Brad Allen: Why the Jaguars defense is still underrated

7 min

No blog last week as the Matchbook team were busy prepping the Traders Conference in London (videos to be online soon) but I hope you listened to the Matchbook Betting Podcast, where we went 3/3 on NFL picks!

This week, we’re going to be fading the Bills who are a fraudulent 5-3 team.

Now, we’d normally be looking to back a short home underdog that just got embarrassed on national TV, especially going up against a team that has won six straight.

I assure you situational handicappers will be circling this game and telling you to sell high on the Saints and buy low on the Bills. On a side note, I do consider situational spots, but am happy to go against them should the number say so.

And the numbers here suggest the 5-3 Bills are severely overrated. By Massey Peabody’s numbers, they are the 22nd best team in football. Football Outsiders is slightly more generous, but still makes them below average at 17th.

The defense has fallen off significantly since the first month of the season.

Bills defensive metrics. Source: ESPN’s Mike Rodak

As you can see, they ranked fifth in the league in yards-per-play in weeks 1-4, then 26th since. They have had a couple of key injuries but I think this may be a case of coaching only going so far. I bet against the Bills with the Falcons earlier this year with the similar idea that coaching can only hide a talent deficit for so long, and I think we have now reached that time.

Conversely, the Saints defense is improving all the time. I’ve written several times before about how underrated they are led by Marshawn Lattimore who is already an elite cornerback and taking away one side of the field, much like Darrelle Revis did in his prime. The Saints are now PFF’s sixth-ranked defense on the season.

So we have a top-10 defense against a bottom ten defense and Drew Brees against Tyrod Taylor. Seems like a mismatch right?

So why are the Saints only laying 2.5? I think it’s the aforementioned ‘bad spot’ for the Saints, the fact that Buffalo are overrated thanks to their league leading+11 turnover differential, and finally the assumption that the dome-team Saints will struggle outdoors in Buffalo.

But the Saints ‘road struggles’ are massively overblown. Since Brees arrived in New Orleans, they are the NFL’s second-highest-scoring offense at home, averaging 27.9 points per game. That number falls to 24.3 points on the road, but guess what – that’s still second best in the league. The Saints have also averaged 6.25 yards per play at home and 5.81 the road, both NFL-bests since 2006.

The Bills look like the sharp side this week, but I think the market is still overrating their raw ability.

Look for the Saints to make it seven wins in a row on Sunday and cover the 2.5 handicap in the process.

All about the ‘D’ in Jacksonville

My other bet this week is the under 41 in Jacksonville. I think it’s widely accepted that the Jags defense is the best in the league by now. But I still think they are underrated. I said on the podcast last week they are one of the best defenses of the last decade, and they went out and proved that against Cincinnati.

Even before they held Andy Dalton to 136 yards passing, the Jags were playing better pass defense, in terms of expected points added per game, than anyone since at least 2001.

Source: ESPN

The weakness, of course, was the run defense. Well they recognised that and shored it up with the signing of Marcel Dareus, who was being phased out in Buffalo but played his best football under Jags coach Doug Marrone, posting 10 sacks back in 2014.

Dareus certainly seemed to make a difference Sunday, as the Bengals were held to 29 yards on 17 carries.

So far this season, the Jags tops in the league with 14.63 ppg allowed, but they also lead the league with a +5.47 opponent plus/minus. Essentially they hold their opponents to 5.47 points fewer than the posted team total would suggest.

But can you guess who is second? The Los Angeles Chargers at +4.91.

Essentially these two teams have held their opponents to a combined 10 points fewer per game than the market expected.

And I simply don’t think that performance is reflected in the line of 41. These are two elite defenses and the total for this should be 37 or so. Take the under.