TAMPA — The state of NFL football in Florida is bleak. All three Sunshine State teams on pace for losing seasons with home attendance that ranks in the lower third.
The Dolphins were heading for the No. 1 overall pick at this time last month. Now at 2-9, they’re one of several really bad teams and no longer on pace for the No. 1 overall pick. (Thanks, Bengals.) Still, they’ve used trades to accumulate 14 draft picks for 2020.
Long-suffering Bucs fans are looking at another losing season. As the Bucs head to Jacksonville this Sunday, they aim to win consecutive games for the first time this season. Another offseason full of questions — none bigger than quarterback Jameis Winston’s future — looms ahead.
But the most unenviable situation resides in Jacksonville.
The Jaguars like the Bucs at 4-7, but they’ve lost three straight games to division opponents by an average of 22 points. That slide had Tom Coughlin at a podium this week pleading with fans to attend Sunday’s game at TIAA Bank Stadium.
This may sound familiar to Bucs fans, but the Jaguars haven’t played a home game in more than a month. They lost to the Texans in London on Nov. 3 and then following a bye week, they lost consecutive games to the Colts and Titans.
“We need you very badly,” pleaded Coughlin, the former Jaguars and Giants head coach and Jacksonville’s current executive vice president of football operations. “In my opinion, we’ve been on the road for three straight weeks and it hasn’t been pretty. We need to get home. We need to get our whole thing going in our stadium and our support from everyone.
"It's not a time to duck your head, stick your head in the sand," Coughlin added. "We all know what the circumstances are, but these are young men. They know when they're being supported and when some extension of love is being sent their way, and they will respond. So, we all need to do this.”
It’s a dramatic fall for a team that was one quarter away from going to the Super Bowl two years ago. The Jaguars led the 2017 AFC title game 17-10 entering the fourth quarter at New England.
They’ve since lost 18 of 27. They cut ties with franchise quarterback Blake Bortles after posting the NFL’s second-worst scoring offense in 2018.
“They were there, within a quarter [of the Super Bowl],” Bucs coach Bruce Arians said. “And you lose a player or two, some injuries happen, you switch quarterbacks and you’re starting over. The chemistry is not the same. I don’t call it chemistry. I call it accountability. You bring in new guys that might not fit the culture and it’s a big change.”
Jaguars owner Shahid Khan said he wouldn’t stand for another season like 2018. The team signed former Super Bowl MVP quarterback Nick Foles, who was injured in Week 1 and didn’t return until Nov. 17. Rookie Gardner Minshew, a sixth-round pick, took over, set off a mustache craze in Jacksonville and went 4-4.
But over that span, the team’s best defensive player, cornerback Jalen Ramsey, demanded a trade and was dealt to the Rams for two first-round picks and a fourth-rounder.
“I think a lot of people that keep going back (to 2017) because we haven’t played well, they go back to that year where we did play well,” head coach Doug Marrone said. “That’s one thing about the NFL, it’s a league that changes, maybe for the exception of one team in the AFC East. Everyone else, they go through some tough changes.”
The Jaguars have trailed three straight games by one score, only to be outscored a combined 52-8 in third quarters. Over that stretch, they’ve surrendered 233 yards rushing per game.
“Not everything’s beautiful,” Foles said. "This is a game. But it’s also a lot of people’s livelihood, and there’s a lot of fans that are passionate about us and support the Jaguars. So, we have a lot of work ahead of us to get to where we want to be.”
The Jaguars rank 28th in the league in attendance, averaging just 60,236 announced fans a game. (The Bucs are 30th at a 51,354.)
But this week, and through the remainder of the season, the Jaguars have a lot to play for, including their jobs.
“We have five games to go and then there will certainly be an evaluation of every one of us,” Coughlin said. "... Everyone has a lot to prove.”
Contact Eduardo A. Encina at email@example.com. Follow @EddieInTheYard.