Today's Free Picks for
Posted on August 15 before the first game of the season.
2017 could not have started any better for the Jacksonville Jaguars after their defense pasted the Texans for 10 sacks and thus "Sacksonville" was born. When the dust settled, the Jags were minutes away from a Super Bowl appearance. If not for another Tom Brady fourth-quarter comeback, Jacksonville would have been in a favorable position to finish its dream season. The problem with making such a splash is that the Jaguars can no longer sneak up on anybody and oddsmakers know this. You only have to look at a Week 1 opening line that has Jacksonville spotting points on the road against the Giants. That definitely would not have been the case at this time last year.
While the Jags defense was a real beast last season, they also benefitted greatly by posting the league's third-best takeaway rate with 16% of opposing team's drives ending in a turnover. Only Detroit and Baltimore had a higher rate of return than Jacksonville in that luck-based statistic. Turnovers are not a skill and over time, the bounces will go your way until they don't. In the NFL you have to be good, but you also have to be lucky and the Jags were far more the latter last season. It's very unlikely that Jacksonville gets as many breaks this year as it did in 2017.
Looking for overvalued and undervalued teams is a big part of our criteria when it comes to making season long wagers and an unexpected 10 win season has the Jags right in our sights. A closer look at Jacksonville's 2017 shows that they played the weakest schedule of any team in the NFL according to Football Outsiders, a respected website that uses advanced analytics to rank just about anything that happens on the gridiron. One could argue that the Jags can only play the teams that they are scheduled against, but the AFC South has been notoriously awful for many years and last season the division was missing its best quarterback in the Colts' Andrew Luck. The four starting QBs that took the field for AFC South teams in Week 1 of 2017 were Houston's Tom Savage, Indianapolis' Scott Tolzien, Tennessee's Marcus Mariota and of course Jacksonville's Blake Bortles. Bortles was not an elite passer last season, but he was paid relatively handsomely after rumors swirled that the Jags would try to find a competent quarterback to take his place in 2018. Instead, Bortles signed a three-year $54-million deal that had him pocket $26.5 million in guaranteed money. With a bigger paycheck will come bigger expectations for Borltes, who has never been regarded as more than a "game manager". The goods under the hood don't dispell that theory either, as Bortles ranked 14th in Total QBR, which is a metric that incorporates information from game charting, splits responsibility and is adjusted for strength of opponent, among many other factors. The man that finished number one will help us put a nice little bow on this gift from oddsmakers.
While the road to Sacksonville was paved with the charred remains of Tom Savage's career, a phoenix did rise that fateful Sunday. Rookie quarterback Deshaun Watson took the field in a second-half blowout way ahead of schedule and soon lit the league on fire. That half an hour of game time was the only time that Jacksonville had to contend with Watson, who went down with a torn ACL during a practice in early November. A healthy Watson doesn't only change the entire landscape of the AFC South, but the conference as a whole. Jacksonville's most notable triumph of the regular season was a dominant 30-9 win at the Steelers, who they met again in a toe-to-toe heavyweight fight that ended in a 45-42 win for the Jags in the Divisional round. That was a real franchise W that has left an impression in the market, as did their near win over the Patriots in the AFC Championship game. If there is a team more overrated than Jacksonville coming into 2018, we're not sure who it is.
With all that said, oddsmakers have posted the Jaguars to win nine games, which is one less than they won a year ago. Conventional wisdom may suggest that they will be better after a quality year together, but even if the Jags are better than they were last season, so too will everyone around them be. Luck and Watson both appear to be healthy and when you include Mariota, Bortles is by far the weakest of all of the starting quarterbacks in his division. In addition to a tougher test from its division, Jacksonville will also have to contend with the NFC East and AFC East, which creates tough road games for them at Dallas, Buffalo (in late November), Philadelphia (a home game in London) and the aforementioned Week 1 opener against at the Giants, while also bringing the Patriots to J-Ville. Finally, the Jags will have to play the Chiefs and Steelers as their "open" dates, a pair of teams far more fitting of a conference finalist. Last season the Jags played the Jets (5-11) and Chargers (9-7) in those spots. A further mining of Jacksonville's schedule proves it is difficult to find the 10 wins they are going to need for us to lose this bet. The Jags are no longer a sleeper, as they became relevant again last season and are a talking point this season. In summarizing, the Jags got blown out by Tennesee last season (37-16), two weeks later they lost to the Jets and two weeks after that they lost by double-digits to the Rams. In an important game in late November, Jacksonville lost to Arizona. In the last two weeks of the season, the Jags went 0-2 losing by double-digits to San Francisco and falling for the second time to the only team in their division that had a legit quarterback in the Titans. Again, Jacksonville went 4-0 last season against the Watson-less Texans and Luck-less Colts. This year they may go 0-4 and they are not likely going over the nine wins required to beat us.
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Jacksonville u9 +109 (Risking 3 units - To Win: 3.27)