Jacksonville Jaguars 2017 NFL Season Preview

Quarterback

The Jaguars went just 3-13 in 2016, but were a lot closer to being a respectable team than people realize. Eight of their 13 losses came by a touchdown or less and many of their games were decided by just a couple plays. Usually, one of those plays was a turnover, as they had the 3rd worst turnover margin in the league at -16, but, fortunately for them, turnover margins tend to be very inconsistent on a week-to-week and year-to-year basis. They finished last season 15th in first round rate differential, so, if they can play closer to turnover neutral football, that would likely lead to a big jump in win total, especially considering how many near victories they had last season.

You might think that the Jaguars playing turnover neutral football is an impossibility because of quarterback Blake Bortles, who has the second most interceptions in the league over the past 3 seasons, but he wasn’t the biggest problem for the Jaguars in terms of turnover margin last season. He threw 16 interceptions on 625 attempts last season, an interception rate of 2.55%, which was actually the lowest rate of his career and just 19th highest among 48 quarterbacks who threw more than 50 passes. He actually had a lower interception rate than Ben Roethlisberger (2.56%), Cam Newton (2.75%), and Eli Manning (2.68%). As a team, they ranked tied for 8th in interceptions with three other teams.

The bigger problems for the Jaguars were fumbles lost (13, tied for 4th), and takeaways (13, tied for 2nd fewest). Both of those should be better this season. The Jaguars ranked dead last in fumble recovery rate last season, recovering just 2 of 15 offensive fumbles, which is more bad luck than anything, and their defense is too talented to not generate more takeaways in 2017 (a lot more on that later). Bortles did lose 6 fumbles last season, tied for the league lead with Jameis Winston, but he only lost 6 fumbles combined in his first 2 seasons in the league, so this doesn’t seem to be a pattern with him.

None of this is to say that Blake Bortles is a good quarterback. In fact, he’s pretty bad one. But even if he ranks among the league leaders in interceptions again this season, the Jaguars could still have a reasonable turnover margin. Bortles’ biggest issue is his accuracy, as he has completed fewer than 60% of his passes in all 3 seasons in the league. He had better overall yardage and touchdown numbers in what looked like a breakout season in 2015, but his total career numbers are very underwhelming. In 45 starts in 3 seasons in the league, he has completed 58.8% of his passes for an average of 6.59 YPA, 69 touchdowns, and 51 interceptions.

Even in his best season in 2015, he still finished 23rd out of 39 eligible quarterbacks on Pro Football Focus. In 2014 and 2016 respectively, he finished dead last and 28th out of 34 eligible at the position. As a result of his incompetency, the Jaguars ranked just 23rd in first down rate last season, so their issues on offense definitely go beyond turnovers. The Jaguars used the 3rd overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft on Bortles and will give him another shot as the starter in 2017, still only his age 25 season, after not adding any meaningful competition for him this off-season, but this is a make or break year for him. The 2018 free agency class and draft class are both much more talented at the quarterback position than 2017’s and Bortles’ 19.053 million dollar salary for 2018 is guaranteed for injury only. This could easily be his final season in Jacksonville if he doesn’t get it together.

Grade: C-

Running Back

The Jaguars offensive struggles last season weren’t all Bortles’ fault and the Jaguars needed to find upgrades at multiple spots on offense around him this off-season. Running back wasn’t seen as a glaring need as both TJ Yeldon and Chris Ivory are capable backs, but the Jaguars couldn’t resist LSU running back Leonard Fournette at #4 overall in the first round. Fournette isn’t quite as complete of a back as last year’s #4 overall pick Ezekiel Elliott, but he runs with great power and can have an instant impact for this team on early downs. Even with Yeldon and Ivory on the roster, he’s clearly their best runner.

It will be interesting to see how they work in Ivory and Yeldon behind him. They averaged just 3.67 and 3.58 YPC respectively last season, but that wasn’t completely their fault because they didn’t have a lot of supporting talent around them. On top of that, Ivory rushed for 1000 yards in 2015 with the Jets and Yeldon is a 2015 2nd round pick. Yeldon has the most obvious path to a role because of what he can do on passing downs. Yeldon has a mediocre 3.86 career YPC on 1,205 carries and just 3 rushing touchdowns, but has graded out above average on Pro Football Focus in both seasons because he has caught 86 passes in 2 seasons and because he’s a reliable pass blocker. Fournette isn’t a great passing down option, so Yeldon would complement him well.

Ivory’s path to playing time is much less clear, even though the Jaguars gave him a 5-year, 32 million dollar deal in free agency last off-season. Unlike Yeldon, Ivory is useless on passing downs with 73 career catches in 81 games and he is coming off of a way worse season, finishing 61st out of 62 eligible running backs on Pro Football Focus last season. Ivory has had success in the past and much of his struggles last season were injury related, but injuries have always been an issue for him because of his violent running style. He’s missed 31 games with injury in 7 seasons in the league and has played through injuries in countless others.

Ivory has a career 4.47 YPC average on 1,000 carries, but, now going into his age 29 season, he might be running out of gas. There isn’t really anything that Ivory does well that Fournette doesn’t do much better, so it’s hard to see Ivory having a big role this season, especially with Yeldon also in the mix. They will probably try to trade Ivory, but he’s owed 5 million guaranteed this season, so that will be next to impossible. The Jaguars will have to just eat the money and release him next off-season. It’s a much upgraded backfield with Fournette entering the mix. They will try to run the ball heavily and win games with a conservative offense and a good defense.

Grade: B+

Offensive Line

The Jaguars also used their 2nd round pick on an offensive player, taking Alabama offensive tackle Cam Robinson at 34 overall. They also acquired veteran Branden Albert from Miami for a late round pick. Those two will probably make up a remade left side of the offensive line, although Albert has yet to report to the team since being traded. Albert has yet to miss anything mandatory, but his absence from the team is giving Robinson a leg up on the competition for the left tackle job. Albert is reportedly holding out for more money, a strange move considering the Dolphins likely would have just cut him if the Jaguars didn’t trade for him.

The Jaguars didn’t give much up for him and he’s already owed 9 million this season. Going into his age 33 season and coming off of a terrible season in which he finished 65th out of 78 eligible offensive tackles, Albert wouldn’t be able to get half of that on the open market. Without any guaranteed money left on his contract, the Jaguars can just cut him if he doesn’t report for mandatory activities. Even if he does report, he could still end up having to move back to left guard, where he last played in college in 2007. He has made 118 starts at left tackle over the past 9 seasons and graded out above average in every season from 2010 to 2015, but he’s not the same player anymore and Robinson could impress.

Albert and Robinson do have a good chance to be an upgrade over what they had on the left side last season. Left tackle Kelvin Beachum struggled all season, while left guard Luke Joeckel struggled until tearing his ACL and going down for the season. His replacement Patrick Omameh was solid in 7 starts, but he’s struggled in the past and is best as a reserve, which is what he’ll be this season. He will backup whoever ends up with the left guard job and right guard AJ Cann, who made 29 starts in 2 seasons in the league since going in the 3rd round in 2015, but has underwhelmed. He could be better in his 3rd year in the league, but he’s also only a former 3rd round pick, so it wouldn’t be a surprise if he never developed into an above average starter.

Center Brandon Linder was their best offensive lineman last season, finishing 5th among centers on Pro Football Focus in his first season at the position. Linder ranked 10th among guards as a 3rd round rookie in 2014 too, but missed most of 2015 with injury and was moved to center last off-season. Center seems to be his best pro position, but his versatility is very valuable, especially on an uncertain offensive line this one. The Jaguars would be wise to lock him up ahead of the final year of his rookie deal in 2017.

Rounding out the offensive line is right tackle Jermey Parnell, who is also a capable starter. A 2009 undrafted free agent, Parnell was very much a late bloomer, making just 2 career starts in his first 5 seasons in the league. In his 6th year in the league in 2014, he flashed in 5 starts for the Cowboys, which landed him a 5-year, 32 million dollar deal with the Jaguars. It was a risky deal to give to someone with 7 career starts, but it has paid off, as he has graded out above average in both seasons with the Jaguars, including a 31st place rank last season. He’s going into his age 31 season, but could still be a solid starter for another couple years. This offensive line has the potential to be better in 2017, but there’s still a lot of uncertainty.

Grade: C+

Receiving Corps

The receiving corps was the Jaguars’ best offensive unit last season, though largely by default. They weren’t bad, but they played significantly worse than they did in 2015, specifically wide receivers Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns, who seemed to have breakout years in 2015. A year after both topped 1000 yards (one of 4 wide receiver duos in the league to do so) neither had 1000 yards. Hurns was especially bad, dropping from a 64/1031/10 slash line to a 35/477/3 slash line. Hurns missed 5 games with injury, but did not look like his 2015 self even when on the field, catching just 46.1% of targets and finishing 106th among 115 eligible wide receivers on Pro Football Focus.

Hurns ranked 18th at his position in 2015, but was also a bottom-10 wide receiver as a rookie and went undrafted in the 2014 NFL Draft. The Jaguars locked him up on a 4-year, 40.65 million dollar extension last off-season after just 2 seasons in the league and that deal could end up as one the biggest mistakes in recent years if he doesn’t turn it around. The Jaguars have already paid him over 8 million in new money on that extension and it hasn’t even technically started yet. His 7 million dollar salary for 2017 is guaranteed. Fortunately, they can get out of the deal after this season without penalty, but they’ll have essentially paid him over 15 million dollars in new money for one year if they do that.

While Hurns was an undrafted free agent who may have had a fluke season in 2015, Allen Robinson has much more talent and much more bounce back potential for that reason. Even in his down season last year, he still caught 73 passes for 883 yards and 6 touchdowns and graded out slightly above average on Pro Football Focus. He also caught fewer than 50% of his targets, but a lot of that had to do with quarterback play and how much bracket coverage he received. In 2015, Robinson caught 80 passes for 1400 yards and 12 touchdowns and finished 12th among wide receivers on Pro Football Focus and, still only going into his age 24 season, the 2014 2nd round pick still has a bright future. Even if Bortles continues to struggle this season, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if Robinson topped 1000 yards again. Going into the final year of his rookie deal, the Jaguars would be wise to lock him up long-term while his value is at a low point.

Fortunately, Marqise Lee had a mini-breakout year to help offset some of the dip in production by Robinson and Hurns. A 2014 2nd round pick like Robinson, Lee couldn’t stay on the field in his first 2 seasons in the league and didn’t play very well when on the field, catching just 52 passes in 23 games. Finally healthy in 2016, Lee had a breakout year, catching 63 passes for 851 yards and 3 touchdowns and finishing ahead of Robinson on Pro Football Focus, 39th among wide receivers. If the Jaguars can ever get all 3 of Robinson, Hurns, and Lee playing well at the same time, this could be a dangerous group of wide receivers, but that’s a big if. Robinson is the only one who I have a high level of trust in for 2017.

This receiving corps is also hurt by their lack of a good receiving tight end. Julius Thomas led all tight ends in catches in 2016 with just 30 and now he’s not even with the team anymore, after the Jaguars sent him to the Dolphins for a late round pick. It was the right decision because Thomas was not worth his 7.1 million dollar non-guaranteed salary for 2017 and they likely would have just cut him if they couldn’t trade him, but it left them very thin at the tight end position. After the trade of Thomas, many thought the Jaguars would draft the draft’s best tight end OJ Howard at #4 overall, but they didn’t spend a single draft pick on the position.

All three of Marcedes Lewis, Mychal Rivera, and Ben Koyack could see action as the Jaguars try to patch things together with a tight end by committee type situation. Lewis has by far the most experience, with 141 starts in 154 games in 11 seasons in the league. Now going into his age 33 season, Lewis is not the same player he once was and has missed 19 games with injury over the past 4 seasons, so he may be breaking down. In his prime he was an underrated overall player who could run block, pass block, and catch passes, but isn’t much more than a solid blocker anymore, even when he is on the field. He has just 79 catches over the past 4 seasons. He could see a slight uptick in targets with Thomas gone but, he probably won’t catch more than 25-30 balls even if he can stay healthy this season.

Mychal Rivera also has some experience, playing 61 games in 4 seasons in the league, but only starting 15 of those games. Ten of those starts came in 2014, when he caught 58 passes, but averaged just 5.39 yards per target and finished as Pro Football Focus’ 2nd worst ranked tight end on the season. He’s been alright as a #2 tight end, but the former 6th round pick has averaged just 353 yards per season in his career and doesn’t block well either. Koyack has the most upside of the bunch, but the 2015 6th round pick played just 363 snaps last season and spent his rookie season on the practice squad, so he’s very unproven. The Jaguars will probably use more 3-wide receiver sets to offset their lack of depth at tight end, but not having a good receiving tight end will hurt this offense.

Grade: C+

Defensive Line

As I mentioned earlier, the Jaguars struggled to force takeaways last season, finishing tied for 2nd worst with 13 takeaways, but turnovers tend to be very inconsistent and they’re just too talented not to force more takeaways this season. They finished last season 6th in first down rate allowed and look like a top-5 defense on paper after adding more talent in free agency this off-season. Their biggest off-season acquisition was defensive end Calais Campbell, who comes to the Jaguars on a 4-year, 60 million dollar deal, after spending the first 9 seasons of his career with the Cardinals.

Campbell has finished in the top-8 among 3-4 defensive ends in each of the past 6 seasons and ranked #1 at the position last season. Going into his age 31 season, Campbell’s age is a bit of a concern, but he hasn’t shown any signs of aging yet. In Jacksonville’s 4-3 defense, the 6-8 286 pounder will play defensive end in base packages and move inside and rush the passer from the interior in sub packages, like he’s used to. One of the best defensive linemen in the league, Campbell is a huge addition to an already talented defense.

Last off-season, they also made a huge addition to their defensive line in free agency, signing ex-Bronco Malik Jackson to a 6 year 85.5 million dollar deal. A 6-5 290 pounder, Jackson also came from a 3-4 defense and played in a hybrid role in his first season in Jacksonville like Campbell will, finishing 8th among defensive tackles on Pro Football Focus. He’s finished in the top-12 at his position in 4 straight seasons. With Campbell in town, Jackson will probably play more of a traditional defensive tackle role. Wherever they line up, they should be nightmares for opposing offenses.

The Jaguars are also hoping that 3rd year defensive end Dante Fowler can take a step forward and give them a third nightmare for opposing defenses. The 3rd overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft, Fowler missed his entire rookie season with injury and was underwhelming on 569 snaps last season, but still has huge upside and could have a breakout year in his 3rd year in the league in 2017, still only his age 23 season. That would obviously be another big boost for this defense.

The Jaguars have four other young defensive lineman who will play rotational roles on this defense: Yannick Ngakoue, Dawuane Smoot, Abry Jones, and Sheldon Day. Ngakoue actually led all Jaguar defensive ends with 706 snaps played last season as a 3rd round rookie, but finished 103rd out of 109th eligible edge defenders on Pro Football Focus and will probably have a smaller role this season with Campbell coming in and Fowler taking on a larger role. His primary role will be rushing the passer off the edge in sub packages opposite Fowler, which is good for him because he was horrible against the run as a rookie. This year’s 3rd round pick, Dawuane Smoot, could also have a role as a rookie.

Jones and Day, meanwhile, will have roles at defensive tackle in base packages. Jones was re-signed this off-season to a 4-year, 15.5 million dollar deal after a breakout 2016 season in which he finished 12th among defensive tackles on Pro Football Focus. A tough run stuffer at 6-3 313, Jones will probably play around the 463 snaps he played last season. The 2013 undrafted free agent entered last season with just 2 career starts and graded out well below average in both 2014 and 2015, but he is still only going into his age 26 season and could continue to be a solid base package player for them. Sheldon Day also played pretty well in limited action last season, although he only played 203 snaps. The 2016 4th round pick could have a bigger role in his 2nd season in the league. This is one of the deepest and most talented defensive lines in football.

Grade: A

Linebackers

The Jaguars also got great play from their linebackers last season as Paul Posluszny and Telvin Smith both played all 16 games and finished in the top-8 at their respective positions. For Smith, it was a breakout year, as he finished 8th among 4-3 outside linebackers after grading out about average in 23 starts in his first 2 seasons in the league. Only going into his age 26 season, Smith is one of the best young 4-3 outside linebackers in the league. The Jaguars are reportedly trying to work out a long-term extension with him ahead of the final year of his rookie deal in 2017.

For Posluszny, last year’s #4 finish among middle linebackers came out of nowhere, considering the veteran was on the wrong side of 30 and hadn’t graded out above average since 2011. Now going into his age 33 season, last year’s outstanding season could prove to be a fluke, but it’s possibly he has another couple seasons as a capable starter left in him. The Jaguars drafted Myles Jack in the 2nd round last year to be the long-term middle linebacker and future replacement for Posluszny, but he was limited to 239 snaps as a rookie and could have a hard time winning an every down job in his 2nd year in the league in 2017 with Posluszny coming off such a strong season.

Jack is talented enough for a big role though. He showed promise as a rookie and was seen as a potential top-5 pick in the draft before concerns about his knees dropped him to the 2nd round. The Jaguars have talked him up this off-season and it’s possible he could move inside and beat out Posluszny for an every down role, but he may have to spend another year as a part-time player. Assuming his knees hold up, he should be valuable to this team in whatever role he ends up in. It’s a good problem to have for arguably one of the strongest 4-3 linebacking corps in the NFL. They have three legitimate every down players.

Grade: A-

Secondary

In addition to Calais Campbell, the Jaguars also signed cornerback AJ Bouye and safety Barry Church to big contracts this off-season, giving them deals worth 67.5 million over 5 years and 26 million over 4 years respectively. Bouye replaces Prince Amukamara, who signed a 1-year, 7 million dollar deal with the Bears this off-season. Amukamara had a good year last year, finishing 41st among cornerbacks on Pro Football Focus, but Bouye finished 3rd, which is significantly better than Amukamara has ever been.

Bouye’s issue is that he’s the definition of a one-year wonder. At this time last year, he was the Texans’ 4th cornerback. A 2013 undrafted free agent, Bouye had finished below average in each of his first 3 seasons in the league and had just 8 career starts coming into last season. Injuries to guys ahead of him on the depth chart allowed him to play 722 snaps (11 starts) in 2016 and he made the most of it and made himself a ton of money. He’s a major risk because of his inexperience and unproven track record, but he is only going into his age 26 season and comes with obvious upside.

Barry Church is also a one year wonder, although he comes with less risk because he was paid less. He finished last season 11th among safeties on Pro Football Focus, though he replaces John Cyprien, who finished 7th at the position and signed with Tennessee this off-season. Church is also older than Cyprien, going into his age 29 season, and never did anything like what he did in 2016 in any of his first 6 seasons in the league. The former undrafted free agent has 63 career starts, including 59 in the past 4 seasons, and has never been bad, but last season was just the second season he ever graded out above average and it could easily prove to be a fluke.

Last off-season, the Jaguars gave a 5-year, 36 million dollar deal to another one-year wonder, safety Tashaun Gipson, formerly of the Cleveland Browns. Unlike Bouye and Church, Gipson’s one year was not his contract year. Gipson finished 10th among safeties in 2014, but graded out below average in his other 3 seasons, including 88th out of 89 eligible in his contract year in 2015. He also had missed 14 games with injury in 4 seasons in the league. The Jaguars took a chance on him, betting that he could stay healthy and bounce back. He played all 16 games, but graded out below average again and was not worth the money they gave him. Going into his age 27 season, he has some bounce back potential, but it’s possible 2014 was a complete fluke for the 2012 undrafted free agent. He is the one weak spot on this defense.

Opposite AJ Bouye, second year player Jalen Ramsey remains as the starting cornerback. The 5th overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, Ramsey made all 16 starts as a rookie and finished 21st among cornerbacks on Pro Football Focus. Ramsey has the upside to be one of the best cornerbacks in the league in a few seasons and could take another step forward in his second year in the league. One of the best defensive rookies in the league last season, the Jaguars appear to have made the right selection.

Aaron Colvin is expected to remain as the slot cornerback. Colvin fell to the 4th round in 2014 because of injury and was limited to 6 games as a rookie, but showed his talent in 2015 when he graded out above average in 16 games and made 15 starts. Last season, a combination of injury and suspension limited him to 292 snaps in 10 games, but he still played well when on the field. He won’t beat out either Bouye or Ramsey to win back his starting job, but, assuming he’s healthy, he should be one of the better #3 cornerbacks in the league and play more than half of the snaps. This is a talented secondary with good upside.

Grade: B+

Conclusion

The Jaguars will be limited by their passing game, but could win games with their defense and running game. Given all the talent they added in the off-season and how many close losses they had last season, it won’t be hard for them to win a lot more games if they can force more takeaways and recover more of their fumbles. On paper, they have a top-5 defense that is strong on all 3 levels. They have a good mix of cheap young players and talented veterans signed to big contracts in free agency and could easily win 7 to 9 games and push for the AFC South title in an unsettled and underwhelming division. I will have an exact win total after I finish every team’s season previews.

Prediction: TBD

Jacksonville Jaguars at Indianapolis Colts: 2016 Week 17 NFL Pick

Jacksonville Jaguars (3-12) at Indianapolis Colts (7-8)

I really messed up not taking the Jaguars last week. The Jaguars were at the top of my underrated list for most of the second half of the season, but I didn’t want to bet on them last week because they had just fired their head coach and were facing another team on my underrated list, the Tennessee Titans, even though we were getting good line value with the Jaguars as 5.5 point home underdogs in that game. Turns out a coaching change might have been exactly what this team needed as they blew out a good Tennessee team 38-17. Part of that is because of the injury to Marcus Mariota, but the Jaguars were in control of that game long before Tennessee’s quarterback got hurt.

Unfortunately, that win cost us a lot of line value with the Jaguars this week, as the Colts have gone from 7 point favorites on the early line to 4.5 point favorites this week. At 7, this would have been pick of the week material, but about 3 in 10 games are decided by 4 points or fewer so I think the Jaguars are still worth a bet at 4.5. The Jaguars are 3-12, but they are far from the worst team in the league. In addition to 7 of 12 losses coming by less than a touchdown, they’ve been killed by a -16 turnover margin. Fortunately for them, turnover margins are very inconsistent on a week-to-week basis. For that reason, I love to bet on teams that have poor turnover margins, as they tend to be undervalued. In terms of first down rate differential, the Jaguars rank 14th and actually have a +17 first down margin on the season. The Colts, meanwhile, rank 19th in that metric. This should be a closer game than this line suggests.

Indianapolis Colts 23 Jacksonville Jaguars 20

Pick against the spread: Jacksonville +4.5

Confidence: Medium

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Tennessee Titans at Jacksonville Jaguars: 2016 Week 16 NFL Pick

Tennessee Titans (8-6) at Jacksonville Jaguars (2-12)

Both of these teams used to top my underrated list, but have fallen down the list in recent weeks. In Tennessee’s case, it’s just a matter of public opinion catching up to how good they actually are, following upset victories over Green Bay, Denver, and Kansas City in recent weeks. They’re still an underrated team that ranks 6th in first down rate differential, but they’re not underrated like they once were. In Jacksonville’s case, it’s because they have played especially poorly in the past 2 weeks and just fired their head coach Gus Bradley.

Against the Vikings at home, the Jaguars lost the first down rate battle by 8.86% and last week against the Texans they lost the first down rate by 10.77%. It was only a 1-point loss, but that was despite the fact that the Jaguars won the turnover battle and returned a punt for a touchdown. They managed just 9 first downs all game, as compared to 23 for the Texans, who are not a tough opponent. They still rank 17th in first down rate differential on the season, but with Bradley gone and just two games left in the season, it’s possible this team could quit. For that reason, I’m taking the Titans, but I couldn’t be confident in them at all as 5.5 point road favorites in what could be a trap game against a Jaguars team that has still played a lot better than their 2-12 record would suggest, especially on the defensive.

Tennessee Titans 27 Jacksonville Jaguars 20

Pick against the spread: Tennessee -5.5

Confidence: None

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Jacksonville Jaguars at Houston Texans: 2016 Week 15 NFL Pick

Jacksonville Jaguars (2-11) at Houston Texans (7-6)

The Jaguars are on an 8-game losing streak and are coming off of one of their least impressive performances of the season, losing at home by 9 despite winning the turnover battle, against a Minnesota team that was missing their best defensive player, safety Harrison Smith. However, typically, it’s a good idea to bet on teams on long losing streaks, especially as road underdogs, as they tend to be undervalued. Road underdogs on a 7+ game losing streak are 56-30 ATS since 1989.

I think the Jaguars are definitely undervalued here as 6 point underdogs in Houston. The Texans are 7-6, but they aren’t winning big. Their 7 wins have come by a total of 41 points (an average of 5.86 points per game), while the 6 losses have come by a total of 86 points (an average of 14.33 points per game), giving them a -45 point differential that ranks just 26th in the NFL. The Jaguars, meanwhile, aren’t exactly getting blown out as their last 6 losses have come by a combined 41 points, an average of 6.83 points per game. The Texans are also probably the easiest opponent the Jaguars have faced in recent weeks. They lost by 3 to the Texans at home week 10, but other than that their last game that was easier than this was their win in Chicago week 6.

Even in that week 10 loss, the Jaguars won the first down battle 23-16 and moved the chains at a 4.74% higher rate. The Jaguars have actually won the first down battle on the season as well, as they rank 14th in first down rate differential, while the Texans rank 28th. Despite their 7-6 record, the Texans are -10 in offensive touchdown differential (4th worst in the NFL), while the Jaguars are just -4. The Jaguars’ -98 point differential is worse than Houston’s, but that’s largely because of a -17 turnover margin and turnover margins are incredibly inconsistent on a week-to-week basis (on average a team with a +3 turnover margin in a game will have a turnover margin of +0.0 the following week, the same average as teams that had a -3 turnover margin). Outside of those 17 snaps, the Jaguars have been the better team this season. I like the Jaguars a lot as 6 point road underdogs.

Houston Texans 17 Jacksonville Jaguars 16

Pick against the spread: Jacksonville +6

Confidence: High

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Minnesota Vikings at Jacksonville Jaguars: 2016 Week 14 NFL Pick

Minnesota Vikings (6-6) at Jacksonville Jaguars (2-10)

The Vikings have a strong defense, allowing the 6th lowest first down rate in the NFL, but they were dealt a huge blow when they lost Harrison Smith with an ankle injury that could sideline him for the rest of the year. As valuable to Minnesota’s defense as Earl Thomas is to Seattle’s, Smith is one of the top defensive players in the entire NFL. This defense won’t be the same without him. In fact, I think the Jaguars’ actually are the ones with the better defense in this matchup, as they rank 7th in first down rate allowed and are relatively healthy right now.

The Jaguars’ offense hasn’t been good this year, but they might actually have the better offense in this game too, with Minnesota entering 30th in first down rate. The Jaguars might have the better offense and defense and are at home, but are underdogs of 3.5 points because the Vikings are 6-6 and 2-10. The big difference between these two teams: the Vikings have a +13 turnover margin and a +6 return touchdown margin, while the Jaguars have a -18 turnover margin and a -4 return touchdown margin. Turnover margins are incredibly inconsistent on a week-to-week basis though (and, as a result, return touchdowns are as well). On average a team with a +3 turnover margin in a game will have a turnover margin of +0.0 the following week, the same average as teams that had a -3 turnover margin.

For this reason, I love betting on teams with poor turnover margins and against teams with great turnover margins. It might sound counterintuitive, but these two teams are about as far apart as you can get in turnover margins and return touchdown margins and we’re still only talking about a difference of about 30 snaps, when both teams have played about 1500 snaps this year each. Football is a short season and it’s easy to get caught up in records, but records can be skewed by outlier snaps. For the majority of the snaps this year, the Jaguars have outplayed the Vikings. Close to 1 in 4 games are decided by 3 points or fewer, so I love getting the Jaguars as 3.5 point home underdogs.

Jacksonville Jaguars 16 Minnesota Vikings 13 Upset Pick +160

Pick against the spread: Jacksonville +3.5

Confidence: High

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Denver Broncos at Jacksonville Jaguars: 2016 Week 13 NFL Pick

Denver Broncos (7-4) at Jacksonville Jaguars (2-9)

The Jaguars have one of the worst records in the league at 2-9, but are far from one of the worst teams in the league. In addition to 6 of 9 losses coming by less than a touchdown, they’ve been killed by a -15 turnover margin. Fortunately for them, turnover margins are very inconsistent on a week-to-week basis. For that reason, I love to bet on teams that have poor turnover margins, as they tend to be undervalued. If the Jaguars play turnover neutral football going forward, which isn’t crazy considering how inconsistent turnover margins are, that’s going to have a noticeable effect on the scoreboard.

Outside of those 15 snaps, they’ve played pretty well on the season, especially on defense. They rank 10th in first down rate differential, led by a defense that allows the 8th lowest first down rate in the league and that has been played very well in recent weeks. They don’t get a lot of attention because they’ve only forced 7 takeaways, but the takeaways will come and the talent is definitely there. The Jaguars actually rank one spot better than the Broncos in first down rate differential, as the Broncos enter in 11th.

The Broncos are fully healthy on defense for the first time all season, but they’ll be without quarterback Trevor Siemian with injury, leaving rookie quarterback Paxton Lynch to start. Lynch struggled mightily in a spot start earlier this year, but the first round rookie could be better his 2nd time around. Still, I like the Jaguars’ chances of not only covering as 4.5 point underdogs, but pulling off the straight up upset here at home. They’re a very underrated team and the Broncos are coming off of a grueling overtime loss to the Chiefs. It didn’t end in a tie, but it took the whole overtime period, meaning they played about as much football as they would have in a tie. Unsurprisingly, teams are 5-13 ATS off of a tie since 1989. This is my Pick of the Week and the money line is also a good bet as well.

Jacksonville Jaguars 20 Denver Broncos 17 Upset Pick +180

Pick against the spread: Jacksonville +4.5

Confidence: Pick of the Week

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Jacksonville Jaguars at Buffalo Bills: 2016 Week 12 NFL Pick

Jacksonville Jaguars (2-8) at Buffalo Bills (5-5)

Last week, I took the Jaguars as 6.5 point underdogs in Detroit for a big play and it was one of the most frustrating losses I can remember. Despite scoring on both a punt return and an interception return, the Lions led by only 4 with about 2 and a half minutes left in the game, facing 4th and 3 at midfield. The Jaguars were set to get the ball back and, even if they didn’t score on the following drive, the cover would remain intact with a 4 point Detroit win. Instead, a Jacksonville defender jumped offsides on a hard count on 4th and 3, giving Detroit another set of downs and allowing them to eventually kick a field goal to go up by 7 and get the front door cover.

Ironically, if the Lions had gotten one more first down, they would have been able to run the clock out and would have left with a 4 point victory and a Jacksonville cover, but the Jaguars’ stout run defense didn’t let that happen. Despite holding the Lions to just 14 first downs and an average of less than a yard per carry, Jacksonville ended up not only losing, but failing to cover as 6.5 point underdogs as well. It wouldn’t have been so bad if this game wasn’t also going on at the same time as Minnesota/Arizona, in which my Arizona bet failed because the Vikings had not one, not two return touchdowns of 100+ yards in a 30-24 win, the first team to have two return touchdowns of 100+ yards in the same game in 50 years. Two games in the 1 PM time slot, four return touchdowns against me, two brutal losses.

The one benefit of Jacksonville losing is we get good value with them again this week. I’m not going to let what happened last week deter me from taking them again this week, as last week’s game was an obvious case of right analysis, but wrong result. The Jaguars have one of the worst records in the league at 2-8, but are far from one of the worst teams in the league. They’ve just been killed by a -15 turnover margin. Fortunately for them, turnover margins are very inconsistent on a week-to-week basis. For that reason, I love to bet on teams that have poor turnover margins, as they tend to be undervalued. If the Jaguars play turnover neutral football going forward, which isn’t crazy considering how inconsistent turnover margins are, that’s going to have a noticeable effect on the scoreboard.

Even despite their issues with turnovers, just 3 of their 8 losses have come by more than a touchdown this season, relevant because this line is at 7.5 in favor of Buffalo. The Bills are a middling team at best, so this line is way too high. The Bills are expected to get Sammy Watkins back from injury this week, but all indications are that he’s going to play a very limited role, so I’m not too worried about him. In terms of first down rate differential, the Jaguars actually rank higher than the Bills, entering this game 9th in that metric, while Bills enter in 21st. You wouldn’t know it from their record, but they have 15 more first downs than their opponents on the season.

Another good thing about Jacksonville’s loss in Detroit last week is it puts them in a good spot this week. Teams are 138-104 ATS as road underdogs off a road loss since 2008, including 110-71 ATS when it’s their 2nd of 2 road games. This is because teams tend to do better in their 2nd straight road game than their first one, but lines don’t really adjust for this. Teams are 232-246 straight up in their 2nd of two road games since 2008, getting outscored by an average of 0.80 points per game, as opposed to 330-462 straight up in their 1st of one road game since 2008, getting outscored by an average of 3.01 points per game. Jacksonville is my Pick of the Week. Hopefully I’ll have better luck this time around.

Buffalo Bills 20 Jacksonville Jaguars 17

Pick against the spread: Jacksonville +7.5

Confidence: Pick of the Week

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