Expert NFL Picks Against the Spread: Jacksonville Jaguars at Houston Texans
Sometimes the marquee matchups aren't always the most interesting ones each week in the NFL. Sure, I could have previewed, say, Seahawks-Packers or Giants-Cowboys among Week 1 Sunday games as all four of those clubs made the playoffs last year and easily could again (I expect Seattle, Green Bay and Dallas to do so; maybe New York).
But there will be plenty of opportunities to look at games involving four of the NFC's best later this season. I think Sunday's Jaguars-Texans game is fascinating. For one thing, it's the first major event in Houston since Hurricane Harvey caused incredible flooding devastation (Jags owner Shad Khan offered to switch home dates). And let's go ahead and name Texans defensive star J.J. Watt the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year for 2017. He already has raised some $20 million to go to relief of Harvey. It's not like he's sitting back and just using his name, either. Watt has been out there. Kudos to him.
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Watt already was the most beloved athlete in the city. Now he's like Drew Brees in New Orleans after all that Brees did after Hurricane Katrina. Just Watt being back on the football field is another interesting story line as the NFL's most disruptive defender was limited to three games last year with a back problem that has ended the careers of other guys. The NFL is simply better with Watt playing, and obviously Houston's defense is - even though it was No. 1 in total yards allowed without Watt in 2016.
Then you have the quarterback situations on both these teams. I'd say it's even money that neither of Sunday's starters will be in that position by about midseason, and that it's potentially the final Opening Day start for both in their current uniforms.
Jaguars at Texans Betting Story Lines
Granted, I said much the same thing last year, but I believe the Jaguars can be a playoff team if they simply get average quarterback play out of Blake Bortles. Alas, he has an NFL-high 63 turnovers since joining the NFL in 2014 as the No. 3 overall pick out of UCF. This is a make-or-break season for Bortles in Jacksonville as the Jags can walk away from his fifth-year rookie option in the offseason. He was benched after the team's second preseason game but showed enough in the third one compared to then-starter Chad Henne that Jags coach Doug Marrone named Bortles the starter again. I doubt Bortles has a long leash.
There is a ton of talent on this team, from running back Leonard Fournette, the No. 4 overall pick from LSU who is the Offensive Rookie of the Year favorite at most sportsbooks (+350 at 5Dimes), to receivers Allen Robinson and Marqise Lee. The defense is absolutely stacked, led by future superstar cornerback Jalen Ramsey. It all truly comes down to Bortles -- and to the offensive line, which is a question mark.
Houston is the two-time defending AFC South champion despite very questionable quarterback play both seasons, and Tom Savage gets his first Opening Day start. Savage will be the fourth different Week 1 starter in as many years for Houston. He outplayed rookie Deshaun Watson in camp and the preseason to hold off the Clemson star, but it's clearly only a matter of time until Watson takes over. You don't give up all Houston did in trade to move up and get Watson and not play him sooner rather than later.
The Texans are an OK offensive team with a good running back in Lamar Miller and excellent receiver in DeAndre Hopkins, who just got a massive new extension. The WR bunch is a bit thin right now with Will Fuller out a few months due to a broken collarbone and Jaelen Strong suspended for Week 1. Houston is without arguably its best offensive lineman - barring a late change of heart - as left tackle Duane Brown is holding out. Kendall Lamm, a 2015 undrafted free agent out of Appalachian State, would start.
Jaguars at Texans Betting Odds and Trends
At 5Dimes, Houston is a 5.5-point favorite (-110) with a total of 39.5 - that's the lowest total thus far. On the moneyline, the Texans are -240 and Jaguars +200. On the alternate lines, Houston is -5 (-115) and -6 (-102). The Texans were 7-10-1 against the spread last season (5-3-1 at home) including playoffs and 8-10 "over/under" (4-5 at home). Jacksonville was 8-8 ATS (5-3 on road) and 10-6 O/U (4-4 on road).
The Jags are 9-4-1 ATS in their past 14 vs. the AFC South. They have failed to cover their past four in Week 1. Houston is 1-4 ATS in its past five games but has covered five of previous seven in Week 1. The over is 5-1 in Jacksonville's past six vs. the division. The under is 4-0-1 in Houston's past five in September. The road team is 5-1 ATS in the past six meetings. The over is 4-1 in the previous five.
Jaguars at Texans Betting Prediction
Houston has won six straight in the series and thus obviously swept in 2016. The game in Houston was a 21-20 final. That was essentially the start of the "Savage Era" as he replaced a benched Brock Osweiler in the second quarter and led his team to a comeback victory by throwing for 260 yards. Miller rushed 22 times for 63 yards and a score, while Hopkins caught eight passes for 87 yards. Bortles was horrid, going 12-for-18 for 92 yards with a pick.
If you wanted to bet the moneyline, I'd go Texans. But on the spread, I like the Jags as they lost close twice last year and likely will do so again (no Brown is potentially a big problem for Houston). That total is awfully low, even though both clubs have iffy QBs and will run the ball plenty. I'm going over.
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Read more articles by Alan Matthews
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