Green Bay Packers (-4.5, 48 o/u) at Jacksonville Jaguars
The NFL preseason has wrapped up and we can now set our sights on Week 1 of the regular season, just in case you hadn’t already. One of the opening week matchups will see the Green Bay Packers (10-6 SU, 9-7 ATS in 2015) travel south to take on the Jacksonville Jaguars (5-11 SU, 7-8-1 ATS in 2015) on Sunday, September 11 (1:00 PM Eastern) at EverBank Field.
The Packers (5-3 on the road in 2015) enter 2016 looking to take back the NFC North after losing their four-year stranglehold on the division.
With Aaron Rodgers at the helm, they’re always championship contenders. But last season was a forgettable one for the two-time MVP. For the first time in his career as a starter, Rodgers did not have the Packer offense in the top-ten for points scored.
Don’t expect that to stay true, though, with the return of Jordy Nelson, who missed all of last season due to an injury suffered in training camp. Another Packer receiving a lot of attention is Eddie Lacy, who used the offseason to shed a lot of unwanted weight and looked more like his rookie-self in the preseason.
Defensively, the Packers will be similar to their 2015 edition, which ranked 12th in points allowed. They will, however, be without B.J. Raji (retired) and Casey Hayward (now a Charger). Raji was their best run-defender and Hayward played a major role in the team’s success against the pass last season.
The Jaguars (4-4 at home in 2015) are coming off a third-consecutive third-place finish in the AFC South and have not made the playoffs since 2007. However, 2015 did provide Jacksonville with a glimmer of hope, as they actually ranked in the upper-half of the league (14th) in points scored after ranking last the previous two seasons.
Unfortunately, their defense did not follow suit, giving up the second-most points in the league. The unit hasn’t finished better than 26th in the last four years. But the front office made that side of the ball their primary focus in the offseason, investing a lot of money and draft picks. Major additions include: DT Malik Jackson, S Tashaun Gipson, CB Prince Amukamara, CB Jalen Ramsey, and LB Myles Jack. We’ll also see 2015 first-round pick Dante Fowler Jr. take the field for the first time.
Fowler and Jackson should boost a formerly nonexistent pass rush, while Ramsey and Gipson will aid a secondary that couldn’t cover their own shadow in 2015.
The last time these two teams met was in 2012 at Lambeau Field, which resulted in a 24-15 Packers victory. Green Bay did not, however, cover the spread, which closed at 16.5. The Packers lead the all-time series 3-2, but have lost two of the last three and only covered the spread once. That is all from a long time ago, though, and these two teams both look very different than when they last met.
The Jaguars new-look defense may be given their toughest test of the season right out of the gate. Not only will the Packers be able to pound the ball with Eddie Lacy, but they’ll also bring in one of the most dangerous passing attacks in the league. Though the Jags were hoping to dramatically improve from giving up 28 points per game, they may have to wait for another week to get to work on that.
The Jaguars may have had a lot of success throwing the ball last year, but the last thing Blake Bortles and the Jacksonville offense want to do is get into a shootout with Aaron Rodgers, especially considering the pass-rushers Green Bay possesses – Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers, among others. The addition of Kelvin Beachum at left tackle kicks the struggling Luke Joeckel into left guard, but there are no promises that the line will be any better than it was last season.
Instead, the Jaguars will need to establish a ground game and wear down the Packer defense, which will also keep Rodgers and company on the sidelines. If Chris Ivory and T.J. Yeldon can provide a powerful one-two punch for Jacksonville, then they’ll be able to hang around this one.
I’m not a believer that the Jaguars’ offensive line can win the battle in the trenches, even against a Packers team that is a little soft down the middle. Aaron Rodgers will have his way facing a young, inexperienced defense and the Packers, who are 5-1 ATS in their last six on the road, will win by two scores.
Pick: Green Bay (-4.5).
Photo Credit: original: Mike Morbeck derivative: Diddykong1130 (Aaron Rodgers) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.