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)