The Spread and Total
Jacksonville Jaguars at Tennessee Titans (-3, 42 O/U), courtesy of Bovada.
The Titans opened as five-point home favorites. The thinking was that the Jags, who can’t move up or down from the no. 3 seed in the AFC, would rest starters, but the latest reports suggest otherwise.
Jacksonville Jaguars: 10-5 SU (9-6 ATS); 1st AFC South
Tennessee Titans: 8-7 SU (7-7-1 ATS); 2nd AFC South
WR Jalen Strong (knee), out; WR Marqise Lee (ankle), doubtful; T Cam Robinson (abdomen), questionable; WR Allen Hurns (ankle), questionable; TE Marcedes Lewis (ankle), questionable.
RB DeMarco Murray (knee), doubtful; CB Logan Ryan (concussion), questionable.
Sept. 17, 2017 (EverBank Field, Jacksonville): Tennessee 37, Jacksonville 16
Dec. 24, 2016 (EverBank Field, Jacksonville): Jacksonville 38, Tennessee 17
Oct. 27, 2016 (Nissan Stadium, Nashville): Tennessee 36, Jacksonville 22
Dec. 6, 2015 (LP Field, Nashville): Tennessee 42, Jacksonville 39
Nov. 19, 2015 (EverBank Field, Jacksonville): Jacksonville 19, Tennessee 13
Significant ATS Trends
The Titans have covered in four of their last five games.
The Jaguars have covered six of their last nine games.
Jacksonville is 3-1 this season as an underdog.
The total has gone OVER in nine Titans games this season and eight Jaguars games.
The total has gone OVER in the last four meetings between these teams.
Despite losing three straight games — all to NFC West opponents — the Titans can still slide into the playoffs with a win this weekend. Standing in the way is one of the toughest things for gamblers to get a grasp on: an unmotivated divisional opponent. Jacksonville says they’re going to give it their all this weekend, but what can we expect from a team that is locked into the three seed?
Last year, the New York Giants were in a similar situation. Locked into the five seed with nothing to play for except a chance to knock Washington out of the playoffs, they pulled off the upset on the road thanks to a great defense that only had one speed. There are a lot of similarities between that New York team and this Jacksonville team: both ranked second in the league in points allowed, both were led by a quarterback the public doesn’t really trust, and both were coming into the final week with a bad taste in their mouth after losing to an inferior team in Week 16.
So while the Jaguars don’t need this for the standings, they sure could use a confidence boost heading into the playoffs. Following a decade between playoff appearances, going one-and-done in January wouldn’t be the end of the world for this young team, but it would be a missed opportunity. Jacksonville’s defense alone should dominate whomever gets the sixth seed, and having already won in Pittsburgh, they’re certainly capable of doing so again. But if Blake Bortles can’t rebound from a bad outing in San Francisco, then anything could happen on Wild Card weekend.
Although losing to the Titans could also pay off in the long run. If Tennessee wins, the odds are good that these teams will have a rematch the following week. Since 2000, teams that lose to an opponent in Week 17 are 5-3 when they play again in the Wild Card round. It makes sense: the Titans will throw their whole playbook at Jacksonville trying to qualify, while the Jags don’t have to show anything.
When it comes to what exactly the Titans will be throwing, the answer had better not be “the ball.” Tennessee doesn’t do anything particularly well, but their success has come when they honor their so-called “exotic smash-mouth” ways: they’re 5-0 this season when they’ve run the ball 30 or more times. That includes a 37-16 drubbing of the Jaguars in Week 2.
The book on Jacksonville all season has been that you can’t throw against them, but they are weak against the ground game. For a while, it looked like acquiring Marcell Dareus helped cure their woes, but now they’ve allowed 500 rushing yards over the last four weeks, at an average of 4.7 yards per carry.
The good news for Jacksonville’s undersized defense is that Mike Mularkey is terrible at disguising when his team is going to run the ball. Because he’s so removed from the offense as a pass catcher and a blocker, Derrick Henry faces an eight-man box (or more) over 50-percent of the time he carries the ball. If DeMarco Murray (ankle) misses the game, it could be a blessing in disguise, one that forces the Titans to incorporate Henry into the play-action game more.
With 15 interceptions on the year, Marcus Mariota has actually been more careless than Bortles this season (a statement that may have killed August me in a fit of laughter). The Titans can’t trust their young passer in the biggest game of the season, unless he’s making plays with his legs.
As for Bortles and the Jags offense, they actually rank 13th in weighted offensive DVOA and fifth in total points. They’ve earned the benefit of the doubt here, even with most of their receivers hurt. Playing the 28th-ranked defense in passing DVOA, look for Bortles to hit a couple of big throws and get a little of his groove back.
Admittedly, you may only want to take half of my advice here, as my run of nailing game totals but whiffing on the spread stretched to five last week. But the Titans have been a brutal team over the last month, and expecting things to change now that the pressure is on seems like a foolhardy move. I’d even like the Jaguars here if they were rolling with their backups (albeit with a bigger spread). So take the playoff-bound cats and expect fireworks between these division rivals.
Pick: Jacksonville (+3) and OVER (42).