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The NFL is finally rewarding London with good International Series games in 2018

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Five years of Jaguars’ “home” games pays off.

For years, the American football fans in the UK have had to suffer through the regular season NFL games U.S. fans didn’t care about. The NFL London branch of the league’s International Series produced low-watt showdowns like Bears-Buccaneers, Rams-Cardinals, and a steady diet of the Jacksonville Jaguars in its attempt to grow the sport as a worldwide brand.

In 2018, fans in Europe will finally get a schedule the league can’t bury with 9 a.m. U.S. kickoff times.

The Jaguars will make their return to merry old England, but this time as winners after a surprising AFC South title and run to the conference title game. When they get there, they’ll face the defending Super Bowl champions as the Philadelphia Eagles make their foreign soil debut. It’s the biggest game the International Series has ever seen — and it’s a fitting love letter to the devoted fans they’ve built across the pond.

Of this year’s three games in England, one features two final four teams from 2017 (Eagles, Jaguars), another features a playoff squad vs. a reloaded 9-7 team (Titans, Chargers), and the last pits two West Coast teams with uncertain futures against each other (Seahawks, Raiders).

While Seahawks-Raiders isn’t the exciting game it was just two years ago, it will still bring Marshawn Lynch to England and American football to Tottenham’s new stadium. Otherwise, Eagles-Jaguars and Titans-Chargers are matchups lightyears ahead of most NFL London offerings.

(Mexico City, for what its worth, is also getting an awesome game between division champions when the Chiefs and Rams meet at Estadio Azteca. Mexican fans also got Patriots-Raiders in 2017. They may never know the struggle of London’s NFL supporters.)

No NFL London game had ever brought a defending champion to Great Britain, though the Patriots played in Mexico City months after winning Super Bowl 51. This year, the UK will get the Eagles and the Jaguars, coming off a season where the two teams combined for 23 wins — more than any other pairing in the NFL’s European history. Chargers-Titans will make it two games between teams with winning records the year prior. That’s the first time that’s happened and only the fifth and sixth time it’s happened in the 24-game history of the league’s London experiment.

London fans deserve this

The UK has been subjected to some legitimately bad teams in its decade of hosting NFL games. Ten of the 42 teams who’ve played overseas were coming off seasons in which they’d won four games or less. British fans were privy to watch one of Cleveland’s 16 losses in person last fall and the middle of a 1-15 Dolphins campaign in 2007.

No team has played more in London than the Jacksonville Jaguars, who have had a designated “home” game in the city each season since 2013. While the Jags have gone 3-2 in that span, their records by year look like this: 4-12, 3-13, 5-11, 3-13, and then last year’s 10-6 renaissance. Despite several years of abject horror, Jacksonville has built a following across the pond.

“London is our second home and it has adopted us,” Hussain Naqi, the Jags’ senior vice-president for international development, told City A.M. before the team’s 2017 game at Wembley Stadium. “You can tell that from the knowledge fans have developed about the game to the one-sided support that we’re getting.”

The team has even explored opening a training facility in London to strengthen its ties to the local community. Their constant presence has helped convince first-time fans to pull on the teal and white and back the Jags for their introduction to the American sport.

And now they’re backing a winner. Jacksonville developed an elite defense and drafted Leonard Fournette last year to create an ideal supporting cast for embattled quarterback Blake Bortles. Bortles responded with a pair of solid playoff performances, and now his team is an early favorite to repeat as AFC South champions.

But the Jaguars’ biggest chance to prove they’re legit will come Oct. 28 when they battle the defending NFL champions in front of some of their newest supporters. Jaguars-Eagles is the biggest game in the history of the NFL London series, and it’s the game where British fans who’ve invested their time in a once-hopeless franchise can finally cash in for one of the biggest games of the 2018 season.

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