to play as hard as you can every single play, but I think our guys do that on a weekly basis anyways and I’m excited to go out there for this opportunity.”
Let me repeat what he said, "It's your last chance. If you lose, you go home, it's over."
That could be very symbolic.
Win, and the Jags advance.
But lose, and a legitimate question will arise: "Does Bortles have a future with the Jags... or in the NFL?"
Let's not forget, it was only four months ago that head coach Doug Marrone seriously considered starting Chad Henne over Bortles.
If Bortles plays poorly and Jacksonville loses this game, it really could be his last chance to prove whether or not he belongs.
David Baumann is a Sports Columnist with 407area.com and can be heard Tuesdays, 7-9pm on EK Sports, 96.9 The Game. He can be seen Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays at 10:30pm on Spectrum Sports 360's Face-off Segment on Central Florida News 13, channel 1013.