Gus Bradley’s job security was called into question after the Jacksonville Jaguars seemed to regress during the 2014 season. A 4-12 record in 2013 was a two-game improvement from the 2012 campaign, but a 3-13 record in 2014 represented a disappointing finish. Even though the record didn’t improve, the talent level on the team certainly did. Blake Bortles showed signs of becoming a good NFL quarterback during his 13 starts and the Jaguars found a rushing attack because of an unlikely source. Through it all, however, the Jaguars were still one of the worst teams in the league in a lot of statistical categories.
Jacksonville scored 21 or more points in just four games last season. The silver lining is that they were 3-1 in those four games, so the defense played about as well as can be expected with an offense that ranked dead last in points. Only the Oakland Raiders gained fewer yards per play than the Jags and only three teams had fewer first downs. The expectation for the season couldn’t have been much higher than this, however. For whatever reason, Chad Henne started the first three games for the Jaguars before the decision came to hand the keys of the offense to Blake Bortles.
Jaguars quarterbacks took 71 sacks last season as a combination of mediocre offensive line play and Bortles’s inexperience. Bortles took 55 of those sacks. He was effective with his legs, however, running for 7.5 yards per carry on his 56 rushing attempts. Bortles combined with Denard Robinson to form a pretty decent running attack. The Jaguars finished the season sixth in yards per carry, which would have been great if they were protecting leads.
Jacksonville struggled in a lot of areas on defense as well. They only forced six interceptions, partially due to the fact that teams didn’t throw a whole lot on them, and the lack of turnovers and third-down stops had a direct impact on how many points they allowed. It’s hard to gauge whether or not the defensive problems run deeper just than a complete lack of offense. The Jaguars weren’t good enough offensively to flip the field or sustain drives and that often put the defense into compromising positions.
In looking at Jacksonville for the upcoming season, a lot of players got experience last year and that will help. Also, they made some good offseason acquisitions and picked up a dynamic player in Dante Fowler, Jr. with the third overall pick in the NFL Draft. The Jaguars got two of the top 15 free agents according to NFL.com in Julius Thomas and Jared Odrick. Jermey Parnell provides some solid help and depth for the offensive line. Cecil Shorts is a tough loss for a young quarterback, but he’s not exactly an impact receiver.
Oddsmakers at Westgate Superbook in Las Vegas are keen on the Jaguars this season as their win total line of 5.5, with the over at -170 does suggest a substantial improvement.
|3||@ New England||+11.5|
|5||@ Tampa Bay||+3.5|
|9||@ New York Jets||+5|
|16||@ New Orleans||+8|
What a tough break for Jacksonville that their two games against fellow last place teams from the 2014 season are on the road. The Jaguars have to go to the Meadowlands to face the New York jets and also go to Tampa Bay to face the Bucs. One of their two games against Tennessee is at home, but the schedule makers did Jacksonville no favors towards an improved record. It’s entirely realistic that the Jaguars could be 0-9 by the time they take on Tennessee at home. They are an underdog in all of those games and there isn’t a whole lot of upset potential.
Why bet the over?
Well, for one thing, it’s hard for Jacksonville to be as bad as they were last season. It’s not impossible, but it’s common sense to expect offensive improvement in the second season with Blake Bortles. He threw 12 of his 17 interceptions in his first six starts and only threw five more over his next eight games. Even though the completion percentages weren’t there, it was clear that the game slowed down a little bit for him. His legs proved to be a weapon with over 400 yards rushing on the season and he’s going to learn and progress at the position.
Denard Robinson is an interesting piece at running back. The former Michigan quarterback can be used in a variety of different ways and he has good speed if he can get the ball out in space. He added 23 receptions to his 135 carries over just 13 games, so there is some untapped potential and upside there. Storm Johnson may get some more touches after injuries limited him to six games last season.
Speaking of being limited, the Jaguars had some injury issues last season. Marqise Lee was limited to 13 games, catching 37 passes for 422 yards and a score. Allen Robinson became a favorite target of Bortles and he was limited to just 10 games. He caught nearly five passes per game when healthy. Allen Hurns played all 16 games, but he wasn’t at full strength all season. The Jaguars are very young at the skill positions as well, so as the offense grows under young Bortles, everybody should mature at the same time. There’s a cohesion there that is important and creates the right kind of mentality to overachieve.
A big reason why the defense lacked in so many categories is because of how bad the offense was. The Jaguars had the third-fewest plays per drive and the shortest average time of possession. The kept the defense on the field a lot. The Jaguars were 29th in third-down conversion rate offensively. They were 23rd defensively. A bad offense can make an average or below average defense look a lot worse. The Jaguars should be better offensively this season and that has an impact on special teams and the defense.
Like everything else, the Jaguars were very young defensively. The addition of first-round pick Dante Fowler, Jr. will help the defense out in a big way and there were several players 25 or younger playing big roles. It takes time for players to develop and get comfortable making the jump from college to the pros.
That’s especially true of playing pass defense. The Jaguars ran into problems last season because they couldn’t force turnovers. That left Bortles and the offense with a lot of ground to cover to score points. It also kept the defense on the field to give up points. In fact, the only player with more than interception was linebacker JT Thomas. When a linebacker leads the team in interceptions, that can’t possibly be a good thing.
Why bet the under?
What if Blake Bortles is not the guy? Some people felt that the Jaguars should have gone with a different guy in the draft and that were blinded too much by how Bortles looked at the scouting combine. He also faced subpar defensive competition in college. Bortles took a lot of hits during his rookie season and progressed throughout, but what if the total package isn’t there? It will take a few more years to determine that, but the Jaguars don’t have the luxury with their 2015 season win total. Bortles needs to show legitimate improvement to lead this team to more wins.
Is Gus Bradley really the right guy for this job? What would his firing do to the team? This is a very young team that needs leadership. There are not many veterans to mentor and guide the rookies and second- or third-year guys. Bradley may have a very long leash given how his seasons at the helm have gone, but the Jaguars may make the determination that he is not the right guy. Neither coordinator looks to have what it takes to be an NFL head coach either. The ripple effect could be catastrophic if Bradley does get fired and he may not be all that helpful as the head coach either.
Any win total bet on the Jaguars is going to require several upsets. Jacksonville is going to be favored in exactly one game, if that, this season. That home game against Tennessee is probably the only one, unless the Titans are down to practice squad players for the home game. Is that the type of bet that you want to make? Do you really want to ask a young, somewhat talented team to rip off three or four upsets to give your bet a chance?
Even if the Jaguars improve, they suffered nine double-digit losses last season out of 13 total defeats. That’s a team with a long way to go. There’s a very real possibility that the defense will regress as the offense improves and that could negate some of the progress.
Pick: Under 5.5
There’s some tremendous value on the under here with the juice on the over. The Jaguars have certainly added some interesting pieces, but they are a team that is a long way away from turning losses into wins. As mentioned, nine of their 13 losses were by double digits and that is a good indication of how devoid of talent and experience the Jaguars were all across the field. Blake Bortles will improve and the Jaguars will look better on a weekly basis, but it doesn’t mean that they will win games.
-END OF 2015 PREDICTION-
The league’s lowest scoring team actually improved by two games last season as the Jacksonville Jaguars went from 2-14 in 2012 to 4-12 in 2013. The Jaguars actually gave up more points in 2013 than they did in the previous season as well. Either way, they were not a good team in 2013. The Jaguars were outgained by more than 1,300 yards.
The Jaguars did end the season on a positive note with a 4-4 record after their bye week, with two wins over Houston and singular wins over the Browns and Titans. The Jaguars also started the season with six future playoff teams in their first eight games, a stretch of the season in which the Jags went 0-8. The other two games were at St. Louis and at Oakland, which are by no means easy games for an East Coast team.
In a quarterback-driven league like the NFL, neither Chad Henne nor Blaine Gabbert is a sufficient option. An aging Maurice Jones-Drew with all of his past injuries doesn’t provide as much help as he once did. Justin Blackmon, a former top-10 pick of the Jaguars, played just four games and was on pace for a great season with 103.8 yards per game.
With yet another high draft pick and a 4-4 stretch to end the season, oddsmakers at the South Point Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas are expecting a modest improvement from the Jaguars. The win total was posted at 4.5 and the betting market pushed the over juice from -115 to -125. Sportsbook.ag opened the Jaguars at 4.5 with a -170 on the over.
Lines courtesy of CG Technologies:
|4||@ San Diego||+10|
|13||New York Giants||+5.5|
As mentioned above, the Jaguars had a miserable schedule with six playoff teams in the first eight weeks. They also played Indianapolis again to end the season and had a game at Arizona. This season, the Jaguars only face three playoff teams, Indianapolis, San Diego, and Cincinnati. Along with the AFC South, the Jaguars take on the NFC East and the AFC North. They also face San Diego and Miami. Cole Ryan ranks their schedule 29th out of 32 teams.
Even though there’s no line for Week 17, the Jaguars are an underdog every week this upcoming season except for the bye week. Frankly, there’s a chance that the bye week will be -3 against Jacksonville. Not only are the Jags an underdog in every game, but they are at least a four-point underdog in every game but two and see a double-digit spread on six occasions.
Jokes aside, the Jaguars play four out of six on the road to start the season and host Indianapolis and Pittsburgh. That’s a tough stretch to open the year, but the Jaguars did win three of their four games on the road last season. If the Jaguars can get to the bye week at 3-7, an over bet will have slightly more than a puncher’s chance.
Why bet the over?
Gone are the days of Chad Henne and Blaine Gabbert. First-round pick Blake Bortles will take the reins as the starting quarterback for the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Jaguars also added Marqise Lee, Allen Robinson, and Storm Johnson, Bortles’s teammate at UCF, to the offense. The influx of skill should bolster the league’s worst offense. The Jaguars were 30th or worse in points per game, yards per game, points per play, yards per play, third down conversion rate, red zone touchdown percentage, point differential, and yard differential. In most of those categories, the Jaguars were dead last. As they say, there’s nowhere to go but up!
By no means was the Jaguars defense good, but the immense pressure placed on it by a completely hapless offense made things worse. The Jaguars added four defensive players in free agency with Ziggy Hood, Chris Clemons, Dakoda Watson, and Red Bryant. Bryant and Clemons were both starters this past season for the Seattle Seahawks defense. Hood is a legitimate player whose talents were improved with the Steelers. These players should make an impact.
Under first-year head coach Gus Bradley, the Jaguars started 0-8 but showed improvement after the bye week and went 4-4 over their last eight games. They averaged a respectable 20 points per game and allowed 23 points per game, which were both substantial improvements over the season as a whole. The defense should improve under Bradley, the orchestrator of the Seahawks defense from 2008-12, and first-year offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch has a lot more weapons to work with.
A non-existent pass rush prevented the Jaguars from forcing turnovers and a quarterback capable of putting up a positive TD/INT ratio should lead to a change in turnover margin. The Jaguars probably won’t be on the plus side, but there’s a chance that they are close to even. The mobility of Bortles will also help the Jaguars sack numbers. They allowed 50 last season. A negative turnover differential, a lot of negative plays, and a lack of talent overall hurt the Jaguars a lot. Two of those areas should definitely improve.
Why bet the under?
While Blake Bortles comes with an impressive skill set and a lot of promise, there are no guarantees that he can be an NFL quarterback. Detractors will point to Bortles’s college career at UCF and point out that he rarely played defenses featuring NFL players. Bortles has the size and strength at 6’5”, 232 lbs, but can he make enough NFL throws?
The completely re-tooled Jaguars offense will have a rookie at quarterback, rookies or second-year guys at wide receiver, and carries will be shared by Toby Gerhart and Jordan Todman. While there’s talent in this group, it’s very raw talent and raw talent doesn’t always pan out. Zane Beadles is the lone addition to an offensive line that likely needed some more help.
The schedule is front-heavy for the Jaguars with three road games at Philadelphia, Washington, and San Diego in the first four games. Indianapolis at home is the other game. With a lot of moving parts and a completely new offense, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Jaguars start 0-4. That would require them to play nearly .500 the rest of the way to cash this win total. The Jaguars also lose a home game with their trip to London. Young teams struggle even more on the road.
Unlike other teams pegged for improvement, the Jaguars didn’t have many close losses. They lost by double digits in 10 of their 12 losses. Given their ranking in a lot of statistics, and the unlikelihood of two wins over Houston, the Jaguars really need to improve to just match last season’s four-win total. Adding another win is a big task.
Pick: Under 4.5 (+145)
It’s hard not to buy the talent that the Jaguars have accumulated. Even marginal gains on offense will make the defense better by association. The AFC South is still a mediocre division and the Colts could even be vulnerable at times. Once the schedule opened up for the Jaguars, they were rather competitive. The Jaguars go from facing six playoff teams down to three and they faced all six in the first eight weeks last season.
The NFL is a quarterback-driven league and the Henne/Gabbert tandem was atrocious. Even as a rookie, Bortles represents a serious upgrade at that position. He inherits Cecil Shorts and Ace Sanders to go along with the two quality draft picks. The offense will still be in the bottom third of the league, but the production will increase given the talent level.
That said, laying -170 at Sportsbook.ag on a win total is a pretty tough thing to do. The Jaguars will certainly pass the eye test, but wins may be a bit more difficult to come by.
Adam Burke is a freelance writer and amateur handicapper with a knack for finding value through matchup analysis and a deep understanding of the sports betting market. His main area of expertise is baseball, with a background in sabermetrics and advanced statistics. He is the host of The Gridiron Gambling Report and our college football and college basketball BangTheBook.com podcasts on the BlogTalkRadio Network.