Minnesota Vikings (6-6) at Jacksonville Jaguars (2-10)
The Vikings have a strong defense, allowing the 6th lowest first down rate in the NFL, but they were dealt a huge blow when they lost Harrison Smith with an ankle injury that could sideline him for the rest of the year. As valuable to Minnesota’s defense as Earl Thomas is to Seattle’s, Smith is one of the top defensive players in the entire NFL. This defense won’t be the same without him. In fact, I think the Jaguars’ actually are the ones with the better defense in this matchup, as they rank 7th in first down rate allowed and are relatively healthy right now.
The Jaguars’ offense hasn’t been good this year, but they might actually have the better offense in this game too, with Minnesota entering 30th in first down rate. The Jaguars might have the better offense and defense and are at home, but are underdogs of 3.5 points because the Vikings are 6-6 and 2-10. The big difference between these two teams: the Vikings have a +13 turnover margin and a +6 return touchdown margin, while the Jaguars have a -18 turnover margin and a -4 return touchdown margin. Turnover margins are incredibly inconsistent on a week-to-week basis though (and, as a result, return touchdowns are as well). On average a team with a +3 turnover margin in a game will have a turnover margin of +0.0 the following week, the same average as teams that had a -3 turnover margin.
For this reason, I love betting on teams with poor turnover margins and against teams with great turnover margins. It might sound counterintuitive, but these two teams are about as far apart as you can get in turnover margins and return touchdown margins and we’re still only talking about a difference of about 30 snaps, when both teams have played about 1500 snaps this year each. Football is a short season and it’s easy to get caught up in records, but records can be skewed by outlier snaps. For the majority of the snaps this year, the Jaguars have outplayed the Vikings. Close to 1 in 4 games are decided by 3 points or fewer, so I love getting the Jaguars as 3.5 point home underdogs.
Jacksonville Jaguars 16 Minnesota Vikings 13 Upset Pick +160
Pick against the spread: Jacksonville +3.5