Week 8: Miami Dolphins @ Houston Texans

Miami Dolphins @ Houston Texans (-7.5, 44.5)

Line: The spread and the total feel too high. Even with Osweiler, I don’t think this current Texans team should lay 7.5 points in this spot. Not sold on either side here, but if I had to bet, I would take Texans in a teaser and Dolphins on the spread from a value perspective. We played the under on 45.5 because the total was set too high for this game. I don’t know where 45 points should come from.

Situation: –

Analysis: Let’s break this one down to the simplest form of handicapping. The Dolphins have Brock Osweiler at quarterback which decreases their scoring expectation per se. They scored 28 points in regulation against a Bears defense that couldn’t prepare for Osweiler and publicly admitted that they were gassed by the heat (100°F) and the sun. Chicago gave up two long touchdowns off short passes by not tackling the ball carrier. If that game was played on a neutral field, Chicago probably holds the Dolphins to around 14 points. Against a below average Lions defense, Miami scored 22 points at home last week – another game with a good home-field advantage. Since Adam Gase took over as the head coach of the Dolphins in 2016, this team has been averaging 16.4 PPG in road games. This includes a variety of QBs like Ryan Tannehill, Matt Moore, Jay Cutler, and David Fales.

The Texans defense has been below average in pass efficiency, but after the two most recent games, they have climbed to #14 in pass DVOA. Their big strength is their pass rush which gets to the quarterback. This is a great matchup against a putrid Dolphins offensive line. I don’t know how RT Ja’Wuan James is going to block JJ Watt, or how that interior line is going to block Jadeveon Clowney, who moved around and rushed through A- and B-gaps against the Jaguars. Like I mentioned, the Texans secondary can be exploited through the air, but we are talking about Brock Osweiler who is going to miss WRs Kenny Stills and Albert Wilson who have a combined 64 targets this year. Wilson is great on screen and short passes which can negative arriving pressure whereas Kenny Stills is an underrated deep threat.

Considering the Texans is strong against the run (#1 in rush DVOA), Osweiler will be forced to move the ball through the air while relying on Danny Amendola, DeVante Parker, Kenyan Drake, and Kenny Stills. It also doesn’t help that Osweiler will play against his old DC who might know his tendencies. However, after Dean Pees wasn’t able to blitz Flacco I don’t know how much impact those kinds of things have. Overall, I think the Fins have a tough matchup in this one and I don’t really see how they will touch 17 points in this one.

The Houston Texans have won four straight, but their issues are still obvious: the offensive line is the worst in the league and Deshaun Watson had to travel to Jacksonville by bus because the air pressure on the airplane could have been too much for his bruised lunge. The Dolphins defense didn’t look good the last two weeks, but they faced decent offenses with much better offensive lines – against the Texans, they will have a better matchup. Rookie WR Keke Coutee joined the team in week four and is already the third-most targeted receiver on the season with 7.5 targets per game. He would be a good counter attack against Miami’s rookie Minkah Fitzpatrick who has been excellent at defending the slot where he plays the majority of his snaps. Tyler Boyd (4-44-0), Anthony Miller (1-29-1) and Golden Tate (4-36-0) are slot receivers who got shut down by the Fins over the past three games. It’s going to be difficult for the Texans to find matchups in the slot.

The biggest strength of the Dolphins is the secondary – they have decent coverage across the field. The way to beat them is with a good offensive line because their lack of pass rush will let guys run open at some point. The Texans don’t have the offensive line to get enough time and their tight ends should get shut down by the Fins. Watson’s only chance to move the ball is going to be on the perimeter with passes to DeAndre Hopkins who will be covered by young stud Xavien Howard and Will Fuller who has a good matchup against Bobby McCain. I doubt this will be enough to put up a ton of points.

I see both offenses going to struggle to move the ball for various reasons and I can see both quarterbacks throwing one or two interceptions that will kill drives. The Texans should have more firepower at home but I don’t see a blowout. A score like 23-14 or 20-16 seems likely to me – definitely below the posted total.

The Pick: Dolphins / Texans Under 45.5 -110 (Bookmaker, 10/22 04.00 PM EST)

Week 7: Carolina Panthers @ Philadelphia Eagles

Carolina Panthers @ Philadelphia Eagles (-5, 45.5)

Line: this line is too low. It opened at -3.5 and -4 in some places and got bet up to -5 by now. I expected an opener around -6.5, -4.5 felt way too low when I locked in my bet. My power number is Eagles -8. I think the betting markets aren’t catching up with the current Eagles performances and are overrating the Panthers.

Situation: Doug Pederson has ten days to prepare, Carson Wentz has ten days to get more confident in his leg. Advantage Eagles.

Analysis:  When we exclude the Nick Foles data from the first two weeks, which I did, we understand that the Eagles offense ranks 8th in passer rating, 9th in ANY/p and 18th in total DVOA (includes run DVOA) while progressing every week. The defense is about as average as it could get. They are 2-2 since Wentz came back and played very well against the Vikings but had some breaks going against them with a goal-line fumble and a fumble return touchdown. I believe the Eagles offense will – considering there won’t be more wind as of now – move the ball easily on the Panthers, especially through the air. Every offense except for Dallas was able to create big plays against a weaker Carolina secondary and I expect Wentz to do so as well when Alshon Jeffery is matched up against those corners and especially out of their 12 personnel grouping (2 TEs) which they run 36% of the time. The Panthers defense allows the fourth-highest success rate (69%) on passes to TEs and 9.6 YPA against 12 personnel. They are average against WRs. Zach Ertz should have a big game.

Carolina is vastly overrated in my opinion. Year to date, they got three home wins against two losses on the road. They beat a bad Cowboys team in week one and were outgained by the Giants and Bengals in their other two home games they won. They had a 4-0 turnover advantage over Cincy and they got outgained by three yards against the New York Giants who didn’t convert a third down. On a different day, they could have easily lost both matchups. If they lost against the Giants, this line would be Eagles -6.5. The way to attack the Eagles is by exploiting their secondary with quality route running and signal-callers who are not afraid to throw the ball. The Falcons, Bucs, and Vikings went off against them when Diggs, Thielen, Julio, Evans, and Jackson exploited that secondary. The Panthers don’t have that premium quality on their roster, their strength is the run game and feeding Christian McCaffrey as well as TE Greg Olsen. The Eagles defense, with their stout defensive line and athletic linebackers, ranks 7th in success rate (38%) against RB passes and 2nd (44%) against TE passes. This defense will take away the Panthers’ strength which forces Cam Newton to air it out against one of the best pass rushes in the league behind a questionable offensive line. Kirk Cousins was under pressure a lot, but he is a better passer than Cam and has much better perimeter weapons.

The Pick:  Philadelphia Eagles -4.5 -105 (Pinnacle, 10/15 04.00 PM EST). They will take care of business at home against an overrated Panthers squad by taking away their strengths and doing enough on offense to comfortably win this one. Give me 31-17 Igglez.

Week 6: Seattle Seahawks vs Oakland Raiders

Seattle Seahawks vs Oakland Raiders (London, +2.5, 48)

Line: The line might be a bit too high from a power rating perspective and an overreaction to the Seahawks playing a close game against the mighty Rams whereas the Raiders got pummeled by the Chargers. The lookahead line last week was a pick’em, my power numbers make it a pick’em without adjusting for the banged-up offensive line for Oakland and their awkward travel schedule.

Situation: the travel factor is going to be crucial here as you need time to adjust to the new time zone (8 hours from Pacific time). I’ve spent two weeks in Florida during July this year. After flying back to Germany, I needed more than four days to get back to my sleep routing – I couldn’t sleep until late in the night and wasn’t myself during the day. Most people deal with jet lags when traveling west. Our bodies and brains usually don’t perform at the highest level when we mess up our sleep rhythm. There is a reason why teams from the west coast perform worse in early east coast games than the average road team. Teams who travel earlier to London and focus on sleep rhythms have had significant advantages in the past. The Seahawks traveled on Wednesday and Pete Carroll explained in detail how they chose the time to give their players the best possible sleep adjustments:

“There is some science to it. We’ll try to sleep on the way over and then keeping them up the day that we get there so that they can get a regular night’s sleep, a real healthy night’s sleep without going to sleep during the day—that’s one of the big issues. Then we have days to turn it around. There’s a lot of different ways people have done it whether they go over in the first of the week, where they wait as long as they can. We have chosen our options after a long study and we feel really good about what we’re doing. We should be OK, we’ll be fine.”

The Raiders travel on late Thursday to arrive Friday in London, basically “just in time” and Jon Gruden couldn’t even explain why. He just said that he “talked to guys who have been there”. And there is something else:

“I hope I can make it, honestly. I’m not great (traveling),” Gruden said. “I get claustrophobic. My son was a weightlifter and he won a powerlifting competition in Belarus. I had to fly 14 hours. I had to fly home 14 hours. I had vertigo for a month. I couldn’t even lay down, the house was spinning. I am hoping I don’t get vertigo. I’m not a great traveler. 

“I’ll be honest with you, I hate it. I’m not good. I’m concerned. I’m more worried about that than our goal-line offense right now.”

When the Jets traveled to London in 2015, they started their research during the spring by consulting sleep specialists. The Dolphins arrived on Friday that year and the Jets dominated them from the get-go. The Jaguars arrived early in London last year – they blew out the Ravens 44-7. The Rams played at Jacksonville before playing the Cards at London. They stayed on the east coast and traveled earlier – they beat Arizona (with Carson Palmer) 33-0. The Saints faced the Dolphins in Wembley: the team of Sean Payton traveled immediately after their Sunday game and arrived in London on Monday morning. They won 20-0. This is a significant advantage for the Seahawks!

Analysis: This game pretty much comes down to a better rested and sleep-adjusted Seahawks defense against Derek Carr without All-Pro LG Kelechi Osemele, RT Donald Penn (IR) and three other banged up offensive linemen in Kolton Miller, Gabe Jackson, and Rodney Hudson. Rookies Miller (sprained MCL) and Brandon Parker are going to protect the edges. Against the Chargers, Parker and Miller gave up a combined 12 pressures, according to PFF. Especially Kolton Miller has struggled mightily against quality edge rushers the past two games. This week he is going to face Frank Clark who created 20 pressures year to date with only two coming against Andrew Whitworth last week.

Derek Carr, one of two qualifying quarterbacks who has thrown more interceptions than touchdowns (Case Keenum is the other), can’t deal with pressure. As soon as he recognizes the slightest push of pressure, he gets happy feet and gets rid of the ball. This has been the case throughout his career and this season he has a bottom-five passer rating under pressure. This doesn’t bode well, not even against a Seahawks-defense that could have conceded 44 points to the Rams last week. I expect the Hawks to attack those edges consistently and make Derek Carr uncomfortable in the pocket. DC Ken Norton Jr has been the Raiders DC last season and while I don’t think he is any good, he might know a bit about Derek Carr’s tendencies. Based on efficiency numbers, the Raiders underperform in terms of scoring, but I doubt they will be able to score a lot with Derek Carr behind a super banged up offensive line. Their ceiling is probably around 17-20 points.

While every analytics guy hates the Seahawks offensive philosophy – which I agree with, I like that the Seahawks have recognized their highly efficient play-action offense. Russell Wilson ranks first in play-action passer rating and second in play-action yards per play. Brian Schottenheimer has increased the play-action percentage, last week he called play-action on more than 50% of the dropbacks. The Seahawks offense has a great matchup this week because the Raiders defense ranks 30th in pass efficiency (while playing a tough schedule), they rank 32nd in pressure rate and 23rd in play-action yards per play while facing the 2nd-highest PA rate in the league. This is a superb matchup for the Seahawks offense as I don’t know how the Raiders are going to defend those play-action passes.

The Seahawks have the much better traveling schedule while the Raiders travel late to London, have significant offensive line problems and a bad matchup. Seahawks should take this one home at Wembley!

Pick: Seattle Seahawks -3 -101 (Bookmaker, 10/11 07.45 AM EST)

Week 5: Arizona Cardinals @ San Francisco 49ers

Line: A 0-4 team is traveling to a 1-3 team that looked somewhat competent and came close to beating the Chargers and the argument could be made that the Cards are slightly worse on a neutral field – therefore the line opener of 5/5.5 might have seemed pretty fair from the market perception. However, I think the Cardinals are underrated in this buy low spot after four tough games of which they should have won the last one and the Niners are overpriced. I give Josh Rosen a neutral rookie grade, which might be too conservative after last week. My power number is Niners -4, but that line includes data from the first three weeks when Jimmy Garoppolo and Josh Rosen had played and I might be a bit too low on the Cards defense. It would be a different line with Rosen and Beathard for the full season. 

Situation:

Analysis: Wow, what a performance by Chosen Rosen! You don’t recognize it when looking at the box score, but this young guy was super sharp against the Seahawks and they should have won that game. Rosen was throwing dimes all over the field, but his stat line of 15/27 for 180 yards and a touchdown is misleading. His receivers dropped four passes and caught one out of bounds that would have been an extra 123 yards, one touchdown, and two grabs right in front of the goal line. It would have been 22/27 for 303 yards and three touchdowns and an easy win on a different day. The Seahawks actually got the worst coverage grade by Pro Football Focus since 2016 in this specific game. And that was with Earl Thomas playing all but five snaps in coverage.

This week, Chosen Rosen will meet a Niners defense that is not good. SF got some interior pressure and two young studs at LB (Warner & Foster), but they have zero edge rush, mostly poor coverage ability on their secondary and they have tackling issues. Greg Mabin, who got some snaps last week, looked like the best coverage guy – remains to be seen whether it was just a one-hit wonder. The Cardinals offense is still limited in terms of pass protection and playmaking ability on their receiving corps and I don’t like their coaching, but it’s hard not to see Rosen orchestrating some scoring drives for six points in this one.

Kyle Shanahan and CJ Beathard got the best out of a bad Chargers defense for almost three quarters, before the Chargers defense started covering underneath routes and exploited the injuries on the Niners offensive line. LT Joe Staley, RT Mike McGlinchey, and C Weston Richburg are all questionable for next week whereas Staley looks rather doubtful as he hasn’t practiced on Thursday. Those are actually the best positions along the line as both guard positions are low-level quality. Even if all three will be able to play, it’s safe to assume that they are banged up.

Joe Staley hasn’t reached his 2017 level of play thus far, age might be catching up with him. He – or either one of Garry Gilliam or Shon Coleman (yikes) – is going to face Chandler Jones, arguably one of the best pass rushers in the game. DE Markus Golden, who is coming off an ACL injury, has played 12 snaps in week three and 34 snaps in week four when he collected a couple of pressures – the pass rush is slightly coming together. The Cards actually rank 6th in pressure rate and their coaches love to blitz as they have the 2nd-highest blitz frequency in the league right after Cleveland. They are going to get after Beathard – this is one of the key matchups in this game.

I don’t think Beathard is anywhere near an average quarterback. He was mostly throwing to open receivers last week and came down to earth after the Chargers started playing tighter. I would expect the Cardinals defense to dominate the trenches and win their matchups more often than not in order for the team to get the win done. I can see a 24-20 road victory.

The Pick:  Arizona Cardinals +4.5 -110 (Bookmaker, 10/04 11.15 AM EST)

Week 4: Houston Texans @ Indianapolis Colts

Line: I really had hoped for an overreaction to the Texans going 0-3 – I thought the books could open this line at Colts -3. They opened this Colts -1.5, early Indy money poured in to push it to -2.5 before Texans bettors came in on a bigger buyback down to +1 and now to pk on Saturday. It seems like the sharp money is seeing what I am seeing: an underperforming Texans team against an overperforming Colts squad. I’ve got the Texans slightly favored, by 0.5 points. Texans could be favorited by Sunday after the Colts injury reports.

Situation: Texans play their third road game in four weeks and Bill O’Brien should be on the hot seat.

Matchup: Andrew Luck cannot throw the ball deep, he just cannot. Not only did the Colts sub in Jacoby Brissett for the hail mary, but Luck also had three of his five worst “yards per completions” games this year. His zip is gone, he doesn’t possess the arm strength to hit comeback and out routes to the far side – he is far away from being 100%. His shoulder is still a big issue. To this point, he wasn’t forced into any shootouts where his arm strength could be exposed. He is also bad under pressure, plays on which you need to get the ball out quickly with power – he doesn’t have it right now.

The Texans pass rush is slightly coming alive, JJ Watt registered the first sacks since 2016. The Colts offensive line ranks bottom-five in pressure rate to begin the season and I believe Watt, Mercilus, Reader and Clowney will get the best of them. Left tackle Anthony Castonzo is still out as well as right tackle Joe Haeg. Haeg has been a liability to this point, but I don’t think Denzelle Good will do any better against Watt. The Colts will also be without starting tight end Jack Doyle. Eric Ebron can’t be trusted.

The Colts have been playing very conservatively, “bend but don’t break” on defense and small steps on offense which kept them in the games. But their defense – which I’m not sold on – has only been tested in the Bengals game when Dalton went downfield a couple of times. This will be different this week: Deshaun Watson is the most aggressive downfield passer, by nature, but also by numbers this season. He leads the league in air yards, even ahead of Fitzpatrick, Big Ben, and Patrick Mahomes. This week the Colts secondary who are without starting safety Clayton Geathers, will finally get tested  by DeAndre Hopkins, Will Fuller and rookie speedster Keke Coutee. I can see a breakout game for the Texans offense. I give the edge to Houston.

Bill O’Brien is plain stupid and he shouldn’t be the head coach anymore, but he is coaching for his job and we gotta believe that he is finally going to take limitations off Watson by designing more zone reads and play-action. He publicly talked about how bad his offensive line plays – which is true – and the only way to fix it is to mask it by play design. This is O’Brien’s game of the year, at 0-4 I could see him getting fired.

I expect the Texans to score which will force Luck to air it out where I don’t see them succeeding. The Texans are on a 0-8 run in close games which got to regress at some point, the coach is fighting for his job, the pass rush is getting stronger and their offense should really be successful against this Colts-secondary – Houston is going to take this one home.

The pick: Houston Texans ML +103 (Pinnacle, 09/28 03.10 PM EST)

Week 3: Denver Broncos @ Baltimore Ravens

Denver Broncos @ Baltimore Ravens (-5.5, 44)

Update: CJ Mosley has practiced and is questionable, but I am having a hard time seeing him play with a bone bruise just ten days later.

Line: The total wasn’t on my radar at the beginning of the week, but I did my research and came up with a play on the over because it is a brilliant setup. Without CJ Mosley and Michael Pierce, my model comes up with a total of 46, but I think Mosley is even more valuable than that. He’s the head of the defense.

Situation: If this game was played in week 8, I wouldn’t touch the over. But this time, the Ravens are without their two most important defensive players and they are coming off extra rest which has been favorable for the over in the past: Games with teams coming off TNF with extra rest are 240-185-15 (56.5%) to the over with 45.7 PPG scored – 46.9 PPG since 2010. Last week, both overs in the Falcons & Eagles game hit with 48 and 55 points scored.

Matchup: The Broncos defense isn’t what it used to be. Not only did they lose players like Malik Jackson, Aqib Talib and TJ Wart, they also lost DC Wade Philips before the 2017 season. Head coach Vance Joseph switched that defense from a man-heavy scheme to a scheme that is zone heavier and that didn’t work out. Their big weakness is over the middle of the field, especially over the short middle: The linebackers Brandon Marshall and Todd Davis struggle in coverage and SS Justin Simmons is much more a run defender than a coverage guy. Through two weeks, Russell Wilson and Derek Carr have combined for 23/27, 319 yards, 1 TD and 0 INTs against this Denver defense over the middle, a passer rating of 128.3 and 11.8 YPA!

And now guess who is very good throwing over the middle, especially in the short/medium range? Joe Flacco. This was his best area last season and he continued this season. Through two games, Flacco is 32/42 for 363 yards and two touchdowns targeting the middle of the field. The middle of the field is generally easier to attack, but the Ravens put a high emphasis on it and try to scheme the MOF open on purpose. With ten days to prepare, I expect Marty Mornhinweg and Joe Flacco to come out with a great game plan and attack the Broncos’ weaknesses early and often because they know their defense is banged up. Ravens should be able to score at least into the 20s, maybe even high 20s.

This brings us to the Ravens defense – Jimmy Smith and CJ Mosley are the two most important players on that defense. Last week, the Bengals shredded the Ravens secondary and consistently picked on Tavon Young in the slot. The Broncos put Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas in the slot which is another terrible matchup for the young cornerback. When the Ravens tried to put Marlon Humphrey on AJ Green in the slot, it didn’t work out either. I truly expect the Broncos – even though I believe their offense isn’t really good with Keenum – to benefit from the Ravens injuries here and be able to score in the low 20s, which will be enough to put this game over the total. 31-24 or 28-24 kind of score wouldn’t surprise me.

The pick: Broncos/Ravens Over 44 -107 (Pinnacle, 09/20 09.15 AM EST)

Week 2: Miami Dolphins @ New York Jets

Miami Dolphins @ New York Jets (-3, 44)

Line: This is an early sell high spot on the Jets. They demolished the Lions on Monday Night Football, in front of national TV. They scored in every possible way and Sam Darnold looked like the real deal. However, it was a Lions team which didn’t look like an NFL team with an atrocious defense that lost their best two players (Ziggy Ansah & Darius Slay) during the game. The long touchdown pass to Robby Anderson should have been intercepted. The key reception by Quincy Enunwa on third down that set up a touchdown shouldn’t have been ruled a catch. After the game, Jets players admitted they knew which plays and routes the Lions were gonna run based on formations and Stafford’s hand signals. The Dolphins impressed me in their game against the Titans and they will be a different opponent than the Lions. My line for this game is Dolphins -2. Some shops opened this game at Miami PK/-1, before re-opening it at +3 after the Jets MNF game. Three points of value just because of one single score.

Situation: The Jets are flying high after a prime-time domination and will face the Dolphins on a short week. Slight advantage for Miami.

Matchup: We were expecting the Jets to orchestrate a couple scoring drives against a bad Lions defense. Detroit wasn’t able to challenge New York’s weak offensive line and after Ansah went out in the second quarter, OC Jeremy Bates and Sam Darnold had a field day. The Dolphins have a deeper pass rush and they also have a deeper secondary. They just need to get the pass rush on the field. They weren’t able to generate a consistent rush against a good Titans line, but they should have more success against the Jets. Bates will seek for mismatches in the horizontal passing game against a weak Dolphins linebacking corps and try to get Quincy Enunwa going out of the slot, who had the most snaps on MNF. Enunwa has shown incredible chemistry with Darnold. But the Dolphins actually have a very good matchup for slot receivers with rookie cornerback/safety hybrid Minkah Fitzpatrick. Minkah has already played decently against TEN and made some plays. Darnold – as good as he looked – is still a rookie who had turnover issues coming out of college. He showed that with the pick-six which was reckless. Against a potentially stronger pass rush combined with Minkah sitting on Quincy Enunwa and Xavien Howard on either Jermaine Kearse or Robby Anderson, I expect the Jets to struggle to move the ball consistently in this matchup. They won’t get blanketed and will get scoring opportunities, but it will be different from Monday.

The Dolphins actually impressed me. I expected Ryan Tannehill to show some rust in his first game back and he had two picks that can be applied to a lack of routine. Other than that, he looked sharp throughout the game, distributing the ball accurately across the field. The Fins scored 20 offensive points, but they should have scored 26 at least. They turned the ball over on downs inside the Titans’ red zone when Kenyon Drake didn’t catch a pass inbounds. Malcolm Butler picked rookie TE Mike Gesicki on a goal-line fade that Tannehill underthrew. Against the Fins, the Jets defense won’t recognize plays and routes based on formations and hand signals. Free safety Marcus Maye is still out which hurts the secondary. The challenging part on the Jets side will be getting enough pressure on Ryan Tannehill behind an offensive line without guard Josh Sitton and I doubt they will without a real outside rush. I see the Dolphins with a higher scoring ability and with less turnover risk. At +3, this is a great value after an overreaction.

The Pick: Miami Dolphins +3 +100 (LowVig, 09/11 10.10 AM EST)

Week 1: Jacksonville Jaguars @ New York Giants

Jacksonville Jaguars @ New York Giants (+3, 43.5)

Update: Brandon Linder is off the injury report and Giants pass rusher Olivier Vernon will not play. As mentioned in the write-up, I capped the game with Linder playing.  I doubt Vernon not playing makes the difference in this matchup and it doesn’t move my Power Rating line away from line value.

Line: I don’t think the Jaguars (and Blake Bortles) should lay -3 on the road in week one, they are overpriced based on last year’s results. Last season they would have covered a spread of -3 on the road just four times in ten games with their only impressive cover being at Pittsburgh. Different teams, but in Bortles’ career, the Jags are 7-27 SU away from home. I don’t think they have “earned” our respect as a road favorite of a field goal or more just yet. My Power Rating makes the line Giants +1.5, but all factors included, I cap it around a PK. Pinnacle is currently showing +3 +102 (09/03).

Situational analysis:  While everyone wants to win in week one, we shouldn’t ignore the fact that the Jaguars will play the Patriots at home in week two and they probably have been looking forward to that game all summer long. This inter-conference game is set up like a classic lookahead spot. It’s very hard to emphasize a team looking ahead in week one, but this is a game of nuances and the matchup against New England looks much more intriguing than an inter-conference game at New York. A few percents of the Pats in their heads might just be enough. This is also a new Giants offense and the Jags might not be able to game plan as they are used to.

Matchup: The interesting matchup in this game is Giants defensive coordinator James Bettcher against Blake Bortles. Bettcher is a very aggressive coordinator and one of the blitz-heavier coordinators in the league. We can all agree that Bortles isn’t a good quarterback. He isn’t even below average. But offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett can make him work by scheming easy plays for Bortles. But there is one thing that the worse quarterbacks in the league don’t like: blitzes and pressure. Good luck blitzing Tom Brady, but Bortles isn’t a QB who recognizes blitzes and coverages quickly – blitzing is the way to beat him. The Giants don’t have a good defense personnel-wise, but neither did the Cardinals last year. But Bettcher’s scheme still worked against the worse signal-callers. When you blitz a lot but lack great coverage at the back end, you are going to get shredded by good passing offenses and smart quarterbacks. The Eagles, Lions, Rams, Cowboys (Dak is great pre-snap) all scored at least 28 points on the Cards.

However, Bettcher was able to blank some poor passing offenses as well as Blake Bortles himself in week eleven. The Jags scored 24 points, but seven came with a fumble return touchdown and another seven on a 38-yard drive after a big return. Bortles needed to score two touchdowns on the ground – the passing offense managed an awful 3.6 net yards per pass. Overall, Bortles faced five defenses last year who ranked top-10 in rush frequency with five men, according to the Football Outsiders Almanac: TEN, NYJ, LAR, CLE, ARI & TEN. Do you smell anything? The Jags went 1-5 in those games. But only one of those defenses ranked in the top-10 in pass efficiency, it was just about the blitzing. The offense scored 16, 13, 17, 13, 17 & 3 points. They couldn’t score more than 17 points and averaged 11 PPG. In these six games, Blake Bortles had 4 touchdowns and 7 interceptions, collected 15 of his 24 season sacks and completed only 54.2% of his passes (60.2% on the season). Bortles had good games against teams like the Bengals (30th in 5men blitz rate), Colts (25th) and the Seahawks (26th). The Texans were completely decimated with injuries at the end. The Jaguars have an improved offensive line with Andrew Norwell, but Bettcher will find ways to pressure Bortles.

And the Jags might miss another x-factor: elite center Brandon Linder who suffered a knee injury against the Vikings in the preseason and has had his first limited practice yesterday. Marrone said he has no concerns but it would be a huge blow for Jax. This is also another advantage for the Giants because LB Alec Ogletree’s best (and only) strength is blitzing. Having a backup center against disguised LB blitzes might not be good at all. I capped this game with Linder, however. It would just be a “bonus”.

On the flip side, we cannot expect the Giants to light up the scoreboard against a great defense. Eli Manning is past his “prime” and the offensive line is questionable. The only strength is the receiving corps and Pat Shurmur’s unpredictability in his first game with the Giants. Eli Mannings splits with Odell Beckham are significantly better as without his star wide receiver. According to Graham Barfield (@GrahamBarfield), here are the splits of the Giants offense for Eli Manning with and without Odell since 2015 out of 32 offenses: QB Rating: 87.1 (23rd) vs 75.9 (30th) – YPA: 6.8 (23rd) vs 5.7 (32nd) -TD%: 5.01% vs 2.75% – Comp%: 63.3% vs 59.45% – TD / INT ratio: 68/31 vs 12/12 – Points Scored per drive: 1.57 (23rd) vs 1.08 (32nd). These splits show us that the Giants can be a below average offense with Odell Beckham on the field but it also shows us how dumb the Giants were to draft a running back over a potential franchise quarterback as the successor of Eli Manning. With unpredictability and guys like Odell, Barkley, Engram, and Shepard, Pat Shurmur might be able to orchestrate a couple scoring drives against a road defense that might not know what is coming.

To me, this game comes down to James Bettcher against Blake Bortles and great line value fading the Jaguars on the road who are overpriced. I think the Giants offense will make fewer mistakes than the Jaguars in this one. I rather trust an unpredictable Giants team with a defensive scheme that will force Bortles into mistakes on the road. I am expecting a bad outing from the Jags pass offense which should be enough for the Giants to take advantage of. Bortles has shown that he cannot play from behind – as soon as his team doesn’t have a comfortable lead, it can get ugly. The probability isn’t low to see this happen again. Let’s take the Giants at home!

Pick: New York Giants +3 +100 (Pinnacle, 09/04 08.30 AM EST)