Jacksonville Jaguars Hard to Figure Out
by Trevor Whenham - 11/10/2006
Betting on the Jacksonville Jaguars has made me miserable so far this year, and I am sure that I'm not alone in that feeling. They've put up impressively strong performances, then followed them up with mystifyingly bad ones. There is no theory or system that could explain how a team that beat the surprising Jets 41-0 one week could come back the very next week and lose by 20 to Houston. Or how they can do a better job shutting down the Colts than anyone has done all year a week after they annihilated Pittsburgh, then let Washington run all over them.
Despite those oddities, and the problems they have caused me, this is still a team that I can't help but like. They've won two in a row - a good win in Philadelphia and a dominating performance against the Titans. I want to keep backing them when it makes sense to do so. But am I justified in doing so?
Quarterback - I'm normally more than a little concerned when a coach can't, or won't, decide who is going to be the starter. More often than not that causes more problems than it is worth. In this case, however, I feel okay with the choice. David Garrard is likely to take the snaps for a while, but I don't see a huge drop off between him and Byron Leftwich. Both players are decent, and neither will be named league MVP any time soon. The team can win with either, and neither one elevates the team enough by himself to make the difference between bad losses and easy wins. It's hard to know what goes on behind closed doors, but, publicly at least, both QBs seems like very solid, professional guys who won't create a stink if they don't start. For my money, the coaching staff should just keep starting the one who they think stands the best chance of winning that week.
Schedule - There is the fairly easy - Houston, Buffalo, Miami and Tennessee - and the very hard - New England and Indianapolis. Throw in potentially tough games against the Giants and at the Chiefs and it isn't the easiest schedule in the world, but it isn't the worst either. The best thing that can be said for it is at least you have a fairly good idea of where you are starting from. If all of the games were being played this week, the Jags would be clear favorites in four and deserving underdogs in two, with two a tossup. That should make it easier for us to judge how the teams change between now and when they play to determine how we should bet on them, then.
Running game - A solid running game gets more important for good teams as the season progresses, and I love the running packages that the Jags can throw at their opponents. Fred Taylor is an absolute workhorse, and Maurice Jones-Drew is a total change-up that teams have to adapt to. Taylor has twice as many carries and twice as many yards as Jones-Drew, but both are averaging about 4.7 yards per carry. That means that there is no let down regardless of who lines up behind the QB. It also means that the offensive line is working as well as a line can.
Defense - Nothing wins more games than turnovers do, and the Jaguars' defense has excelled at creating turnovers. Rashean Mathis had a career high of five interceptions in each of the last two seasons, but the cornerback already has six this year. Six other players have a pick as well. Sacks have been spread out as well. It's a defense without superstars, and it has struggled at times, but when it's clicking it's very functional.
Streaks - Interestingly, this team has won every time it has covered and lost each time it hasn't. The best they have done is win two in a row, which they have done now for the second time, and the worst they have done is lose two. They need a win this week against Houston not only to avenge the bad loss earlier in the season, but to prove that they can keep themselves together and perform to their capabilities for more than a couple of weeks at a time. If they can do that then they can definitely be a playoff team, and they could even make some noise.
Totals - The team has been 4-4 on the O/U so far this year, and their inconsistency on both sides of the ball has made it hard to accurately predict what will happen from week to week. If you are a believer in the importance of history you may be interested to know that they went under the number the last time they played six of their eight remaining opponents. Until they find a way to be more consistent, though, their totals won't be for me.
The verdict - The Jags will be favored at least three times in the next four weeks. If they show a good effort against Houston (currently favored by 10.5 points) then they will be more than justified as the chalk through that stretch. I suspect I will at least look at backing them this week, and I will be made more bold in future week by every hint of consistency that I see.