Jacksonville Jaguars (0-0) at Houston Texans (0-0)
The Jaguars went just 3-13 last season, but could take a big leap forward this season. Their record last season was largely the result of a -16 turnover margin (3rd worst in the NFL) and a 2-8 record in games decided by 7 points or fewer. They got better defensively this off-season with free agent additions Calais Campbell and AJ Bouye and they have several young defenders who could take a leap forward in 2017. They also used their 4th overall pick on running back Leonard Fournette, which significantly improves this running game.
A team’s turnover margin and record in close games tend to be inconsistent on a year-to-year basis, so the Jaguars would have likely taken a step forward even without the added talent. They still have major issues at quarterback with Blake Bortles, but he won’t have as many chances to throw interceptions this season if the Jaguars play strong defense and run the ball frequently and they’ll probably also do a better job recovering fumbles, after recovering just 2 of 15 offensive fumbles last season. That should lead to them winning some of those close games and then some, in spite of their issues at quarterback.
Their opponents this week are an example of how teams can still be a threat for the playoffs even without competent quarterback play, as the Texans won the AFC South last season with Brock Osweiler starting most of the season. Houston starts this season with Tom Savage under center, who is only an upgrade over Osweiler by default. He isn’t much better than Bortles either, if he is at all. The Texans also have a less talented supporting cast around him than the Jaguars do around Bortles, despite winning the division last season.
The Texans went 9-7 last season, but that was largely as a result of a 8-2 record in games decided by 7 points or fewer. They finished the season 26th in point differential at -49 and 26th in first down rate differential at -1.48%. Arguably the worst offense in the league, the Texans managed a league low 23 offensive touchdowns they allowed 10 more offensive touchdowns than they scored. The Jaguars, despite being 6 games worse in the standings, were just -5 in offensive touchdown margin. Jacksonville has a better receiving corps, better running backs, and a better offensive line with Houston left tackle Duane Brown still holding out. With right tackle Derek Newton out for the season for injury, the Texans have arguably the worst offensive line in the league right now without Brown.
The Texans obviously get JJ Watt back from injury after he missed almost all of last season and he makes a tough trio with Whitney Mercilus and Jadeveon Clowney, but the Jaguars duo of Calais Campbell and Malik Jackson is impressive as well and they also have young defensive ends Dante Fowler and Yannick Ngakoue providing rush off the edge. In addition, the Jaguars also have a significantly better back 7, with Houston losing top defensive backs Quintin Demps and AJ Bouye in free agency, the latter of whom is now on the Jaguars.
In spite of that, the Texans are favored here by 4.5 points, suggesting they are significantly better than the Jaguars. I think it’s the other way around and that we’re getting significant line value with the Jaguars. The Texans are also in a tough spot because have to turn around and play another game in 4 days when they go to Cincinnati for Thursday Night Football. Favorites are just 58-84 ATS before Thursday Night games since 2008, including 2-4 ATS in week 1. Even if the Texans win here, I think it’s unlikely to be by more than 4 points, considering how many close games these teams play. About 30% of games are decided by 4 points or fewer, so 4.5 is a more sizeable line than you’d think. This is my Pick of the Week.
Jacksonville Jaguars 17 Houston Texans 16 Upset Pick +190
Pick against the spread: Jacksonville +4.5
Confidence: Pick of the Week