Jacksonville Jaguars (10-4) at San Francisco 49ers (4-10)
Former New England backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo has now won his first 5 starts as a quarterback, including his first 3 starts since being traded to the 49ers. Garoppolo has played like a legitimate franchise quarterback since arriving in San Francisco and, along with an improving defense, led by rookies Ahkello Witherspoon and Reuben Foster, has turned around a team that started 0-8 and won just one of their first 11 games before inserting Garoppolo into the starting lineup. The 49ers get by far their toughest test of the Garoppolo era this week though, with the Jacksonville Jaguars coming to town.
Garoppolo’s wins have come against the Bears, Texans, and Titans, but the Jaguars are a major step up in class. I had them as a surprise team before the season and they’ve even exceeded my expectations. Their defense is hands down the best defense in the NFL and they are remarkably healthy on that side of the ball for this late in the season. The big surprise is their offense though, as they have not been bad on that side of the ball and it hasn’t just been their running game, as Blake Bortles has had the best season of his career in his 4th year in the league, despite a banged up receiving corps and a mediocre offensive line, and is making a strong case to remain the Jaguars’ starting quarterback beyond 2017.
On the season, the Jaguars rank 1st in first down rate differential at +6.44% and 2nd in point differential at +165. Part of that is because of a weak schedule, but the 49ers’ schedule hasn’t been much tougher and the 49ers, even as improved as they are, are still not a tough opponent, as they still have major holes throughout the depth chart. The good news is we are getting some decent line value with the 49ers, who are 4.5-point home underdogs. I have this line calculated at Jacksonville -3. Even if the 49ers can’t win straight up, about 30% of games are decided by 4 points or fewer, so they have a decent cushion to work with. There isn’t enough here for me to be confident betting on the 49ers, but they are the smarter choice for pick ‘em purposes, as this could easily be a close game.
Jacksonville Jaguars 16 San Francisco 49ers 13
Pick against the spread: San Francisco +4.5