For their first contest of the 2017 season the Jaguars travel to Houston to take on their bitter division rival the Texans. The Jaguars haven't beaten the Texans in their last six tries, but they'll look to reverse their fortune in this one. That's not the only streak the Jaguars will be looking to break - The Jags haven't won a season opener since 2011.
But the Jaguars have a shot to take the lead in the division and end their streak of lost season openers. Here's 3 matchups that will help to define this contest.
1. Calais Campbell vs the Texans Offensive Line
Campbell, a 2017 free agent signee, is set to make $60 million over the next four years in Jacksonville. The question is, will he earn the big payday he was given by the Jaguars in March? His first opportunity to prove his worth will be against the Texans on Sunday. Campbell will line up as the team's strong side defensive end on base downs and will kick inside to play defensive tackle next to Malik Jackson in clear passing situations. Campbell will have the benefit of facing a far from stellar Texans offensive line week one. At times he'll line up against the inexperienced Kendall Lamm, who is filling in for the Texans best offensive lineman Duane Brown (holdout) at left tackle. He'll also face Breno Giacomini on the right side of the Texans offensive line. Giacomini is well past his prime. When he kicks inside, Campbell will face Nick Martin, who is by far the Texans most impressive lineman without Brown in the lineup. But he'll also do work against LG Xavier Su'a Filo and RG Jeff Allen. None of the players Campbell will line up against on Sunday will have his level of skill or pedigree. Campbell needs to be a dominant force in run defense and a viable interior pass rusher when the Jaguars line up in nickel. He'll have a decided advantage no matter who he lines up against on Sunday. If Campbell hopes to endear himself to the people of Jacksonville, having a big time performance in week one against a division rival would go a long way.
2. Jalen Ramsey vs DeAndre Hopkins
This may be the most exciting matchup in the entire NFL in week one. During Jalen Ramsey's rookie year he and Hopkins went at it twice and there were fireworks in each matchup. Both players are alpha dogs and both are comfortable, to say the least, with talking a bit of trash on the field. Both have made public comments criticizing the other. DeAndre Hopkins went as far as to say that Jalen Ramsey shouldn't be lined up against him in 2017 - Hopkins thinks that task should go to current Jaguar and former Texan AJ Bouye. For Hopkins, maybe that's wishful thinking. Even though Hopkins was able to beat Jalen Ramsey in the clutch last season, Ramsey got the better of him for the majority of both contests. When these two matched up in 2016 Hopkins was held to just 135 yards and 10 yards per catch, and wasn't able to find the end zone in either contest. With Hopkins being by far the best offensive weapon for the Texans, Ramsey will need to show up big in week one - If he does the Jaguars might just escape Houston with a victory.
3. Leonard Fournette vs the Texans Linebackers
The Jaguars drafted Leonard Fournette with the fourth overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft. He'll make his NFL debut against the Texans this week. If he hopes for his debut to be anything like fellow rookie RB Kareem Hunt's debut against the Patriots on Thursday Night Football a lot will need to go right. Obviously, the Jaguars offensive line will need to open up some holes for the "Duval Destroyer". But for Fournette to live up to his new nickname he'll need to win his one on one matchups with the Texans linebackers. The Texans added to their already impressive LB core in April by drafting star LB Zach Cunningham from Vanderbilt. He'll combine with Brian Cushing and Bernardick McKinney to form the group that will be charged will plugging the holes against the Jaguars rushing attack on Sunday. McKinney racked up 129 tackles and five sacks in 2016, while Cushing brings one of the most ferocious attitudes in football to the mix. This will be a HUGE test for Leonard Fournette. He doesn't need to be as flashy as Kareem Hunt was on Thursday, but he needs to grind out yards and help the Jaguars sustain long drives. Of course, you won't see anyone on the Jaguars side complain if he does end up breaking a few big runs.
Which matchup are you most looking forward to? Let us know in the comments below!
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