Los Angeles Chargers at Jacksonville Jaguars: 2019 Week 14 NFL Pick

Los Angeles Chargers (4-8) at Jacksonville Jaguars (4-8)

Typically teams have more injured players late in the season than they do early in the season, but for the Chargers it has been the opposite. Tight end Hunter Henry (4 games), left tackle Russell Okung (8 games), defensive Melvin Ingram (3 games), running back Melvin Gordon (4 games), safety Adrian Phillips (9 games), and safety Derwin James (11 games) have all missed significant time this season, but have since returned. Now the Chargers head into week 14 without any regular players on the injury report and only a pair of expected starters on injured reserve, center Maurkice Pouncey and wide receiver Travis Benjamin, neither of whom was playing that well.

The Chargers more or less have the same roster right now as they did last season, when they went 12-4 and won a playoff game. However, while they went 5-1 last season in games decided by a touchdown or less last season, the Chargers are just 2-8 in those games this season, including last week’s embarrassing finish in Denver. Record in close games tends to be very inconsistent, so the Chargers aren’t necessarily more likely to lose close games going forward, just like they weren’t necessarily more likely to win close games this year after last year’s impressive record in close games. On the season, the Chargers rank 9th in first down rate differential at +2.51%, losing close games primarily because of a -10 turnover margin, which is also very inconsistent. The Chargers haven’t faced a tough schedule, but with their roster basically at full strength they rank 12th in my roster rankings and they are definitely better than their record suggests.

The Jaguars have the same record at 4-8, but have played much worse, with a -72 point differential that ranks 25th in the NFL and a -5.35% first down rate differential that ranks 28th in the NFL. They’re changing quarterbacks, benching highly paid veteran Nick Foles for 6th round rookie Gardiner Minshew, who made 8 starts when Foles was injured earlier this season. That move is unlikely to help much, as their problems go far beyond the quarterback position. 

At their peak, the Jaguars had a dominant defense, but with Marcell Dareus and Myles Jack on injured reserve and Jalen Ramsey in Los Angeles, the Jaguars have just 3 players left from their top-11 in terms of snaps played from their dominant 2017 defense. They rank just 22nd in first down rate allowed on the season at 36.93% and have been even worse in recent weeks, ranking 27th in first down rate allowed at 38.19% and 31st in first down rate differential at -7.92% since week 7. Meanwhile on offense, even in Minshew’s 8 starts, the Jaguars had just a 31.70% first down rate, which would be 27th in the NFL on the season, and Minshew saved his worst start for last, leading to a 26-3 loss to the Texans in London. After a hot start, Minshew seemed to fall back to earth in his final few games, so going back to him is unlikely to make much if any positive impact.

The Chargers are on the road this week, but location hasn’t really mattered much for the Chargers since they moved to Los Angeles, where they basically have no fans. Since the start of the 2017 season, they are 7-12-1 ATS at home and 14-8-2 ATS on the road. I typically only use 1 point for homefield advantage in Chargers games instead of the standard 2.5. For this line to be accurate, the Chargers would have to only be 4 points better than the Jaguars, but I have them 8.5 points better and have this line calculated at Chargers -7.5. I don’t love the spot the Chargers are in with a tough home game against the Vikings on deck (road favorites are 45-25 ATS before being home underdogs since 2012), but we’re getting a ton of value with the visitors this week.

Los Angeles Chargers 27 Jacksonville Jaguars 20

Pick against the spread: LA Chargers -3

Confidence: High

Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Jacksonville Jaguars: 2019 Week 13 NFL Pick

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-7) at Jacksonville Jaguars (4-7)

Both of these teams enter this game at 4-7, but the Buccaneers have definitely been the more impressive team this season. Despite playing in a tougher conference and facing a tougher schedule (13th in opponent’s DVOA vs. 22nd), the Buccaneers have a significantly better point differential (-23 vs -55). In first down rate differential, the difference is even more pronounced, as the Jaguars rank 28th in first down rate differential at -5.27%, while the Buccaneers rank 16th at +0.34%. The Buccaneers have been killed by the turnover margin (-10), while the Jaguars are even on the season, but turnover margin is highly unpredictable on a week-to-week basis. The Jaguars, who have trouble winning games even with a neutral turnover margin, would have a very tough time winning this game if they lost the turnover battle. 

The Jaguars have been even worse in recent weeks, with the worst first down rate differential in the league over the past 6 weeks at -8.44%, coinciding with their trade of Jalen Ramsey to the Rams. With Ramsey gone and both Marcell Dareus and Myles Jack currently injured, the Jaguars have just 3 players left from their top-11 in terms of snaps played from their dominant 2017 defense. With so many key defensive players no longer playing for them and a weak offense, I have the Jaguars 28th in my roster rankings, 8 spots behind the Buccaneers.

Unfortunately, we’ve lost a ton of line value with the Buccaneers in the past week. As a result of the Jaguars’ blowout home loss to the Titans last week and the Buccaneers double digit win in Atlanta, this line has shifted a whole 6 points in the past week, going from Jacksonville -3.5 on the early line last week to Tampa Bay -2.5 this week. Normally I like fading significant week-to-week line movements like that, but I actually have this line calculated at Tampa Bay -3, so we’re still getting a little bit of line value with the Buccaneers. It’s not enough to bet on, but the most likely outcome of this game is the Buccaneers winning by a field goal, so I’d take them for pick ‘em purposes.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 30 Jacksonville Jaguars 27

Pick against the spread: Tampa Bay -2.5

Confidence: Low

Jacksonville Jaguars at Tennessee Titans: 2019 Week 12 NFL Pick

Jacksonville Jaguars (4-6) at Tennessee Titans (5-5)

The Titans are just 5-5 coming out of their bye, but they could go on a surprise second half run. They made the switch from Marcus Mariota to Ryan Tannehill under center 4 games ago and it has made a significant difference. After finishing last season 24th in first down rate at 34.12% and ranking 26th in first down rate through the first 6 games of this season at 32.69%, the Titans have a 40.69% first down rate in their past 4 games. The Titans are 3-1 in those games and that’s despite their defense underperforming due to injuries. 

After finishing last season 4th in first down rate allowed at 32.77% and ranking 4th in the NFL in first down rate allowed at 30.93% through 6 games this season, the Titans have allowed a 38.30% first down rate in Tannehill’s 4 starts, due to linebacker Jayon Brown and defensive end Jurrell Casey, pair of high level defensive players, both missing time due to injury. Brown and Casey return to action this week and the Titans also get wide receiver Corey Davis and center Ben Jones back on offense. They’ve also been without defensive end Jeffrey Simmons and left tackle Taylor Lewan for significant chunks of the season and have since gotten them back, so they’re much closer to full strength than they’ve been in a while. 

Perhaps their most important player returning from injury is kicker Ryan Succop, as the Titans have lost at least two games, if not three because of missed makeable field goals. Succop actually returned two games ago, struggling in his debut before not being tested in the Titans’ last game before the bye. Now after the bye, Succop should be much closer to 100%, which would be a big boost for this team. The Titans rank 14th in first down rate differential at +1.70%, suggesting they’ve played better than their record, despite starting Marcus Mariota for the first 6 games of the season and despite all their absences on both sides of the ball. My roster rankings have them 10th, so they could surprise down the stretch.

The Jaguars, meanwhile, rank 27th in first down rate differential at -4.05% and 24th in my roster rankings. Their offense, which ranks 25th in first down rate, doesn’t have the talent around the quarterback for either Gardner Minshew or Nick Foles to have much success, while their defense, which ranks 17th in first down rate allowed, is a shell of what it was in 2017, as they’ve lost 10 of their top-14 in terms of snaps played from that dominant defense. I have this line calculated at Tennessee -9, so we’re getting serious line value with the Titans as favorites of just 3.5.

There’s too much line value to not bet on the Titans, but I wouldn’t make a big bet because the Titans are in a very tough spot. While the Jaguars have a non-conference home game against the Buccaneers next week, a game in which they will likely be favored, the Titans have to go to Indianapolis for a big divisional matchup, a game in which they will likely be underdogs. Favorites are just 36-71 ATS since 2016 before being underdogs when their opponent will next be favorites. Making matters worse, divisional home favorites are just 30-65 ATS since 2002 before being divisional road underdogs. The talent gap between these two teams is too significant to not bet on the Titans, but this is a smaller bet.

Tennessee Titans 23 Jacksonville Jaguars 17

Pick against the spread: Tennessee -3.5

Confidence: Medium

Jacksonville Jaguars at Indianapolis Colts: 2019 Week 11 NFL Pick

Jacksonville Jaguars (4-5) at Indianapolis Colts (5-4)

The Colts lost at home as double digit favorites to the Dolphins last week and, as a result, the line for their game this week against the Jaguars has shifted from Indianapolis -3.5 on the early line to -2.5 this week. That’s a significant shift given that about one in six games are decided by exactly a field goal and I don’t think it’s justified, as the Colts were without starting quarterback Jacoby Brissett last week and had to start backup Brian Hoyer, who did not resemble a starting caliber quarterback in his first action in two seasons. 

Hoyer took over for Brissett when he got hurt early in their week 9 game against the Steelers and the Colts won the first down rate battle both in that game (+8.95%) and in their game against the Dolphins (+6.40%), but Hoyer’s 97-yard pick six was the difference in a 2-point loss to the Steelers and then Hoyer followed that up by throwing a trio of interceptions in a 4-point loss to the Dolphins. On the season, the Colts rank 15th in first down rate differential at +1.09%, despite missing several key players for varying periods of time with injuries. They’re still not at full strength, with top wide receiver TY Hilton being their most notable absence, but relatively speaking they’re closer to 100% than they’ve been and they still rank 15th in my roster rankings without Hilton.

The Jaguars, meanwhile, rank 24th in first down rate differential at -3.01% and 21st in my roster rankings. They get quarterback Nick Foles back from injury, but I’m not sure how much he’ll help this team, as backup quarterback Gardner Minshew wasn’t really the problem. Minshew didn’t play badly, but lack of talent around the quarterback has resulted in this offense ranking 25th in first down rate. By default, their defense is their best unit, but they’re a far cry from their dominant 2017 unit. With just 4 of the top-14 in snaps played from that defense expected to be active for them this weekend, the Jaguars enter this game 13th in first down rate allowed.

All of this suggests that I should take the Colts at home as 2.5-point favorites, a line that suggests these two teams are more or less even, but unfortunately the Colts are in a horrible spot. Not only do they have a key divisional matchup in Houston next week, but they have that matchup on a short week on Thursday Night Football. Divisional home favorites are just 29-64 ATS since 2002 before being divisional road underdogs and favorites cover at only a 45% rate all-time before Thursday Night Football. The Jaguars have a key divisional matchup next week as well, taking on the Titans, but they at least get a normal week and will be at home. The Colts are still my pick, especially since they only need to win by a field goal to cover, but I don’t think I’d bet on them in this spot.

Indianapolis Colts 24 Jacksonville Jaguars 20

Pick against the spread: Indianapolis -2.5

Confidence: Low

Houston Texans vs. Jacksonville Jaguars: 2019 Week 9 NFL Pick

Houston Texans (5-3) vs. Jacksonville Jaguars (4-4) in London

The Jaguars are back at .500 at 4-4 following their victory over the Jets last week, but they only rank 24th in first down rate differential at -2.60%, as they’ve allowed 4 more first downs and 3 more offensive touchdowns than they have gained on 18 fewer snaps. That rank is consistent with my roster rankings, which have the Jaguars ranked 26th. As much as Minshew Mania has taken over Jacksonville, this offense still ranks just 26th in first down rate differential and has generated just 15 touchdowns in 8 games, while their once dominant defense ranks just 11th in first down rate allowed and has just four of it’s top-14 in snaps played remaining from 2017.

The Texans, meanwhile, rank 6th in first down rate differential at +4.41%, though the Jaguars are catching them at a good time because the Texans are very banged up right now. The big loss is obviously JJ Watt, who tore his pectoral last week, ending his season, but the Texans are also missing 3 of their top-5 in the secondary and could be without both left tackle Laremy Tunsil and right tackle Tytus Howard. In their current injury situation, the Texans rank 15th in my roster rankings, so we’re still getting some line value with them as 1.5-point favorites at a neutral site, but I would need at least Tunsil to play to bet them confidently. I will likely be updating this tomorrow morning.

Sunday Update: A few developments have happened since yesterday. Tunsil is inactive for the Texans, but the Jaguars will also be without DJ Hayden, who has arguably been their top cornerback this season, and starting wide receiver Dede Westbrook. Meanwhile, this line has shifted to Jacksonville -1. One point games aren’t that common (about 4%), but we’re getting good line value with the Texans at +1. This line suggests the Jaguars are the slightly better team on a neutral field, but I still have the Texans significant better in my roster rankings (16th vs. 26th) and I have this line calculated at Houston -4. The Texans are worth a small bet, even at less than 100%.

Houston Texans 20 Jacksonville Jaguars 16

Pick against the spread: Houston +1

Confidence: Medium

New York Jets at Jacksonville Jaguars: 2019 Week 8 NFL Pick

New York Jets (1-5) at Jacksonville Jaguars (3-4)

The Jets got embarrassed at home by the Patriots and their defense last week, managing just a 22.64% first down rate in a 33-0 shutout loss, but that wasn’t really a surprise. The Jets and their offense looked good against the Cowboys the previous week in Sam Darnold’s return from illness, but the Patriots have a juggernaut defense (23.10% first down rate allowed) that can eat young quarterbacks alive and the Jets have issues on offense far beyond the quarterback position. 

Outside of running back Le’Veon Bell, the Jets may not have a single above average starter on their entire offense and running back is not one of the more valuable positions. They had a 42.59% first down rate against the Cowboys, but just a 27.27% first down rate in Darnold’s first start of the season at home against the Bills before his illness and a pathetic 18.01% first down rate in 3 games in his absence. A good quarterback can mask a lot of other flaws, but Darnold is still young and has yet to consistently resemble the player he was against the Cowboys, especially against tougher defenses.

Fortunately, Darnold gets a much easier matchup this week in Jacksonville against a Jaguars defense that is not close to what it was in 2017. With Jalen Ramsey gone and Marcell Dareus on injured reserve, the Jaguars have just four of their top-14 in snaps played remaining from that dominant 2017 defense and rank 14th in first down rate allowed at 35.67%. Offensively, as much as sixth round rookie Gardner Minshew has gotten hype, they rank just 26th in first round rate at 32.43% and Minshew seems to be regressing weekly. 

The Jaguars are also in a much worse spot than the Jets this week. While the Jets should be fully focused with a trip to Miami on deck, the Jaguars have a much bigger game next week in London against the division leading Texans. Favorites are just 68-30 ATS since 2016 before being underdogs when their opponent will next be favorites. Earlier this week I thought I would be making a big play on the Jets at +6, with the line shifting from +4 on the early line as a result of the Jets’ blowout loss, but I don’t like them nearly as much without linebacker CJ Mosley, who is out with injury. His absence only shifted this line up to 6.5 and I would need a full touchdown to bet the Jets without him. They’re still the pick for pick ‘em purposes, but unless the line shifts to 7 this is a low confidence pick.

Sunday Update: +7 has showed up Sunday morning, so I am putting a small bet on the Jets. This line is too high for an underwhelming Jaguars team that is in a bad spot.

Jacksonville Jaguars 20 New York Jets 16

Pick against the spread: NY Jets +7

Confidence: Medium

Jacksonville Jaguars at Cincinnati Bengals: 2019 Week 7 NFL Pick

Jacksonville Jaguars (2-4) at Cincinnati Bengals (0-6)

A lot of teams are dealing with tough injury situations, but the Bengals might have the worst injury situation in the entire NFL. Already missing left tackle Cordy Glenn and #1 wide receiver AJ Green to begin the season, the Bengals are also without wide receiver John Ross, backup left tackle Andre Smith, right guard John Miller, their top two edge rushers Carlos Dunlap and Carl Lawson, and starting cornerbacks Dre Kirkpatrick and William Jackson. With all of their absences, they are the worst team in the league outside of the Dolphins. 

However, I still think we’re getting some line value with them as 4-point home underdogs against the Jaguars. Ever since Minshew Mania went to the next level during the Jaguars’ week 3 victory over the Titans on Thursday Night Football, I have thought the Jaguars are overrated. Even with Gardner Minshew outperforming expectations, the Jaguars still rank just 24th in first down rate differential and he seems to be falling back to earth in recent weeks. The Jaguars rank just 26th in my roster rankings, so they shouldn’t be favored by this many points over anyone except the Dolphins. I have this line calculated at Jacksonville -2, so we’re getting a decent amount of line value with the Bengals, even as banged up as they are. I wouldn’t recommend betting on them though.

Jacksonville Jaguars 19 Cincinnati Bengals 17

Pick against the spread: Cincinnati +4

Confidence: Low