Jacksonville Jaguars at Houston Texans: 2018 Week 17 NFL Pick

Jacksonville Jaguars (5-10) at Houston Texans (10-5)

A year after finishing a surprising 10-6 and making the AFC Championship, the Jaguars have had a very disappointing year and sit at 5-10 in the cellar of a suddenly competitive AFC South. Their defense has still played at a high level, ranking 4th in first down rate allowed at 33.04%, but they’ve done poorly in close games (2-6 in games decided by a touchdown or less) and, most importantly, their offense has been horrendous, ranking 29th in first down rate at 30.58%, after a decent season in 2017.

Injuries have been the primary culprit, as the Jaguars are down their #1 wide receiver, 4 of 5 week 1 starting offensive linemen, and their top-3 tight ends, while feature back Leonard Fournette has been in and out of the lineup with injuries all season. They also made matters worse when they benched Blake Bortles, an erratic quarterback with a capable arm, for Cody Kessler, a borderline backup caliber talent that lacks the requisite arm strength to make many NFL throws.

With Bortles as the starter for the first 11 games, the Jaguars had a 31.28% first down rate, but in Kessler’s 4 starts, they’ve had a 25.86% first down rate and have scored just two offensive touchdowns in 4 games. That’s partially due to the fact that their injury situation has gotten worse, but Kessler was an obvious downgrade from Bortles and that’s saying something. They’ve still gone 2-2 in those 4 games, but one was a shutout by their defense and in the other their defense allowed just 1 touchdown and brought back a score of their one.

When I saw the Jaguars were going back to Bortles this week, I assumed I’d be on them, but we’re getting no line value with them as 6.5 point road underdogs in Houston. In fact, I’m actually going with the Texans, since the Jaguars are ruling out anyone with any sort of injury and don’t seem to be treating this as a real game. Fournette and cornerback AJ Bouye have already been ruled out, both big losses, and they could also be without running back Carlos Hyde and cornerback DJ Hayden. This is a much more meaningful game for the Texans, who not only have a shot at a first round bye still, but also need to win to ensure they clinch the division. The Jaguars’ defense is strong enough to keep this close when healthy, but they’re shorthanded on both sides of the ball, so this line is too low.

Houston Texans 20 Jacksonville Jaguars 12

Pick against the spread: Houston -6.5

Confidence: Low

Jacksonville Jaguars at Miami Dolphins: 2018 Week 16 NFL Pick

Jacksonville Jaguars (4-10) at Miami Dolphins (7-7)

The Dolphins are 7-7, but have not played nearly as well as their record. While their 7 wins have come by a combined 38 points, their 7 losses have come by a combined 117 points, giving them a -79 point differential that ranks 29th in the NFL. That’s despite the fact that they rank tied for 4th in the NFL in turnover margin at +9. Turnover margins tend to be unpredictable on a week-to-week basis, so they won’t necessarily be able to rely on that going forward, and they rank just 30th in first down rate differential at -5.75%.

The Dolphins have been significantly better at home than on the road, going 6-1 at home and 1-6 on the road, but home/road disparities tend to be random more than anything. Over the past 30 years, there have been 26 teams that have a home winning percentage 60% better than their road winning percentage this late in the season. Those teams are 13-13 ATS in their next home game. That’s not reason enough to bet against the Dolphins, but we also shouldn’t blindly bet them because they’ve been good at home.

That being said, we’re not getting nearly enough points with the Jaguars at +4 to take them with any confidence. While Jacksonville’s defense is by far the strongest unit in this game, their offense is by far the worst, with a ton of injuries on the offensive line and a backup caliber quarterback under center in Cody Kessler. Miami hasn’t gotten any blowout wins this season, but this is one of their easier games. I expect this to be a close game, but I wouldn’t be shocked if the Dolphins won with relative ease compared to their other wins.

Miami Dolphins 16 Jacksonville Jaguars 13

Pick against the spread: Jacksonville +4

Confidence: None

Washington Redskins at Jacksonville Jaguars: 2018 Week 15 NFL Pick

Washington Redskins (6-7) at Jacksonville Jaguars (4-9)

The Jaguars are favored here by 7.5 points, despite being 4-9, starting backup quarterback Cody Kessler, and being down four week 1 starting offensive lineman, with only right guard AJ Cann still healthy this week. That’s because the Redskins are starting their 4th quarterback of the year, Josh Johnson, signed off the streets about a week and a half ago. Both of the Redskins’ quarterbacks suffered broken legs, initially forcing street free agent Mark Sanchez into action and now forcing Josh Johnson into action after Sanchez struggled mightily in limited action. The Redskins played better in the 2nd half last week with Johnson in the game, but they had issues beyond quarterback last week, as they did not give a good effort on a short week after having their season ended in Philadelphia on Monday Night Football.

I expect a better effort from the Redskins this week, but it’s really hard to be confident in Josh Johnson on the road after a week and a half on the team. This is Johnson’s first start since the 2011 season. Washington typically has a solid defense and could keep this game close, but the Jaguars’ defense is still one of the best in the league and could easily keep Josh Johnson and the Redskins out of the end zone. I’m taking the Redskins just because of the track record of bad teams as big favorites, but I have no interest taking either side in this one.

Jacksonville Jaguars 16 Washington Redskins 9

Pick against the spread: Washington +7.5

Confidence: None

Jacksonville Jaguars at Tennessee Titans: 2018 Week 14 NFL Pick

Jacksonville Jaguars (4-8) at Tennessee Titans (6-6)

The Jaguars pulled off a big home upset victory last week over the Colts, shutting them out in a 6-0 victory as 4.5-point underdogs. It was a reminder that, while their defense hasn’t quite as good as last season, it’s still largely the same personnel. Statistically they’ve still been one of the better units in the league, allowing opponents to pick up first downs at a 32.93% rate, 4th lowest in the NFL. However, I don’t think that win really improves their outlook for the rest of the season.

The Jaguars’ extreme offensive issues were also shown in that game, as the Jaguars failed to get it in the end zone at home against an average at best Indianapolis defense and actually moved the ball at a lower rate (20.37%) than the Colts did (26.76%). The Colts actually had 5 drives in Jacksonville’s territory, but failed to score because of three failed 4th downs, an interception, and time running out at the end of the game.

Cody Kessler didn’t turn it over in his first start, but he has a much lower floor as a starter than Blake Bortles, as he is a very limited downfield thrower who holds the ball for far too long. The Jaguars will be able to run the ball better this week with Leonard Fournette back from suspension, but their offensive line has been decimated by injury and their receiving corps has struggled to get separation, so Kessler isn’t going to get much help from his offensive supporting cast.

Despite the Jaguars’ offensive issues, this line shifted from Jacksonville +6 on the early line last week to +4 this week. That could be in part because the Titans barely squeaked out a victory at home against the Jets as favorites last week, but the Titans played better than the final score suggested, as they managed to win despite throwing a pick six and allowing a blocked punt. The Titans had 22 first downs to 15 for the Jets, winning the first down rate battle by 18.59%, and holding the Jets’ offense to only field goals. The Jets joined the Jaguars as the two teams not to make it inside their opponent’s 10 yard line all game last week.

I wouldn’t be shocked if the Jaguars were kept from getting deep into opponent’s territory again this week. The Titans’ strong defensive performance last week was no fluke, as they rank 5th in the NFL in first down rate allowed at 33.65%, just one spot behind the Jaguars. Given that, this line is way too low at -4. The Jaguars have also had inconsistent effort this season and might not be as focused on a short week after a big win. It’s a small sample size, but teams are just 4-10 ATS on Thursday Night Football after a divisional home upset win as underdogs of 3+. This is only a medium confidence pick because the Titans have been so inconsistent this season, but I like their chances at home on a short week.

Tennessee Titans 20 Jacksonville Jaguars 10

Pick against the spread: Tennessee -4

Confidence: Medium

Indianapolis Colts at Jacksonville Jaguars: 2018 Week 13 NFL Pick

Indianapolis Colts (6-5) at Jacksonville Jaguars (3-8)

This is a tough one. On one hand, we’ve lost a lot of line value with the Colts. The Jaguars were just 2.5-point home underdogs against the Colts on the early line last week and -2.5 road underdogs in Indianapolis a few weeks ago (in a game they ended up only losing by 3), but now they are -4.5 point home underdogs. The Jaguars have had a disappointing season, but they’re better than their 3-8 record suggests, as their defense is still one of the best in the league, ranking 4th in first down rate allowed at 33.58%.

It’s not quite as dominant as it was last year and it certainly hasn’t played well enough to compensate for their offense, but they still rank a respectable 19th in first down rate differential at -1.49%. Their record looks worse than they’ve played because they are just 1-5 in games decided by a touchdown or less and because they have one of the worst turnover margins in the league at -11. Both of those metrics tend to be inconsistent on a week-to-week basis and year-to-year basis though, especially turnover margin.

Case in point, these Jaguars had a -16 turnover margin in 2016 and then a +10 turnover margin in 2017 before this season’s struggles in that department. The Jaguars have also played a much tougher schedule than the Colts. Their opponents are a combined 52% on the season, as opposed to 45% for the Colts. The Jaguars obviously lost in Buffalo last week, but they were in a tough spot, sandwiched between a home game against the Steelers and this home game against the Colts. Now against a hated divisional foe, they’ll probably bring more effort and they kept it close against the Steelers the last time they did that.

On the other hand, the Jaguars have lost so much on offense this year and are starting mediocre backup quarterback Cody Kessler under center, having seen enough of Blake Bortles’ turnover proneness. Kessler is less turnover prone, but he really struggles to make plays downfield because of his lack of arm strength and he’s shown himself to be very injury prone thus far in his career.

Kessler’s supporting cast is also as bad as it gets, as the Jaguars are without running back Leonard Fournette with a suspension and added talented left guard Andrew Norwell to injured reserve this week, joining their top-3 offensive tackles, their top-3 tight ends, talented center Brandon Linder, and #1 receiver Marqise Lee on the sidelines. I can’t take the Colts with any confidence because we’re not getting a good line, but it’s the Colts or nothing this week, as the Jaguars are currently one of the worst teams in the NFL.

Indianapolis Colts 23 Jacksonville Jaguars 17

Pick against the spread: Indianapolis -4.5

Confidence: None

Jacksonville Jaguars at Buffalo Bills: 2018 Week 12 NFL Pick

Jacksonville Jaguars (3-7) at Buffalo Bills (3-7)

The Bills have endured some truly terrible quarterback play in recent weeks. Matt Barkley played well in his start before the bye, but prior to that the Bills were a combined 75 of 121 (62.0%) for 676 yards (5.59 YPA), no touchdowns, and 7 interceptions in their previous 3 games, losing all 3 games by a combined 83 points. Barkley likely wouldn’t be able to keep that up for more than a start, but fortunately the Bills get starting quarterback Josh Allen back from injury this week. Allen hasn’t played well this season, but he should be a noticeable upgrade over the street free agents they’ve been starting in his absence. The Bills actually have a solid defense (10th in first down rate allowed) and Allen returning to stabilize the quarterback position should allow their defense to shine more, especially against easier opponents.

The Jaguars qualify as an easier opponent. Their defense hasn’t really been much worse than last season (4th in first down rate allowed), but they haven’t quite been the dominant unit they were last season and their offense has been noticeably worse due to injury. The Jaguars are missing their top-3 left tackles, their top-3 tight ends, their top wide receiver Marqise Lee, and their top offensive lineman center Brandon Linder. A year after finishing 2nd in first down rate differential, the Jaguars rank just 22nd at -2.10%. This line favors the Jaguars on the road by a field goal, but I think this line should be closer to even.

The Jaguars are also in a terrible spot. Not only did they have a crushing last second loss at home last week to the Steelers in what was their best effort in weeks, but they have another big home game against the Colts on deck, so they could easily look past the 3-7 Bills. Road favorites struggle mightily before being home underdogs, going 39-62 ATS since 2008, and the Jaguars are expected to be home underdogs for the Colts next week. The Bills are a smart bet as field goal home underdogs, as they should at least be able to push this week. The money line is also worth a bet at +150, as this game is basically a toss up.

Buffalo Bills 17 Jacksonville Jaguars 16 Upset Pick +150

Pick against the spread: Buffalo +3

Confidence: Medium

Pittsburgh Steelers at Jacksonville Jaguars: 2018 Week 11 NFL Pick

Pittsburgh Steelers (6-2-1) at Jacksonville Jaguars (3-6)

I typically love going against significant week-to-week line movements, as they tend to be overreactions to a single week of play, and this game is no exception. Originally 3-point favorites on the early line last week, the Steelers are now 6-point favorites after their big home blowout victory over the Carolina Panthers. That kind of big win has not been typical of the Steelers recently, as it was just their 5th win by more than a touchdown in their last 19 games, dating back to last season. Blowout wins typically aren’t predictive of another blowout win either, as teams that outscore their opponents by 31 points on average outscore their next opponent by 5.31 points and just 2.62 points away from home, as the Steelers are in this one. That game could have easily been a case of the Panthers being unprepared away from home on a short week, so I don’t want to put too much stock into it.

The Steelers also have struggled in this kind of games in the past, going 5-15 ATS since Ben Roethlisberger’s rookie year as non-divisional road favorites of 4.5 or more. Big Ben and company have a habit of putting up a dud outside of the division on the road against teams they’re supposed to beat and the Jaguars have had their number over the past year anyway. Jacksonville is not as good as they were last season, but they still have a top-5 defense and can make this a competitive game at home. They lost center Brandon Linder to injury last week, but it helps to have running back Leonard Fournette and cornerback AJ Bouye back healthy and the Steelers will be without a key defensive lineman with Stephon Tuitt injured. The Jaguars are worth a bet as 6-point home underdogs.

Pittsburgh Steelers 23 Jacksonville Jaguars 20

Pick against the spread: Jacksonville +6

Confidence: Medium