Chicago Bears at Jacksonville Jaguars: 2020 Week 16 NFL Pick

Chicago Bears (7-7) at Jacksonville Jaguars (1-13)

Earlier this season, I thought the Bears would regress as the season went on because offensive performance is much more consistent week-to-week than defensive performance and the Bears were a middling team with a poor offense and a strong defense. Their defense has regressed somewhat, as was predictable, but their offense has actually improved noticeably in recent weeks since going back to Mitch Trubisky at quarterback. Trubisky has faced an easy schedule, as the Packers, Lions, Texans, and Vikings all have below average defenses, but the Bears’ offense has exceeded expectations in all four games.

Their schedule also doesn’t get any harder this week, as the Jaguars rank 30th in first down rate allowed over expected at +2.85% and are arguably the worst team in the league on that side of the ball because of all of the injuries they have had on that side of the ball. The Jaguars aren’t much better on offense either and, overall, rank just slightly ahead of the Jets in schedule adjusted first down rate differential (-5.71% vs. -5.96%). This line has shifted from favoring the Bears by 4.5 points on the early line last week to 7.5 points this week, but my calculated line is Chicago -7, so we’re not really getting line value with the Jaguars, despite the line movement. 

The Jaguars are in a better spot though, as the Bears have a much tougher game on deck against the Packers. Favorites cover at just a 42.8% rate when their opponents have a winning percentage that is worse than their next opponent’s winning percentage by over 50%. You might think that because this is a must win game that the Bears will rise to the challenge against a team with nothing real to play for, but that’s actually the opposite of what typically happens in this situation, as teams with a 50%-65% winning percentage cover at just a 40.9% rate in weeks 16 and 17 against a team with a sub-.500 record. There isn’t quite enough here for the Jaguars to be worth betting, as they are arguably the worst team in the league and could lay an egg again against a Bears team that has been better since changing quarterbacks, but they should be the right side for pick ‘em purposes.

Chicago Bears 23 Jacksonville Jaguars 17

Pick against the spread: Jacksonville +7.5

Confidence: Low

Jacksonville Jaguars at Baltimore Ravens: 2020 Week 15 NFL Pick

Jacksonville Jaguars (1-12) at Baltimore Ravens (8-5)

The Ravens got a huge win last week in what was arguably the game of the year from an entertainment and high stakes standpoint, but there are still a lot of reasons to be concerned about the Ravens, who have not come close to matching their strong performance on both sides of the ball last season. For one, the Browns are a little bit of an overrated team, winning a lot of close games against a relatively easy schedule and ranking just 25th in schedule adjusted first down rate differential, and yet the Ravens were about even in the first down battle and could have easily lost the game had the Browns not shanked a 39-yard field goal.

The Ravens have been better offensively in recent weeks, but that has coincided with a dropoff from their defense, unsurprising given how the injuries are starting to pile up. Talented cornerback Jimmy Smith is out for this one, while fellow starting cornerback Marcus Peters and stud defensive lineman Calais Campbell are both highly questionable and could be held out of a game that the Ravens should be able to win without them. Even if they do suit up, they could easily be limited and subject to in-game setbacks, particularly Campbell, who has been a shell of his former self in recent weeks while battling through injuries. 

The Ravens’ offense is missing even more key personnel from last year, missing by far their top-2 offensive linemen in Ronnie Stanley and Marshal Yanda (retired), as well as key blocking tight end Nick Boyle. Those three were probably their three best blockers last season, which was such a key to this offense, so, when you add in the fact that the Ravens aren’t catching defenses off guard this season either, it’s not surprising that they had a big drop off from last year’s dominant unit. 

In total, the Ravens rank just 23rd in first down rate over expected, 19th in first down rate allowed over expected, and 26th in schedule adjusted first down rate differential at -2.44%. They’re better on paper, suggesting they’ve underachieved thus far, something that might not continue going forward, but, with all of the key players they’re missing, they rank just 14th in my roster rankings, so anyway you look at it, this is far from the team they were last season when they were one of the league’s best on both sides of the ball.

The Ravens have still gone 8-5, but they’ve faced a relatively easy schedule and they’ve benefited from metrics that are hard to sustain week-to-week, including a 61.90% opponents field goal conversion rate, more than 10% lower than all but one team in the league. Opponents missing field goals is completely out of a team’s control, except for the rare instance where they can get a block, and it’s not hard to see how at least two of the Ravens wins could have been losses if the opponent hadn’t missed makeable field goals, last week’s game against the Browns and a 2-point week 6 win over the Eagles.

The Ravens have an easy opponent this week with the Jaguars coming to town, but I think this line is too high at 13, as the Ravens remain overrated based off of last year’s performance when they weren’t missing key players and when their offense was catching teams off guard. The Jaguars have lost 12 straight since a surprising week 1 win over the Colts, but they don’t usually get blown out, with an average margin of defeat of 10.75 points per game, and they’re also in better hands with quarterback Gardner Minshew back under center rather than backups Mike Glennon and Jake Luton, who have combined to make the last 5 starts. This is also a tough spot for the Ravens, off of an emotional win over the Browns with a relatively tougher game against the Giants on deck. They could easily overlook a Jaguars team that could make this much more of a game than most expect. I like getting the 13 points a lot.

Update: Campbell and Peters are both out, while the Jaguars will get one of their best offensive linemen Andrew Norwell back from injured reserve. This doesn’t change anything, but it’s even more reason to be confident in the Jaguars. The Ravens won’t play their best game this week, missing several key players in a bad spot, and the Jaguars have been competitive enough this season that they should be able to keep it relatively close with this version of the Ravens.

Baltimore Ravens 24 Jacksonville Jaguars 16

Pick against spread: Jacksonville +13

Confidence: High

Tennessee Titans at Jacksonville Jaguars: 2020 Week 14 NFL Pick

Tennessee Titans (8-4) at Jacksonville Jaguars (1-11)

Coming into the season, most expected the Jaguars to be one of the worst teams in the league, if not the worst team. The Jaguars surprisingly made the AFC Championship game in 2017 led by probably the league’s best defense, but teams led by their defense typically don’t have much staying power, as defensive play is inconsistent year-to-year and keeping together talented defenses under the cap is very challenging long-term, so they missed the playoffs in 2018 and 2019 and opted to do a full teardown and rebuild this off-season, entering the season with probably the league’s worst roster on paper.

The Jaguars threw some people off the scent with their shocking week 1 victory over the Colts, but that looks like an obvious fluke in hindsight, with the Colts now sitting at 8-4 and the Jaguars having lost 11 straight games by an average of about 10 points per game. The Jets are winless and haven’t been competitive in most of their games and the Bengals are missing so many key players, so the Jaguars might not be the worst team in the league, but they aren’t much better, ranking 31st in schedule adjusted first down rate differential at -4.94%. 

The Jaguars’ struggles haven’t been concentrated on one side of the ball either, as they rank 27th in first down rate over expected and 29th in first down rate allowed over expected. Making matters worse, the Jaguars are missing key players due to injury on both sides of the ball right now, missing their top-2 offensive linemen Andrew Norwell and Brandon Linder, their top edge defender Josh Allen, and their top-2 cornerbacks CJ Henderson and DJ Hayden.

The Titans have been as bad, if not worse than the Jaguars defensively, ranking 31st in first down rate allowed over expected, but they have an obvious edge on offense, not just over the Jaguars, but over most teams in the league, as they rank 3rd in first down rate over expected. Offense is a much more consistent side of the ball than defense and if the Titans’ defense can be even passable going forward, that will be a big boost for a team that should continue being one of the best in the league on offense, especially with running back Derrick Henry getting into the part of the season where historically he’s been nearly impossible to contain. I have about 11 points of separation overall between these two teams (almost entirely due to the disparity in offensive performance), so we’re getting good value with the Titans as just 7-point favorites in Jacksonville (my calculated line is around Tennessee -9.5 or -10). 

The Titans are also in a much better spot, with only an easy home game against the Lions up next, while the Jaguars are playing back-to-back tough games, going to Baltimore next week. Underdogs of 6 or more are 23-69 ATS since 2010 before being underdogs of 6 or more again when their opponent will next be favorites and all three of those conditions should be true here. Given the schedule spot and the disparity between these two offenses, I have a hard time seeing the Jaguars keep this one close, so the Titans seem like an easy bet at -7.

Tennessee Titans 35 Jacksonville Jaguars 24

Pick against the spread: Tennessee -7

Confidence: High

Jacksonville Jaguars at Minnesota Vikings: 2020 Week 13 NFL Pick

Jacksonville Jaguars (1-10) at Minnesota Vikings (5-6)

The Vikings started just 1-5, but there were a lot of reasons to believe they’d be significantly better going forward, as they were struggling primarily due to metrics that are highly inconsistent on a week-to-week basis and they had faced a tough schedule. The Vikings have more or less been as I’ve expected since their tough start, winning four of the past five games to bring their record up to a respectable 5-6, but the metrics that showed the Vikings had a good chance for significant improvement going forward still show that.

The Vikings have a 89.66% field goal percentage against, a net -18.2% 4th down conversion rate, and a -6 turnover margin (4th worst in the NFL), which is primarily due to their league worst fumble recovery rate (33.33%) and Kirk Cousins’ interception rate (3.44%) being nearly double his interception rate in his previous 5 seasons (1.90%). They’ve also faced a tough schedule overall, even if it’s gotten easier in recent weeks, and, overall, they rank 8th in schedule adjusted first down rate differential at +2.15%. That lines up with my roster rankings, which also has them 8th.

It’s not hard to see how struggling in those aforementioned metrics has led to the Vikings losing otherwise winnable games, as they were a failed 4th down conversation away from clinching the game in Seattle and lost by 1 to the Titans in a game in which the Titans made 6 of 6 field goals, including a trio from 50+ yards and a 55-yard game winner. The Vikings could easily be 7-4 against a tough schedule right now if they had held on to win those two games and that doesn’t even take into account that they won the first down rate battle in losses to the Packers, Falcons, and Cowboys. They’re far better than their record suggests.

This line is high at 10, but I think it should be even higher, as the Jaguars are arguably the worst team in the league. Most expected them to be one of, if not the worst teams in the league coming into the season, due to the complete teardown of this roster over the past couple years since the AFC Championship. They threw some people off the scent by randomly winning their first game of the season against the Colts, but have proven to be as bad as expected, losing ten straight games by 10.5 points per game. 

The Jaguars rank 31st in schedule adjusted first down rate differential at -4.90% and dead last in my roster rankings, as their already depleted roster is missing several key players, including quarterback Gardner Minshew, talented guard Andrew Norwell, top edge defender Josh Allen, and their top-3 cornerbacks CJ Henderson, Sidney Jones, and DJ Hayden. I have this line calculated at Minnesota -13, as they should win this game easily. This isn’t a great spot for the Vikings, as they have to go to Tampa Bay after this one and favorites of 10+ are 65-83 ATS since 2002 before being underdogs, but the Jaguars have another tough game on deck against the Titans and teams are 58-97 ATS since 2014 before being home underdogs of 6 or more. Even at this big number, the Vikings are worth a bet.

Minnesota Vikings 33 Jacksonville Jaguars 17

Pick against the spread: Minnesota -10

Confidence: Medium

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