2-1 for our three recommended bets last week, as the Under in the Eagles game and the Vikings minus the points gets there (somehow) while the Titans got blown out of the water by the Patriots.
I said in the blog I had no bet in the Pittsburgh game, and I should have stuck to that, as I personally ended up on Pittsburgh -7 and the Over 41, which were, frankly, two terrible bets.
The raw numbers even said they were terrible bets beforehand, with most models making the game around 4.5 or 5 in favour of the Steelers, but I was convinced that Bortles’ was a streaky QB and had lost his mechanics.
One of the things I talked about in the big NFL season preview was not being too influenced by one game, and that’s definitely what happened to me here. Sometimes it’s hard to stick to your own rules!
Anyway, on to this week and the Championship games. I have had one bet so far, which is the Jaguars +9 and on the moneyline at 4.6 (you should get that matched if you post up on Matchbook).
There are a few things at play here, starting with the Jaguars historic pass defense, which I’ve touched on several times throughout the season. Without belabouring the point, they are in the top seven teams this decade in terms of yards-per-attempt allowed and passer rating allowed. Even last week, I thought they were outstanding despite given up 42 points. The last touchdown can be written off as garbage time, while the two touchdowns to Antonio Brown came when he was literally perfectly covered.
Sometimes otherworldly talent like that just wins, and you couldn’t ask for the cornerback, AJ Bouye on both plays, to be in any better position.
This week, the Patriots do not have that kind of otherworldly talent on the outside. The Jags corners, who ranked first and second in the NFL per PFF, will take away the outside receivers almost completely.
That leaves the backs and tight ends on the linebackers and safeties, and it’s going to be a hell of a battle, but one where Jacksonville should win their share of battles thanks to the athletes they have on the field and the advantage in sheer numbers.
But perhaps even more important than these matchups is the battle up front. It’s a well-worn narrative that to beat Brady you have to get pressure with your front four. It’s how the Broncos beat the Pats in the AFC title game two years ago, and it’s how the Giants won both of those Superbowls. And the main reason I’m betting Jacksonville is that I think they can have similar success to those teams.
The Jaguars finished the season second in pressure rate (33.3%) despite blitzing just 17.8% of the time, the lowest rate in football. Meanwhile, New England is pretty average (14th in the NFL) in adjusted sack rate allowed by the offensive line.
I have less strong opinions about the other side of the ball. Jacksonville’s offense is notoriously volatile, largely thanks to Blake Bortles.
Anyone watching them put up 45 last week after struggling to 10 points the week before, will know what a roller coaster ride they can be, which is why I like the money line as well as the spread. Embrace the variance.
The Jacksonville Jaguars are like Forrest Gump's box of chocolates: you never know what you're gonna get. pic.twitter.com/DwBfUxDwE8
— Aaron Schatz 🏈 (@FO_ASchatz) January 15, 2018
It’s also tough to know what to make of the Patriots defense. They gave up 400 yards six times in a row from weeks one to six, but only once since then. They still rank 30th in DVOA but fifth in scoring thanks to their ability to stiffen in the red zone. I’d say they are probably a slightly better than an average unit on the whole, but again I don’t have too much confidence about that. I this matchup should be decided by the Jaguars defense against the Pats offense.
I’d also be tempted by an under 46.5 bet but will hold off because it’s a very real possibility the Patriots go extensively no-huddle like they did last week in an effort to wear own Jacksonville.
There’s also a fascinating article from Warren Sharp pointing out that the Jags are vulnerable to certain formations with fewer receivers on the field, and the Patriots are liable to run those formations frequently.
The second game has less volatility, but the prices are near bang on, to be honest. I would make a case for the Eagles at +3 at odds against if it gets back there. My argument here is these teams are ultimately very similar. The Eagles probably have the better defensive line, while the Vikings probably have the better defensive backfield. The Eagles have the better O-line and running backs, while the Vikings have the better receivers. All of which means the current line suggests Keenum is five to six points better than Nick Foles. It’s hard to find any stats other than this season’s which make that true.
Apart from that, the biggest reason I’d be against the Vikings is their banged-up O-line. An injury to left guard Nick Easton has forced the Vikings to move Mike Remmers from right tackle to that spot, while Rashod Hill has stepped into the right tackle spot.
The reshuffled line was a little shaky on Sunday, with the Vikings only generating 3.3 yards per rush against a banged up Saints defense.
Against Fletcher Cox and this elite defensive line, I think Keenum could be dealing with pressure in his face, and he’s shown a proclivity for just chucking the ball up where DBs have a great shot at an INT.
This should also be a low-scoring, low variance affair, which only makes the points more valuable. On the total, if forced to pick I’d go under 38, but you won’t get rich betting unders below 40 in the NFL. I’ll make a stronger case for the Eagles first half at +2.5 just because I have actually bet that!
Best of luck folks.