Every NFL team plays on Thursday night once, so remember that. But when I saw the 2015 Thursday night schedule released and Titans-Jaguars was on it, I cringed like probably the rest of you did. Perhaps the NFL's thinking is to simply pair those two lousy franchises together and get it out of the way instead of each getting pounded by a good team in the Thursday night spotlight.
But a funny thing has happened: this game actually matters in the AFC South race. Granted, that division is a total joke with the first-place Indianapolis Colts and Houston Texans both at 4-5 -- with the Colts for sure without their starting QB for a few games and the Texans perhaps without theirs for at least one week. So the 3-6 Jaguars -- Jaguars! -- could find themselves tied for first by the end of Week 11. The Colts could easily lose in Atlanta on Sunday and so could the Texans at home against the Jets, especially if Houston has to start T.J. Yates over a concussed Brian Hoyer. Shoot, the 2-7 Titans aren't out of this yet.
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Believe it or not, Titans-Jaguars could be an important series in a couple of years and a terrific twice-yearly quarterback duel between 2014 No. 3 overall pick Blake Bortles and 2015 No. 2 overall pick Marcus Mariota. Both have shown some signs of being excellent NFL players soon. This is their first-ever meeting.
Indianapolis is -160 to win the South at Bovada with Houston at +300, Jacksonville at +500 and Tennessee at +1500.
Titans at Jaguars Betting Story Lines
The Jaguars are very fortunate to have beaten the Ravens 22-20 in Baltimore on Sunday. The Jags were at midfield as time was running out, and in an incredibly stupid move Baltimore's Elvis Dumervil took down Bortles by his facemask as time expired. That penalty moved the ball to the Ravens' 35 and gave Jacksonville an untimed down. Jason Myers hit the winning 53-yard field goal. One problem: the NFL admitted afterward the officials missed a false start penalty on at least one Jags lineman on that Bortles sack. That would have been a 10-second runoff and a Baltimore win. Some Ravens appeared to stop playing because it was so obvious.
That Jacksonville offense is really coming together, scoring at least 20 points in five straight games. Bortles has had multiple TD passes in each but still is interception prone with 11 on the season. Bortles quietly has one of the best receiving duos in the NFL in Allen Hurns and Allen Robinson. Hurns, who has an abdomen injury (may need sports hernia surgery after season) but is expected to play Thursday, has caught a TD pass in seven straight games, a team record. He has 41 catches for 697 yards and those seven scores on the year. Robinson has 45 catches for 758 yards and seven scores. Rookie running back T.J. Yeldon also is having a solid season with 531 yards rushing. He has a foot injury but also should play. I'm telling you, this team is going to be very good in two years as long as it adds a playmaker or two on defense. Remember, the team's No. 3 overall pick in 2015, Florida defensive end Dante Fowler, tore up his knee in May.
Tennessee still has a ways to go talent-wise, but Mariota looks like a keeper. The Titans also have to decide if interim head coach Mike Mularkey gets the full-time job or not (he was the Jacksonville head coach in 2012). Tennessee is 1-1 under him, surprising the Saints in Week 9 but then falling 27-10 at home this past Sunday to unbeaten Carolina. The Titans managed only 11 first downs and 242 yards. Mariota doesn't have much skill-position talent around him. And he'll have even less now. Leading receiver Kendall Wright (28 catches, 343 yards, three TDs) is expected to miss this game with a sprained MCL. Second-leading receiver Justin Hunter (22 catches, 264 yards, one TD) has been placed on season-ending IR. Rookie Dorial Green-Beckham (12 catches, 181 yards, two TDs) is going to have to step up.
While the Titans are well behind the Jaguars offensively, they are ahead on defense. Tennessee ranks No. 5 overall in yards allowed and No. 3 against the pass. It is fourth in the NFL with 29 sacks. Brian Orakpo leads with six sacks and has one in three straight games. The team has lost cornerback Jason McCourty, however, to season-ending IR.
These teams split two pretty ugly games last year. In Week 6 in Nashville, the Titans won 16-14 as Sammie Hill blocked a last-second field goal to keep Jacksonville winless on the season. Jacksonville scored with 37 seconds left on a Bortles-to-Clay Harbor 20-yard TD pass and recovered the onside kick. But Hill grazed Josh Scobee's 55-yard attempt with 3 seconds left -- Jags coach Gus Bradley blew it by not having a timeout left, meaning the Jags had to kick on third-and-2. Bortles threw for 336 yards but was sacked six times. Charlie Whitehurst was Tennessee's QB that day. In Week 16, the final Thursday night game of 2014, Jacksonville beat the visiting Titans 21-13. That game was hard to watch. Bortles was 13-for-26 for 115 yards and a TD. Whitehurst was again under center for the Titans, who lost their ninth straight game. At least it helped them land the No. 2 overall pick in the 2015 draft. The Jaguars and Titans have split the previous 10 matchups, with six of the 10 decided by one score.
Titans at Jaguars Betting Odds and Trends
At 5Dimes , Jacksonville is a 2.5-point favorite (-115) with a total of 43. On the moneyline, the Jags are -140 and Titans +120. On the alternate lines, Jacksonville is -4 (+143), -3.5 (+135), -3 (+110), -2 (-120), -1.5 (-125) and -1 (-133). Tennessee is 4-5 against the spread (2-2 on road) and 5-4 "over/under" (3-1 on road). Jacksonville is 5-4 ATS (2-2 at home) and 6-3 O/U (3-1 at home).
The Titans are 5-2 ATS in their past seven Thursday games. They have covered just two of their past 16 vs. teams with a losing record. The Jags are 8-2 ATS in their past 10 vs. the AFC. They are 5-2 ATS in the past seven vs. teams with a losing record. The under is 7-3 in Tennessee's past 10 after a loss. The over is 7-3 in the Jags' past 10 after a win. The under is 8-2-1 in the past 11 meetings. The Titans have failed to cover the past four in the series.
NFL Expert Picks Against the Spread: Titans at Jaguars Betting Predictions
This is probably the most important game for Jacksonville since 2010 -- will there actually be a sellout? I like the Jags here, so give the 2.5 points. Go over the total. These teams play again in Week 13.
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Read more articles by Alan Matthews
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