AFC Championship game: What’s the argument for Jacksonville, again…?

Friday, January 19, 2018 10:52 PM

Sexy babe in Julian Edelman gearConfirmation bias kills, particularly at the sportsbook, but NFLbets ’ll be damned if we can come up with one compelling reason for the Jacksonville Jaguars to even cover the ineffably plunging 7½-point line (down from 9) currently on offer.

As it stands, one argument keeps this ’spread from going double-digit, and one other brought the 1½-point plunge: These would be the Jaguars’ ridiculously good defense and an undisclosed injury to Tom Brady’s throwing hand, respectively. The first of course bears far more serious inspection.

With regard to the Jaguars defense, NFL fandom is indulging in a bit of doublethink. Sure, statistically speaking – and by “statistically,” NFLbets means Football Outsiders’ defensive DVOA metric, really the primary stat for understanding relative performance of NFL Ds – Jacksonville ranks no. 1. (New England ranks no. 31, by the way.) But check out that last column, an analysis of strength of schedule: The Jaguars D played the 31st “toughest” schedule in the 2017 NFL season.

Including last week’s game, the Jaguars went 2-3 against playoff teams in 2017-18 – both wins came against the Pittsburgh Steelers, against whom the Jags ran up 75 points in two games. Pittsburgh’s, in fact, was just one of three *top 16* offenses they’ve played all year. New England’s, ranked no. 1, will be the fourth such offense.

Touters of this Jacksonville defense like to point out that the Jags totaled 55 QB sacks in the regular season, with the number based firmly in the front four, as Jacksonville simultaneously blitzed with the second-lowest frequency in the NFL. Additionally, lest we forget, 10 of the Jags’ 55 sacks came against the Houston Texans in week 1. At an average of 3.0 sacks per game over 15 games, the Jaguars would have been dropped to no. 4 on the team sacks leaders list. That may not seem like a massive drop, but how much hype in recent weeks has been devoted to the virtues of the awesome Carolina Panthers, Tennessee Titans or Los Angeles Chargers pass rushes?

But look. All stats and analysis aside, this ostensibly awesome defense gave up *42 points* last week and might’ve surrendered 50 were it not for some swell non-coaching by Mike Tomlin. A month ago, this defense surrendered five TDs to Jimmy Garoppolo and a San Francisco 49ers offense whose leading wide receiver is a dude named George “No Photo Available” Kittle.

NFLbets is just saying the Jaguars defense may be a tad overrated.

As for the hand. Right, let’s play along. Let’s say that, unlike Spygate, Deflategate, Jimmygate and Brady’s-Personal-Trainer-Is-Ubiquitous-gate, this is a real problem with real distractive potential to affect the outcome of this game. The truth is the Patriots still have at least two weapons at their disposal for which the Jags (and few other NFL Ds in 2017) have feeble answers at best: Rob Gronkowski and Dion Lewis.

Gronk has enjoyed his first utterly injury-free season in ’17, and his utter dominance in the fourth quarter of the must-win week 15 tilt against the Pittsburgh Steelers was all the evidence an NFL observer should need to reaffirm the man’s sheer unstoppability.

Meanwhile, with the public’s eyes distracted by the usual scandals fictional and/or way overblown, Lewis has somehow bagged 1,110 total yards for the season based on a *5.0* yards per carry average and 32 receptions based on just 35 targets. The Jaguars defense allowed 130 yards or more rushing seven times during the regular season and again to the Buffalo Bills in the wild card game. It seems that essentially any runner of above-average skill can run against these guys if the score stays close enough.

And we haven’t even mentioned the dread expression “Blake Bortles” yet. Against the surprisingly efficient and aware Patriots defense we’ve hardly seen all season certain to be stacking the box against Leonard Fournette, what NFL bettor in his/her right mind is betting on Bortles to deliver points here?

Finally, there’s the Jacksonville backer’s last line of defense: In these playoffs, underdogs are 1-7 ATS. The counterarguments are immediately obvious, however: That “1” in the “1-7” was the Patriots blowing out the Titans; secondly, we certainly should expect some regression to the mean here. The 2017 New England Patriots ain’t done yet.

Take the New England Patriots -7½ vs the Jacksonville Jaguars.

– written by Os Davis