Cleveland Browns at Jacksonville Jaguars: 2020 Week 12 NFL Pick

Cleveland Browns (7-3) at Jacksonville Jaguars (1-9)

The Jaguars will start their third quarterback of the season, opting to go with veteran backup Mike Glennon, with starter Gardner Minshew still out with injury and rookie backup Jake Luton struggling mightily in his 3-game stint as the starter, including a 4-interception performance at home against the Steelers last week. As strange as it sounds, when Glennon was named the starter, I thought I was going to be betting the Jaguars this week. 

Glennon is a journeyman backup, but even a low end backup quarterback would represent an upgrade on Luton. Meanwhile the Browns have not been nearly as good as their 7-3 record, with a negative point differential at -23, despite a +6 turnover margin that is tied for the 4th best in the NFL and a relatively easy schedule. In terms of schedule adjusted first down rate differential, the Browns rank 26th at -2.17% and, making matters worse for the Browns, they saw their top-2 defensive players, defensive end Myles Garrett and cornerback Denzel Ward, both ruled out early in the week. 

It seemed like Glennon and company could move the ball and keep this one somewhat close and it didn’t hurt that the Jaguars were in a good spot, as home underdogs cover at a 53.7% rate after a loss as home underdogs, including 42-30 ATS since 1989 after a loss by 20 or more points. However, then the Jaguars’ own injury issues came to light, which made them a significantly less attractive bet. 

Already down top edge defender Josh Allen on defense after an early week rule out, the Jaguars’ offense will be without talented left guard Andrew Norwell and two of their top wide receivers DJ Chark and Chris Conley, which limits Glennon’s chances of keeping this close. My calculated line is Cleveland -6, so we’re still getting line value with the Jaguars, which, combined with the Jaguars good spot, leads me to think they’re the right side, but I don’t really want to bet on it, especially with the uncertainty of this being Glennon’s first start since 2017.

Cleveland Browns 31 Jacksonville Jaguars 26

Pick against the spread: Jacksonville +7

Confidence: Low

Pittsburgh Steelers at Jacksonville Jaguars: 2020 Week 11 NFL Pick

Pittsburgh Steelers (9-0) at Jacksonville Jaguars (1-8)

The Steelers have consistently been one of the best teams in the league throughout Ben Roethlisberger’s 17-year tenure, but one thing that they’ve consistently had a problem with is playing down to the level of their competition on the road outside of the division. Since Roethlisberger’s first season in 2004, the Steelers are just 12-26 ATS as non-divisional road favorites of a field goal or more, including 3-13 ATS as non-divisional road favorites of a touchdown or more, which the Steelers are this week in Jacksonville. Not only do the Steelers have a poor ATS record in those games, but they’ve also lost 7 of the 16 games straight up, to much lesser opponents.

The Steelers are 9-0 this year, but we saw them just a couple weeks ago almost lose in Dallas as two touchdown favorites and, while they haven’t lost a game, they aren’t exactly blowing teams out either, with just two wins by more than 10 points, both coming against divisional opponents. Their +100 point differential is still 2nd in the NFL, but they haven’t faced a tough schedule and are slightly farther down in schedule adjusted first down rate differential, ranking 5th at +2.38%. 

The Steelers are obviously a good team, but they’re not the dominant team their record would suggest and they’re certainly capable of playing a close game with the Jaguars if they don’t play their best football. The Jaguars are one of the worst teams in the league, but they have been better defensively in recent weeks since getting top linebacker Myles Jack and top edge defender Josh Allen back from injury and, while they’ll be without top cornerback CJ Henderson this week, that will somewhat be offset by the return of fellow cornerback DJ Hayden from injury.

Making the Steelers situation this week even tougher, they have to turn around and play a much bigger game on Thanksgiving on short rest against the Ravens. Favorites cover at just a 43.9% rate before Thursday Night Football, including 40.6% as favorites of more than a touchdown. The Steelers know they can beat the Jaguars even without their best effort, so why would they exhaust themselves trying to blow out a bad Jaguars team with another tough game on deck? Even if the Steelers can get out to a fast start, which they traditionally have not done in these types of games, we could see the Jaguars get a backdoor cover in the second half if the Steelers take their foot off the gas. I wouldn’t go crazy with this bet, but the Jaguars should be the right side, especially if you locked it in at 10.5 like I did earlier this week.

Pittsburgh Steelers 23 Jacksonville Jaguars 17

Pick against the spread: Jacksonville +10.5

Confidence: Medium

Jacksonville Jaguars at Green Bay Packers: 2020 Week 10 NFL Pick

Jacksonville Jaguars (1-7) at Green Bay Packers (6-2)

This is a tough call. On one hand, I think this line is a little high at 13.5. The Jaguars rank 31st in schedule adjusted first down rate differential at -5.78%, but their defense should be better going forward. Not only will their defense likely be better by default, given that they currently rank dead last in first down rate allowed over expected at 4.27% and that defenses tend to be very inconsistent week-to-week, but they’re also healthier than they’ve been, with their top cornerback CJ Henderson, their top linebacker Myles Jack, their top safety Jarrod Wilson, and their top edge defender Josh Allen all missing time early in the season and having since returned. 

Their offense which ranks 26th in first down rate over expected at -1.51% might not be improving going forward, especially with sixth round rookie Jake Luton under center now in place of the injured Gardiner Minshew, even though Luton did show some promise last week, but if their defense can be better going forward, they should be more competitive as a team than they’ve been. The Packers, meanwhile, obviously have a good offense, but their defense is middling at best and, without fans in Lambeau, it’s hard to justify them being favored by this many points over anyone except the Jets.

On the other hand, the Jaguars have to turn around and play another tough game against the Steelers next week and it’s tough for inferior teams to keep it close against a superior team when they have another tough game on deck. Since 2014, underdogs of a touchdown or more are 50-77 ATS before being underdogs of a touchdown or more the following week, which the Jaguars almost definitely will be next week. Earlier today when the line was -13, I was going to take the Packers, but the line has moved to 13.5, so I’m now on the Jaguars. That’s how close this one is for me.

Green Bay Packers 34 Jacksonville Jaguars 21

Pick against the spread: Jacksonville +13.5

Confidence: None

Houston Texans at Jacksonville Jaguars: 2020 Week 9 NFL Pick

Houston Texans (1-6) at Jacksonville Jaguars (1-6)

It may seem strange to see a 1-win Texans team favored by 6.5 points in this game in Jacksonville, but this is the 19th time in the past 30 seasons that a team with 1 win or fewer has been favored by 6.5 points or more in week 6 or later, so it’s not unheard of. The previous 18 teams are 9-9 ATS, which isn’t a reason to bet the Texans, but it shows we shouldn’t be afraid of betting them, because when teams with poor records are big favorites, it’s generally for a good reason.

That definitely is the case in this matchup. The Texans may only have one win, but they’ve faced one of the toughest schedules in the NFL, with their one easy matchup resulting in a 30-14 blowout victory over these Jaguars in week 5. The Texans are -2.22% in first down rate differential even when adjusted for schedule, but they’re an offensive led team, which is a good sign for their chances going forward, as offense tends to be much more consistent week-to-week than defense. If the Texans can even be a middling defensive team going forward, they should be a competitive football team.

The Jaguars have also been better on offense than defense and their defense should be better going forward because they have players like defensive end Josh Allen, linebacker Myles Jack, cornerback CJ Henderson, and safety Jarrod Wilson returning from injuries, but their defense still has a long way to go to be respectable, having ranked dead last in first down rate allowed over expected at -5.25%. On top of that, the Jaguars offense should take a hit going forward, as long as starting quarterback Gardiner Minshew is out with injury.

Minshew hasn’t been a great quarterback, but, similar to Ryan Fitzpatrick with the Dolphins last year, he’s kept a bottom tier roster competitive in games where they otherwise would have been blown out. Now without him, the Jaguars could resemble what the 2019 Dolphins looked like with Josh Rosen under center, when they were regularly losing by several scores. Sixth round rookie Jake Luton is very raw and figures to struggle mightily, bringing down an offense that hasn’t been horrible, ranking 24th in first down rate over expected at -1.24%. With Luton under center, the Jaguars are in serious trouble on both sides of the ball, even against a middling at best team like the Texans.

The Texans are also in a great spot as big road favorites off of a bye, as teams are 54-28 ATS as regular season road favorites of 3.5 or more after a bye over the past 30 years. The Jaguars are coming off of a bye as well, but, as a bad team, they won’t benefit as much from it and road favorites of 3.5 or more are 13-8 ATS off of a bye even when their opponents are also coming off of a bye. This isn’t a big play, but I have the Texans calculated at -8.5 even before taking into account their good spot, so they’re worth a play at 6.5. I would expect them to win by at least a touchdown.

Houston Texans 27 Jacksonville Jaguars 16

Pick against the spread: Houston -6.5

Confidence: Medium

Jacksonville Jaguars at Los Angeles Chargers: 2020 Week 7 NFL Pick

Jacksonville Jaguars (1-5) at Los Angeles Chargers (1-4)

Chargers rookie quarterback Justin Herbert hasn’t won a game yet in his four career starts, but the Chargers have been competitive in all four losses, including games against top level teams in the Chiefs, Buccaneers, and Saints, all three of whom the Chargers led in the first half. That’s more or less been the story for the Chargers over the past two seasons, as they are just 6-15, but have lost a ridiculous 13 games by one score or less (3-13 overall in such games). In fact, in games decided by more than one score, the Chargers are actually 3-2 over the past two seasons, including a blowout 45-10 victory over the Jaguars last year.

This rematch could easily be a similarly easy victory, as the Jaguars are still one of the worst teams in the league. They finished last season dead last in first down rate differential at -6.64% and in 2020 it’s been all downhill since a fluke week 1 win over the Colts, as they’ve been outscored by 61 points over their past 5 games, despite a mediocre schedule. Their offense hasn’t been horrible, but their defense has allowed a league worst 44.27% first down rate and are every bit that bad on paper as well, especially with top linebacker Myles Jack and top safety Jarrad Wilson out with injuries. 

When adjusted for schedule, only the Jets have a worse first down rate differential than the Jaguars’ -6.79% rate and the Jaguars are arguably even worse than that suggests, while the Chargers have a +1.49% first down rate differential when adjusted for schedule and are getting healthier, with defensive linemen Justin Jones and Melvin Ingram and probably right tackle Bryan Bulaga set to return this week. This line might be a little high at 7.5, but if Bulaga is confirmed playing or this line drops to a touchdown, I would consider a bet on the Chargers.

Los Angeles Chargers 27 Jacksonville Jaguars 17

Pick against the spread: LA Chargers -7.5

Confidence: Low

Detroit Lions at Jacksonville Jaguars: 2020 Week 6 NFL Pick

Detroit Lions (1-3) at Jacksonville Jaguars (1-4)

The Jaguars were seen as probably the worst team in the league coming into the season, with some expecting them to not even win a game, but they surprised everyone with a week 1 victory over the Indianapolis Colts. The Jaguars have fallen back to earth since then though, losing four straight. Their offense hasn’t been bad overall, ranking 15th in first down rate at 40.31%, but they are probably outplaying their talent level, which means they could regress on that side of the ball, while their defense is predictably a disaster, ranking 31st in first down rate allowed at 44.90%. It’s not hard to see how the Jaguars could be even worse going forward if their offense can’t keep exceeding expectations. 

The news isn’t all bad for the Jaguars though. For one, they’ll get their top cornerback CJ Henderson and top linebacker Myles Jack back from a one game absence, which should make their defense a little bit more respectable than the unit that struggled mightily against the Texans last week, and they could get top pass rusher Josh Allen back from a one game absence as well. On top of that, the Jaguars get to face another team that has gotten off to a horrible start to the season, as they will host a Detroit Lions team that ranks just 31st in first down rate differential at -8.84%, only ahead of the winless New York Jets. 

The Lions have one win, but it came in a game in which they only won by 3 over the Cardinals, despite winning the turnover battle by 3, and the Lions actually lost the first down rate battle in that game by 10.50%. The Lions’ defense has been particularly bad, as they are the only team in the league with a first down rate allowed worse than the Jaguars, and by a significant margin, at 47.15% (2.25% higher than Jacksonville). I don’t expect the Lions to be quite that bad all season, but it’s clear their defense is an obvious problem, especially with expected top cornerback Desmond Trufant out with injury.

The one thing that is stopping me from betting the Jaguars is that the Lions are coming off of a bye and road favorites of 3+ are 74-39-1 ATS since 1989 with extra rest, including 13-6 ATS for teams with a losing record. My calculated line is even for this game and I don’t know if that trend should apply if the line is off, but the possibility that the Lions could be significantly improved out of their bye is enough for me to stay away from betting on the Jaguars for now. I say for now because that will likely change if the Jaguars’ two key questionable players, Josh Allen and top wide receiver DJ Chark, are able to go and this line stays where it is at 3.5. The Jaguars are the pick for pick ‘em purposes regardless.

Detroit Lions 34 Jacksonville Jaguars 33

Pick against the spread: Jacksonville +3.5

Confidence: Low

Jacksonville Jaguars at Houston Texans: 2020 Week 5 NFL Pick

Jacksonville Jaguars (1-3) at Houston Texans (0-4)

The Texans are really in a mess of a situation. They gave complete control of their roster and complete control of the offense to head coach Bill O’Brien, who was essentially functioning as his own general manager and offensive coordinator, despite never proving himself as a great coach. O’Brien took this team to the post-season in 2019, but the Texans had a negative point differential at -7 and O’Brien’s roster changes this off-season undoubtedly made them worse. 

Now the Texans are off to a 0-4 start and, making matters so much worse, due to O’Brien’s failed aggressive moves to try to build this roster into a Super Bowl contender, the Texans won’t even have the luxury of having their own first or second round pick this year. This comes after having just one first round pick and just two picks in the top-50 over the past 3 drafts combined, due to other failed aggressive moves. On top of that, the Texans don’t have much long-term financial flexibility either, with a projected negative 11 million in cap space for 2021 and 11 players under contact for 2021 who are all making 9 million or more annually. Simply put, the Texans aren’t winning games and won’t be able to utilize the normal methods by which teams improve themselves and rebuild.

The Texans’ solution to this was to fire Bill O’Brien four games into the season. O’Brien certainly is to blame for the current situation, but it’s hard to see how firing him makes them better in the short-term. O’Brien isn’t a great coach, but he’ll be turning the job over to 73-year-old Romeo Crennel, who has already failed in two other head coaching stints. It’s very unlikely he’ll be able to do much more with O’Brien’s roster than O’Brien could, especially as a defensive background head coach without a proven offensive coordinator, so the Texans probably would have been better off just stripping O’Brien roster control powers rather than outright firing him and leaving a huge vacuum. 

That being said, there is one reason to like the Texans’ chances of turning things around somewhat in the short-term and that’s simply that their schedule gets a lot easier. The Texans started their season with a murderer’s row of the Chiefs, Ravens, and Steelers and, while the Vikings were winless coming into their week 4 matchup in Houston, the Vikings were much better than their record suggested, as they too started the season with a brutal schedule and fared much better on a per snap basis than their final scores would have suggested. 

The Texans weren’t competitive with the Chiefs and Ravens, but they played both Pittsburgh and Minnesota within one score, leading the Steelers at one point in the fourth quarter and then having a chance to at least send the game to overtime at the end of the game against the Vikings. The Texans aren’t a great team, but on paper they have enough talent that they should be a middling team, regardless of their head coaching situation, and I think that’s been obscured by how tough their early schedule has been.

This week, the Texans get arguably the easiest game of their season, at home against the Jacksonville Jaguars. Despite having one of the worst rosters in the league, the Jaguars surprisingly won week 1 against the Colts in a game that largely swung on the Jaguars winning the turnover battle by 2, something that is very inconsistent on a week-to-week basis. However, they’ve fallen back to reality since then, especially on defense, where they rank 30th in first down rate allowed. Their offense has kept them afloat by ranking 8th in first down rate at 42.51%, but it’s hard to imagine their offense being this good all season. If they even fall down to being an middling offense, it’s going to be tough for them to win games against anyone.

Given that, I like the Texans chances of covering this week. It may be weird to see an 0-4 team favored by 5.5 points, but typically when a winless team is favored by this many points, there’s a good reason for it. Over the past 30 years, teams that are 0-2 or worse are 33-21 ATS as favorites of 4.5 or more. That alone isn’t a reason to bet the Texans, but it’s a reason to not be scared off by the Texans’ record. 

I’m keeping this as a low confidence bet for now, but the Jaguars are already without cornerback DJ Hayden, seem likely to be without edge defender Josh Allen, who didn’t practice all week, and could possibly also be without linebacker Myles Jack and cornerback CJ Henderson, though both did get limited practices in on Friday. Depending on the inactive report for Jacksonville and where this line is Sunday morning, I may end up making a bet on Houston.

Final Update: The Texans have an unexpected absence in linebacker Benardrick McKinney, which will hurt because he is their top linebacker, but that’s nothing compared to the Jaguars, who will be without their top cornerback, linebacker, and edge rusher, with all three questionable players being unable to go. With top slot cornerback DJ Hayden ruled out earlier in the week, the Jaguars have an absolute sieve of a defense right now and, in fact, are the lowest rated defense in my roster rankings in any single week over the past 3 years. This will be a shootout, but one the Texans should win with relative ease, so I’m comfortable laying the 5.5.

Houston Texans 38 Jacksonville Jaguars 28

Pick against the spread: Houston -5.5

Confidence: Medium

Jacksonville Jaguars at Cincinnati Bengals: 2020 Week 4 NFL Pick

Jacksonville Jaguars (1-2) at Cincinnati Bengals (0-2-1)

The Bengals haven’t done a lot of winning in the past couple years, finishing with the worst record in the league at 2-14 in 2019 and getting off to an 0-2-1 start in 2020, but they’ve generally been pretty competitive. Of their 14 losses last season, 8 of those came by 8 points or fewer, while their two losses this season have come by a combined 8 points. They finished last season 24th in first down rate differential at -3.47%, not great, but better than their league worst record suggested, and this year they should be better with the addition of quarterback Joe Burrow and the return of top receiver AJ Green and left tackle Jonah Williams from injuries that cost them all of 2019. So far, the Bengals have been decent in first down rate differential, despite their lack of a win, ranking 18th in the NFL in this early season with a -0.70% first down rate differential. 

The Jaguars have exceeded expectations after being expected to be one of the worst teams in the league, but they still only rank 23rd in first down rate differential at -2.47% and their 30th ranked defense is the kind of unit that could land this team among the worst in the league overall when all is said and done if their offense can’t continue playing at a high level (9th in first down rate). I don’t have the Jaguars as the worst team in the league and quarterback Gardiner Minshew can lead them to a few wins this season that they shouldn’t have otherwise had, like Ryan Fitzpatrick did for the expected league worst Dolphins in 2019, but the Jaguars rank just 29th in my roster rankings, so the 21st ranked Bengals have a significant edge in that as well. Despite that, this line suggests these two teams are about even, favoring the Bengals by just 2.5 points at home.

My calculated line is Cincinnati -5.5, even with minimal homefield advantage this year, so we’re getting good line value with the Bengals in a game where they have to win by only a field goal at home to cover. Unfortunately, the Bengals are in a couple of bad spots. Not only are they likely to be tired after last week’s tie, a spot in which teams are 9-17 ATS over the past 30 seasons, but they also have a big look ahead game on deck, going to Baltimore to face the Ravens, a game in which they are 16.5 point underdogs on the early line. Teams are 40-74 ATS since 2016 before being underdogs of 10 points or more, as that tends to serve as a big upcoming distraction. I’m still taking the Bengals for pick ‘em purposes, but I wouldn’t recommend betting on them.

Cincinnati Bengals 20 Jacksonville Jaguars 16

Pick against the spread: Cincinnati -2.5

Confidence: Low

Miami Dolphins at Jacksonville Jaguars: 2020 Week 3 NFL Pick

Miami Dolphins (0-2) at Jacksonville Jaguars (1-1)

The rule of thumb on Thursday nights has always been to take a non-divisional home favorite, as teams cover at about a 70% rate in that spot historically. It makes sense. Road teams are at a bigger disadvantage on a short week because they have to travel and, while some of that can be mitigated if the road team is a better team and/or if the road team is more familiar with the home team because they are a divisional opponent, non-divisional home favorites are especially at an advantage. 

I’m a little bit more skeptical about that this week because the Jaguars won’t have a full crowd and because the Dolphins won’t have to travel that far for this in-state game, but the Jaguars should still be at an advantage because they’ll have some crowd noise and get to sleep in their own beds on a short week. Also, it may be early, but home teams have not been disadvantaged as much by their lack of fans so far as you’d think, as they’ve outscored opponents by 2.7 points per game (more or less in line with recent history) and have covered in 18 of 32 games. There is sleep science that suggests athletes perform at a higher level when they are able to get a good night’s sleep in a familiar bed and it’s possible that’s a bigger factor in homefield advantage than previously realized.

We’re also getting some line value with the Jaguars as 3-point home favorites, as I have them 2.5 points higher than the Dolphins in my rankings. Even if we don’t use the traditional 3 points for homefield advantage, the Jaguars still should be favored by at least 4-4.5 points here at home over the Dolphins. The Dolphins were expected to be better this season, particularly on defense, but so far their defense has the highest first down rate allowed in the league through 2 games at 48.36% and will be without their biggest off-season addition, cornerback Byron Jones, in this one. 

The Jaguars, meanwhile, have been better than expected on offense, in large part due to their offensive line and running game, which will both take a hit this week without center Brandon Linder, but they should still be able to move the ball relatively easily against this Dolphins defense. The Jaguars 44.63% first down rate on offense is almost definitely unsustainable long-term even with Linder and the Jaguars’ defense is also a problem as they are minimally talented on that side of the ball and have allowed a 43.75% first down rate on the season, but they should still have the advantage in this matchup. DJ Chark is a question mark for the Jaguars, but if he plays I will probably be betting on Jacksonville. They are the pick for pick ‘em purposes regardless.

Update: Chark is out, so I’m keeping this where it is.

Jacksonville Jaguars 30 Miami Dolphins 24

Pick against the spread: Jacksonville -3

Confidence: Low

Jacksonville Jaguars at Tennessee Titans: 2020 Week 2 NFL Pick

Jacksonville Jaguars (1-0) at Tennessee Titans (1-0)

The Jaguars pulled the biggest upset of week one, winning at home as 8-point underdogs against the Colts. That is likely to prove to be a fluke though, as the Jaguars still have one of the worst rosters in the league and are not going to be able to rely on winning the turnover battle by 2 every week. If Gardner Minshew can take a step forward in his second season in the league, he can lead this team to a few wins like Ryan Fitzpatrick did with the Dolphins last year when they had a similarly untalented roster, but the Dolphins were also blown out a lot last year.

This seems like one of those instances where the Jaguars are likely to be blown out, as the Titans are at home and became a legitimate top-10 team when they signed Jadeveon Clowney, who should play even more in his second game with the Titans. In his debut, the Titans only won by 2 in Denver, but they lost 10 points on makeable kicks, something that is highly unlikely to continue happening every week. 

The Jaguars likely fluke win shifted this line all the week from Tennessee -11 on the early line last week to -7.5 this week and, while some of that is justified due to the Titans missing starting cornerback Malcolm Butler and top receiver AJ Brown (in addition to fellow cornerback Adoree Jackson continuing to be out), I still have this line calculated at Tennessee -10.5 (it wouldn’t have been about -13 with Butler and Brown in the lineup). There’s enough line value with the Titans for them to be worth a small bet this week.

Update: Some 7s have shown up Sunday morning. This bet is worth increasing if you can get that number.

Tennessee Titans 31 Jacksonville Jaguars 20

Pick against the spread: Tennessee -7

Confidence: High