Jacksonville Jaguars (5-9) at Atlanta Falcons (5-9)
The Jaguars won last week in Oakland, snapping a 5-game losing streak, but they weren’t impressive. Not only did they lose the first down rate battle by 3.04% in a game that could have gone either way, but the Raiders are also one of the worst teams in the league, ranking 29th in the NFL on the season in first down rate differential. That win doesn’t change my opinion of the Jaguars and, prior to last week’s win, the Jaguars were the 3rd team in the past 30 seasons to lose 5 consecutive games by 14 points or more, so they still have a lot of problems.
Their offense has been terrible all season, ranking 30th in first down rate on the season at 31.40%, and their defense has been especially bad since trading Jalen Ramsey after week 6, ranking 30th in the NFL in first down rate allowed over that stretch at 40.49%. As a result of their struggles on both sides of the ball, they have a -10.24% first down rate differential since week 6, worst in the NFL over that stretch by a large margin, with their opponents last week the Oakland Raiders having the second worst at -7.33%.
The Falcons, meanwhile, have the same record as the Jaguars, but have been better than their record suggests and significantly better than the Jaguars, ranking 17th in first down rate differential at -0.38%, despite facing the league’s toughest schedule (58% opponents winning percentage). The Falcons started the season 1-7 before their week 9 bye, but their biggest problem was the turnover battle, as they had -0.29% first down rate differential but a -12 turnover margin. Fortunately, turnovers tend to be unpredictable on a week-to-week basis and they’ve been +6 in turnover margin since the bye.
As a result, the Falcons have gone 4-2, including wins on the road in New Orleans and San Francisco, despite their first down rate differential only being slightly better in those 6 games than it was before the bye (+0.12%). Assuming they play turnover neutral football, which should almost always be assumed about most teams, the Falcons shouldn’t have much trouble at home against one of the worst teams in the league.
This line, favoring the Falcons by 7.5, suggests a large talent gap between these two teams, but I think this line should be even higher, with my calculated line being Atlanta -11. We’ve lost line value with the Falcons going from 6.5-point favorites on the early line last week to 7.5-point favorites this week, but I still like the Falcons enough to bet on them. If this line drops back down to a touchdown before gametime, I’ll probably increase this bet.
Atlanta Falcons 31 Jacksonville Jaguars 20
Pick against the spread: Atlanta -7.5