- If Jacksonville can't get the ground game going, its offense will sputter at home against a tough Patriots defense.
New England Patriots at Jacksonville Jaguars (+2.5)
Sun. 9/16, 4:25 p.m. ET
Three things you need to know before betting on Patriots-Jaguars:
1. Thanks in large part to an NFL-best average of 141.4 rushing yards per game during the 2017 regular season, Jacksonville ranked sixth in the league in total offense last year with an average of 365.9 yards per game. It was a significant improvement over a 2016 Jaguars offense that was one of 10 NFL teams to average fewer than 335 yards per game. But there's reason to believe that Jacksonville might struggle offensively early in 2018. Although 30 minutes of football certainly does not constitute a significant sample size, the Jaguars offense failed to score in the second half of the team's 20-15 win over the Giants on Sunday–Jacksonville's seven points in the second half came on a Myles Jack interception return for a touchdown. It's notable because starting running back Leonard Fournette missed the second half after suffering a hamstring injury midway through the second quarter. Running back T.J. Yeldon, who averaged only 2.6 yards per carry after halftime against the Giants, would be a considerable downgrade at the position for Sunday's game against the Patriots if Fournette isn't healthy enough to play.
2. Jacksonville quarterback Blake Bortles completed just 6 of 16 passes for 53 yards after halftime on Sunday. While he only threw one interception on the day, he had multiple passes hit defenders in the hands and displayed questionable decision-making on several throws. With a Patriots secondary that seemed to be improved from a season ago in a Week 1 win over Houston, the expectation is that New England will force Bortles to beat them with his arm, which he nearly did while playing one of the best games of his career in a 24-20 loss in Foxborough in January's AFC Championship Game. (New England held the Jaguars to an average of 3.4 yards per carry in that game.)
While the Jaguars defensive line dominated the Giants' pass-blocking in Week 1, forcing quarterback Eli Manning to dink-and-dunk throughout most of the game, short passing plays are the strength of the New England offense. Expect Brady to be able to effectively read the defense before the snap to compensate for offensive line deficiencies better than Manning was able to do this past Sunday.
3. In 2017, the Jaguars played two regular season home games against eventual playoff teams—the Titans and the Rams—and suffered double-digit defeats both times. While the Patriots are 8-0 against the spread as a road favorite of sevent points or fewer since the start of the 2016 season, Jacksonville is 1-4 ATS in that same time frame as a home underdog of seven points or fewer. New England has gone 21-0 straight up and 14-7 ATS against AFC South opponents since the start of the 2010 season, and the Patriots are 11-1 straight up (9-3 ATS) away from home against AFC foes since the start of 2016, with nine of those 12 games having gone under the total.
Side: Patriots -2.5
Confidence Level: High (on a scale of Low/Moderate/High/Very High/Extremely High)
Total: Under 45
Confidence Level: Very High (on a scale of Low/Moderate/High/Very High/Extremely High)