Jacksonville Jaguars are the Browns most important AFC South opponent in 2023
By Josh Ungar
The last time the AFC North faced the AFC South was in 2020. That season, the Cleveland Browns hosted the Houston Texans and Indianapolis Colts and visited the Tennessee Titans and Jacksonville Jaguars. The Browns got out their brooms as they won all four games against their AFC South foes.
This coming season, they'll be squaring off against the AFC South once again, which means they’ll visit the Colts and Texans and host the Titans and Jaguars. While the game in Indianapolis will serve as the next chapter in the Colts-Browns rivalry, the most important AFC South opponent is the Jaguars.
When Cleveland went down to TIAA Bank Field in Duval County in 2020, they were 7-3 and looked poised to run roughshod over 1-9 Jacksonville. But it was anything but smooth sailing for the Browns, as they had to survive a late scare to hold off the Jags 27-25. Prior to that meeting, the Jaguars went into FirstEnergy Stadium and defeated the Browns 19-7 in Week 11 back in 2017 in the same season where the Jags went to the AFC Championship against the Patriots.
The Jaguars also won in 2014, 24-6, in Week 7 down in Jacksonville when the Browns might’ve still been riding the emotional high of beating the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 6. Jacksonville also defeated the Browns 32-28 in Week 13 up in Cleveland in 2013. The Jaguars have been relatively dominant against the Browns over the past decade and Cleveland will be looking for payback when they invade the Dawg Pound this coming season.
Jacksonville and Cleveland are in similar situations. First, both recently made it to the playoffs, with the Jaguars getting there in 2022 and the Browns reached the postseason in 2020. Second, they both reached the playoffs in the first year under their new head coach.
2020 was Kevin Stefanski’s first year in Cleveland and 2022 was the first year for Doug Pederson. Third, they each pushed the Kansas City Chiefs to the brink at GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium in the AFC Divisional Round. However, the Chiefs were narrowly able to escape in both instances, 27-20 over the Jaguars and 22-17 over the Browns (the Chiefs made the Super Bowl on both occasions where they went 1-1).
When the Browns pushed the Chiefs to the limit back in 2020, Baker Mayfield was the quarterback. This coming season, Mayfield isn’t going to be the starting quarterback, in fact, Mayfield isn’t even on the roster. Deshaun Watson is going to be under center for Cleveland this season.
This will be Watson’s first full season with Cleveland as he was dealing with a suspension last year. In his brief time last season, Watson completed 99 of 170 passes for 1,102 yards, seven touchdowns, and five interceptions. Trevor Lawrence, who was the No.1 pick in the 2021 NFL Draft in Cleveland, will be under center for the Jaguars. In the regular season, he completed 387 of 584 passes for 4,113 yards, 25 touchdowns, and eight interceptions.
Both quarterbacks are capable of guiding their respective offenses to 20+ points on any given Sunday, Monday, or Thursday. In Week 12, Lawrence guided the Jaguars to 28 points in a win against the Ravens, and the Jaguars scored 40 points during a Week 15 victory over the Dallas Cowboys.
Although the sample size was limited for Watson, he notably led the Browns to 24 points against the Washington Commanders on the road. Given the teams that the Jaguars and Browns will have to go through in order to reach the playoffs, both teams will need to put up points in order to come away with victories.
Like last season, the AFC is going to be a gauntlet this year. The Chiefs are the defending Super Bowl champions and they’re not going anywhere. The Cincinnati Bengals, Buffalo Bills, Los Angeles Chargers, Baltimore Ravens (depending on if Lamar Jackson stays or not), New York Jets (if Aaron Rodgers is their QB), Miami Dolphins, and the Pittsburgh Steelers are going to have a say in what the postseason picture looks like for 2023. So if the Jaguars and Browns want to receive invitations to the postseason party, they’ll have to earn one.
This game in the Dawg Pound will have playoff implications of some kind. The two teams could be jockeying for playoff positioning, one of them could have a division title on the line, or home field advantage in the wildcard round could be in play. Any number of those scenarios could play out when the Jags and Browns collide this season.
The Jaguars are going to be the favorites to win the AFC South this season, however, the Browns won’t have the same odds in the AFC North with Cincinnati and Pittsburgh still in the mix (and maybe Baltimore). Cleveland will most likely have to get into the playoffs via the wildcard which could put them on a collision course with the Jaguars. The matchup ultimately will mean more to Cleveland than it will to Jacksonville. But it could also be the game where the Jaguars knock the Browns out of playoff contention.
With the implications that are surrounding this game, the NFL schedule makers should put this game late in the season. When they last faced each other back in 2020, the game was in Week 12. This season, the game should be closer to the Week 13 to Week 15 range and this game should be in the 4:00 window with Jim Nantz and Tony Romo on the call for CBS.
While the game against the Colts will be the next step in the budding rivalry between Indy and Cleveland, it won’t carry the same weight as the matchup between Trevor Lawrence and the Jaguars against Deshaun Watson and the Browns in the Dawg Pound.