Denver Broncos at Jacksonville Jaguars (+3.5, 40 o/u)
When news broke earlier this week of Trevor Siemian missing practice with a sprained foot, his Week 13 status became cloudy. The Broncos have now officially ruled him out and will have Paxton Lynch under center this Sunday (December 4) when the Denver Broncos (7-4 SU, 7-4 ATS) head down to Jacksonville to take on the Jaguars (2-9 SU, 6-5 ATS) at EverBank Field (1:00 PM ET).
This will be Lynch’s second career start with the first coming back in a Week 5 loss to the Atlanta Falcons. Lynch went 23/35 for 223 yards with one touchdown and one interception in the game. Considering the constant pressure the rookie quarterback was under (sacked six times), it wasn’t a bad first start. The 26th-overall pick showed flashes of why the Broncos moved up to get him, but will need to show more poise under pressure.
Siemian wasn’t the only Bronco injured in the team’s thriller with the Chiefs last Sunday. Fullback Andy Janovich was put on the IR following the overtime loss, which is another major blow to an offense that has struggled to run the ball (3.6 yards per carry; 28th). Gary Kubiak offenses regularly employ a fullback, and strong play is needed from the position. Juwan Thompson will likely take Janovich’s place.
With the Bronco offense facing a lot of adversity entering Week 13, they’ll need their two star receivers – Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders – more than ever. Thomas is suffering through his worst statistical season (67.1 yards per game and five touchdowns) since the pre-Manning era, while Sanders is due to have his worst statistical season as a Bronco (75.5 yards per game and four touchdowns). The two can’t really be faulted for the struggles, though. Inconsistent play at quarterback is to be blamed. There’s potential for both Thomas and Sanders to have better days this week; Lynch has a stronger arm than Siemian and has proven more willing to push the ball down the field.
Surprisingly, offense has not been the Broncos’ problem as of late. It was the defense that squandered an eight-point lead with less than three minutes to play last week; the unit also allowed Drew Brees to march the field with less than three minutes to go, and Denver clinging to a six-point lead, in their previous game. The late-game letdowns are unusual for a defense that has used the last season and a half to establish the reputation of “closers.” Expect Von Miller and company to come out aggressive and remain that way all game.
The Jags are also facing their share of injuries. Both running back Chris Ivory and wide receiver Allen Hurns have been ruled out this Sunday, while tight end Julius Thomas is doubtful. Although he is likely to play, running back T.J. Yeldon is far from 100-percent, nursing an ankle injury. The banged-up backfield will result in Denard Robinson (13 carries last week) once again playing a role.
The battered backfield is a major concern for Jacksonville, as Denver ranks 27th against the run and is giving up 4.3 yards per carry (20th). The Bronco defense is soft up the middle and there are yards for the taking on the ground. Relying on Blake Bortles and the passing game would only result in more turnovers. Bortles has been intercepted 13 times this season, and has fumbled the ball away three more times. The rest of the team has committed six turnovers, combined, totaling 22 on the year (30th). The first key to success for Jacksonville against the stingy Bronco defense will be to protect the ball. The best way to do so will be keeping it on the ground.
On the other side of the ball, don’t be fooled by Jacksonville’s 27th-ranked scoring defense. The D has consistently been put in bad situations by turnovers and wasn’t even on the field for a handful of the 293 points the team has allowed. Don’t go overboard with the Jaguars ranking sixth in total defense either, though. The truth lies somewhere in the middle. (The team is right in the middle of the pack (16th) in defensive DVOA.) To keep Denver off the board, they’ll need former Bronco Malik Jackson be a problem on the defensive line, especially against the run.
In a game that may feature two very conservative offenses, for two very different reasons, I am forced to side with the defense that I trust more. Without Ivory in the backfield, Jacksonville is going to struggle running the ball and will find itself in unfavorable down-and-distances. The Broncos have recorded a league-high 35 sacks and will be in the face of a turnover-prone Blake Bortles all day.
There is only one defense in this game capable of winning a game on their own, and that’s what I’m betting on. The Broncos defense will make a statement and Paxton Lynch will impress while playing for his future.
Pick: Broncos (-3.5)
Photo Credit: Jeffrey Beall (Own work) [CC BY 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.