Jacksonville Jaguars at New England Patriots: 2017 AFC Championship Pick

Jacksonville Jaguars (12-6) at New England Patriots (14-3)

I made a big play on the Jaguars last week as 7.5 point underdogs in Pittsburgh, but I am much less excited to do the same with the Jaguars here as 7.5 point underdogs in New England. While Pittsburgh had just 5 regular season wins by more than a touchdown, the Patriots had 9 and then had another one last week in a 35-14 victory over the Tennessee Titans. The Steelers were also never the same team after losing Ryan Shazier for the season, while the Patriots enter the playoffs relatively healthy, even if Tom Brady did miss some practice time this week with a cut finger.

The Jaguars could keep this game close because of their incredible defense, especially since they can get pressure on Tom Brady without blitzing, which has always been the formula to beat Tom Brady. Even if the Jaguars don’t have an answer for Rob Gronkowski on defense and even if the Patriots consistently move the chains with runs and passes to running backs, the Jaguars’ defense should be able to keep the Patriots from putting up too high of a number by pressuring him and locking down his outside receivers. However, the Jaguars’ offense is not that complex and could have trouble against a well coached New England defense that has played a lot better in since the first half of the season. I’m taking the Jaguars at 7.5, but if this line moves to 7 by the morning I would take the Patriots. That’s how close this one is for me.

New England Patriots 27 Jacksonville Jaguars 20

Pick against the spread: Jacksonville +7.5

Confidence: None

Jacksonville Jaguars at Pittsburgh Steelers: 2017 AFC Divisional Round Pick

Jacksonville Jaguars (11-6) at Pittsburgh Steelers (13-3)

The Steelers finished the regular season 13-3, but are more vulnerable heading into the post-season than that suggests. They finished the regular season with a +91 point differential, 6th out of the 8 remaining playoff teams, as 8 of their 13 wins came by 7 points or fewer, including 5 wins by 3 points or fewer. In their final 9 games of the regular season, they won by more than a touchdown just twice, once against the TJ Yates led Texans and once at home on a short week against the Titans in a game that was still close in the 3rd quarter. Their defense has also been significantly worse since losing Ryan Shazier.

Their lack of blowout wins is especially relevant considering this line is 7.5. That’s way too high, as the Jaguars are more than a capable opponent. They finished the regular season 3rd in point differential at +149 and 2nd in first down rate at +5.95%, both higher than the Steelers. They benefited from a slightly easier schedule than the Steelers, but they blew out most of the teams they beat (average margin of victory of 20.20 points per game in the regular season), while the Steelers had trouble with teams like the Browns, Bears, Colts, and Bengals (one win by more than a touchdown in 6 games against those teams).

The Jaguars also beat the Steelers in Pittsburgh this season. That doesn’t necessarily mean the Jaguars will win again, as the team that previously won only wins at a 63.1% rate in non-divisional playoff rematches (48.3% rate as underdogs), but the Jaguars don’t have to win straight up to cover this spread, given how much cushion we are getting. I have this line at Pittsburgh -4, so we are getting significant value with the visitors at 7.5. This is a high confidence pick.

Pittsburgh Steelers 20 Jacksonville Jaguars 16

Pick against the spread: Jacksonville +7.5

Confidence: High

Buffalo Bills at Jacksonville Jaguars: 2017 NFL Wild Card Round Pick

Buffalo Bills (9-7) at Jacksonville Jaguars (10-6)

The Jaguars finished with the easiest schedule in the NFL in 2017, in terms of opponents record. Ordinarily, that would make them a smart team to bet against in the post-season, but they played at a very high level across that easy schedule, finishing 3rd in point differential at +149 and 2nd in first down rate differential at 5.95%. On top of that, they get to face the weakest playoff qualifier in their first game, with the Buffalo Bills coming to town, potentially missing stud running back LeSean McCoy.

Not only were the Bills the last team to clinch a playoff spot, sneaking into the AFC’s 6th seed at 9-7 on a strength of schedule tiebreaker, but they were not as good as their record suggested this season, as they finished with a -57 point differential that is not only the worst among playoff teams, but also worse than 9 other non-playoff teams. Five of their 7 losses came by more than 10 points, as opposed to just 1 win by more than 10 points. The Jaguars, meanwhile, won by more than 10 in all but two of their wins and have a good chance to get another one here this week. I wouldn’t recommend betting on this because the line is pretty steep at -8, but Jacksonville should win this one relatively easily.

Jacksonville Jaguars 20 Buffalo Bills 10

Pick against the spread: Jacksonville -8

Confidence: Low

Jacksonville Jaguars at Tennessee Titans: 2017 Week 17 NFL Pick

Jacksonville Jaguars (10-5) at Tennessee Titans (8-7)

The Jaguars are a prime candidate to rest their starters in week 17, as they are locked into the 3rd seed in the AFC. That seemed to be the expectation earlier in the week when they opened as 6-point underdogs in Tennessee, but Jaguars head coach Doug Marrone said earlier this week that the Jaguars are going to treat this like a normal game. That caused this line to shift to Tennessee -3. That’s still a big line movement from the early line last week, when Jacksonville was favored by 3.5, but the Jaguars’ big loss in San Francisco last week probably has a lot to do with that.

That’s a big overreaction though, as the 49ers have been a solid opponent in recent weeks and the Jaguars only lost the first down rate battle by -1.40%, despite losing the game by 11. The reason they lost by that many points is because they lost the turnover battle by 2, but turnover margin tends to be unpredictable on a week-to-week basis. Case in point, prior to last week, the Jaguars had the 2nd best turnover margin in the NFL at +15 and still rank 3rd at +13. Under normal circumstances, I would probably place a bet on the Jaguars at +3 because I have this line calculated at even, but there’s no guarantee they play their starters for the whole game, so this is just a low confidence pick.

Tennessee Titans 20 Jacksonville Jaguars 19

Pick against the spread: Jacksonville +3

Confidence: Low

Houston Texans at Jacksonville Jaguars: 2017 Week 15 NFL Pick

Houston Texans (4-9) at Jacksonville Jaguars (9-4)

The Jaguars got arguably their biggest win of the season last week, holding on in a 30-24 victory over the Seattle Seahawks. However, they easily could have lost that game, as they lost the first down rate battle at -1.24% and needed to win the turnover margin by 2 to pull out a 6-point victory. Despite that, this line has moved from 8.5 last week on the early line to 10.5 this week, as the Jaguars seem to have legitimized themselves in the eyes of the public a little bit. Typically, I bet against line movements that seem unwarranted, but I actually think this line is still a little too low.

The Texans are one of the worst teams in the NFL without all of the players they are missing with injury, including quarterback Deshaun Watson, defensive end JJ Watt, and outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus. They are down to 3rd string quarterback TJ Yates, behind arguably the worst offensive line in football, and, without Watt and Mercilus, this once stout defense is average at best. The Jaguars, meanwhile, are a top-10 team and have been for weeks, led by the top defense in the NFL, which is now fully healthy after stud linebacker Telvin Smith missed the last two games with a concussion.

The Texans are also in a terrible spot because they have to turn around and host the Steelers. It’s not that they won’t be focused for the Jaguars this week, but it’s very tough for teams to keep it close against superior teams when they have another tough game on deck. Teams are 33-55 ATS as underdogs of 7+ before being underdogs of 7+ since 2012, including 7-18 ATS before being home underdogs of 7+, which the Texans likely will be next week at home against the Steelers (+8 on the early line). The Jaguars, meanwhile, have only a trip to San Francisco on deck and should be able to take care of business against an inferior opponent. There’s not enough here for me to be confident in the Jaguars, but that would change if this line drops to 10.

Sunday Update: This line has moved to -10 in some places Sunday morning. Leonard Fournette is out for the Jaguars, but they are pretty deep at the running back position and have had success without him this season. Meanwhile, top receiver DeAndre Hopkins is not 100% for the Texans, after not practicing all week. He basically is this whole offense at this point in the season and an injury makes him that much easier for Jacksonville’s loaded secondary to deal with. Jacksonville is worth a small bet at -10.

Jacksonville Jaguars 24 Houston Texans 10

Pick against the spread: Jacksonville -10

Confidence: Low

Seattle Seahawks at Jacksonville Jaguars: 2017 Week 14 NFL Pick

Seattle Seahawks (8-4) at Jacksonville Jaguars (8-4)

The Seahawks won on Sunday Night Football last week at home against the Philadelphia Eagles, who previously had the best record in the NFL. That shouldn’t have been a huge surprise though, considering how much of an advantage west coast teams have against east coast teams in night games. The Seahawks have done especially well in night games, as they are now 18-5 ATS in the Russell Wilson era in regular season primetime games, including 6-2 ATS against east coast teams.

This week, they don’t have that advantage, as they go to Jacksonville for this afternoon matchup. Teams also tend not to cover off of a home upset win, covering the spread at about a 45% rate the following week, as teams tend to be a little overrated and a little overconfident after home upsets. The Seahawks’ win last week shifted this line from -3 on the early line to -2.5 now this week and the public is still all over the Seahawks. That might not seem like a huge shift, but about 1 in 6 games are decided by exactly a field goal, so it’s pretty significant.

The Seahawks also are in a tough spot because they have to turn around and play the Rams next week, a game that could decide the division. The Jaguars, meanwhile, only host the lowly Texans. I’m not saying the Seahawks are going to look past the Jaguars, but they might be a little flat this week after a huge home win with another tough home game on deck. The Jaguars, meanwhile, have no upcoming distractions and will likely be viewing this as a statement game. With their defense, they are good enough to be considered one of the top-10 teams in the league. I have this line calculated at -3 even before any situational trends are taken into account, as I have these two teams close to even with Seattle banged up defensively. As long as you can get this line lower than 3, the Jaguars are worth a small bet because of the line value and the good spot.

Jacksonville Jaguars 17 Seattle Seahawks 13

Pick against the spread: Jacksonville -2.5

Confidence: Medium

Indianapolis Colts at Jacksonville Jaguars: 2017 Week 13 NFL Pick

Indianapolis Colts (3-8) at Jacksonville Jaguars (7-4)

The Jaguars lost last week in Arizona as 5 point road favorites, but it was a very close game that could have gone either way and the Jaguars still had a positive first down rate differential in the game, +4.78%. On the season, they rank 4th in first down rate differential at +4.76%. Part of that is because of their easy schedule, but they are a top-10 team because of their defense and running game. In a lot of ways, they remind me of the 2015 Denver Broncos. I’m not saying I’d pick them to win the Super Bowl, but I wouldn’t have picked the Broncos to win the Super Bowl in 2015 either. At the very least, the Jaguars will be a tough out in the first round of the playoffs.

The Jaguars return home this week and get another easy game with the Colts coming to town. While the Jaguars are a likely playoff team, the Colts are one of the worst teams in the league, as they rank in the bottom-5 in both my roster rankings and in first down rate differential. This line is pretty high at 9.5, but I have this line calculated at -13.5, so we’re still getting some line value with the Jaguars. I wish the Jaguars weren’t missing talented outside linebacker Telvin Smith, but they are deep enough at linebacker with Myles Jack and Paul Posluszny to get by. Even without Smith, this is still arguably the best defense in the NFL. The Colts, meanwhile, will be without starting center Ryan Kelly and top cornerback Rashaan Melvin. Jacksonville is worth a small bet as long as this line is below 10.

Jacksonville Jaguars 23 Indianapolis Colts 10

Pick against the spread: Jacksonville -9.5

Confidence: Medium