It takes about seven hours to fly from the east coast of the United States to London, where the Jacksonville Jaguars will meet the Baltimore Ravens this Sunday (Sep. 24) in the first of four games in England this year.
What have we learned about these outliers on the schedule over the last several seasons, and how can that help us on Sunday?
The NFL’s European Expedition
The London games have not typically been close despite last year’s Washington/Cincinnati tie. Over seventeen games (primarily at Wembley Stadium), the average margin of victory is 13.4 points. The contests have tended to be high-scoring, averaging more than 51 points per game. Attendance has been large — usually more than 80,000 fans per game, — but designated home teams are only 6-11, which is not surprising since they aren’t in front of a partisan crowd.
Jaguars owner Shad Khan, who has consistently struggled to sell tickets in Jacksonville, volunteered to play a game a year in London every season from 2013 to 2020. Whether motivated by money, marketing, or some other reason, the move has paid off in the win column, with the Jags going 2-2 in the London thus far. That’s pretty good considering they are 13-47 in North America during the past four years. After blowout losses to the 49ers and Cowboys in their first two trips, the Jags edged Buffalo and Indianapolis the last couple seasons. All four games featured at least 48 points, and averaged 55.5.
As for this year’s Jags, after an impressive 29-7 victory in Houston in Week 1, Jacksonville was trounced 37-16 at home by Tennessee in Week 2. The team is only 9/25 converting on third down, and has been penalized 20 times this year. Rookie running back Leonard Fournette has shown promise, but incumbent quarterback Blake Bortles hasn’t fared well and is operating with top wideout Allen Robinson, who was lost to a season-ending injury in the opener.
This is the Ravens’ first trip to London, though you can be sure coach John Harbaugh will talk to his brother Jim about how to handle the trek. When coaching San Francisco in 2014, Jim’s Niners pasted the Jaguars, 42-10. Whether the Ravens need any extra help is debatable; the 2-0 team has outscored opponents 44-10 so far and the dominant defense has already forced 10 turnovers. After shutting out the Bengals 20-0 on the road, the Ravens beat Cleveland 24-10 last weekend.
On offense, the Ravens rank third in the NFL in rushing (146 yards per game), but substantial questions remain, especially with Joe Flacco laboring with back issues and All Pro guard Marshal Yanda now out for the season.
The Jaguars are getting 3.5 points with an over/under of 40. Baltimore has faced two of the worst teams in the league, and that helps explain why they have given up so few points and been able to force 10 turnovers. The Jags played well against a bad and banged up Houston squad, but then got beaten by a fairly potent Titans team. While picking a side in this contest is difficult, games in London tend to be high scoring and the total is low. The over is the play, and if you are on the west coast, what beats cashing a ticket before noon?