Jacksonville Jaguars (2-7) at Detroit Lions (5-4)
After a busy off-season in which the Jaguars had among the most cap space in the NFL and spent accordingly, the Jaguars entered the season with high expectations and have had an incredibly disappointing season, falling to 2-7 last week with loss to the Houston Texans. Their last 2 losses have been especially painful, as they lost by 5 in Kansas City despite losing the turnover battle by 4 and then they last week they lost at home to the Texans by just 3 despite losing the turnover battle by 2. They’ve held the Chiefs and Texans to a combined 26 first downs and have accumulated 48 first downs of their own, but couldn’t win either game because of turnovers.
That’s been the case all season, as they rank 9th in first down rate differential, but have just 2 wins because of a league worst -14 turnover margin. Fortunately, turnover margins tend to be very inconsistent on a week-to-week basis. For example, teams that have a -4 turnover differential in a game on average, have a +0.1 turnover margin the following week. Aside from turnovers, they’ve actually played pretty well this season and if we assume turnover neutral football going forward, they figure to have better luck winning some of these close games (4 losses by 5 points or fewer) and should win more games going forward, including possibly this game against the Lions.
Despite the fact that they’ve only had 3 losses by more than 5 points this season even with all of their turnover problems, the Jaguars are underdogs of 6.5 points at home this week in Detroit, far too many considering the Jaguars are significantly better than their record. The Lions, meanwhile, are not quite as good as their record suggests, as they enter this game 22nd in first down rate differential. All 9 of their games have been close and most could have gone either way; their biggest win came by 6 points in overtime against the Vikings. Given that, I’m not sure why they’re expected to win by at least a touchdown against the Jaguars.
The Lions are also in a tough spot as they have to turn around and play again next week on Thursday Night Football, their annual Thanksgiving home game. Favorites are 50-82 ATS before playing on Thursday Night Football since 2008. The Lions have never been good before these Thanksgiving games anyway, going 6-10 ATS since 2001 the week before Thanksgiving. The Jaguars, meanwhile, go to Buffalo next week. The early line has them as at least 6 point underdogs in that game, like they are here, and underdogs of 6 or more are 48-76 ATS since 2012 before being underdogs of 6 or more. However, they don’t deserve to be underdogs of that many in either game. If they have a strong performance this week, perhaps the line will shift under 6 next week. If not, I will probably be taking the Jaguars again next week. They’re one of the most underrated teams in the league because people don’t realize they’ve played well other than turnovers and a smart pick here at 6.5.
Detroit Lions 24 Jacksonville Jaguars 23
Pick against the spread: Jacksonville +6.5