Expect Close Game Between Defensively-Minded Jaguars and Texans

Rainman M.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017 5:29 PM UTC

Wednesday, Sep. 6, 2017 5:29 PM UTC

The AFC South rival Jaguars and Texans open their season Sunday in Houston at 1 p.m. ET. The Texans have been bet up to 5.5-point favorites while the total has dropped from 42 to 39. Here's the pick. 

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Jacksonville Jaguars at Houston Texans

Blake Bortles beat out Chad Henne for the starting quarterback job in Jacksonville. Bortles’ job is by no means secure and he will face a lot of pressure both from his coaching staff and last year’s top-ranked pass defense in Houston, which will also feature a healthy J.J. Watt. In the preseason against Tampa Bay, Bortles was atrocious. But against Carolina he was 12-for-16 for 125 yards and new head coach Doug Marrone commented on his vast mechanical improvement. Bortles will enjoy the protection of an underrated and improved offensive line, that gave up 17 fewer sacks last season, and a respectable wide receiving crew.

Running the ball will not just help to take the pressure off of Bortles but will also compose the Jaguars’ offensive identity. First-round draft pick Leonard Fournette will make his regular-season debut and can only help a rushing attack that was unimpressive last season. Defenders were able to stack the box because they knew that Bortles couldn’t present much of a threat. But running against the Texans will not come easy, who feature a solid duo at linebacker in Brian Cushing and Benardrick Mckinney, who had a huge second year with 129 tackles and 5 sacks.

Bortles’ 2-20 SU road record is disconcerting.  He hasn’t figured out how to win on the road, especially against good teams.  But under Bortles, the Jaguars are a respectable 8-7-1 ATS in the last 2 seasons on the road.  Bortles’ career quarterback rating is also almost 10 points higher on the road. He seems to thrive under the pressure of playing away from home and being in a quarterback competition.  And he can take advantage of a Houston pass defense whose 2016 lockdown cornerback AJ Buoye is now with the Jaguars.

When thrown at last season, Bouye allowed a passer rating of under 60. He will steel a secondary that thrived against the lower-iter passing attacks.  The pass defense struggled against the likes of Aaron Rodgers, Matthew Stafford and Marcus Mariota. But against the likes of Brian Hoyer and Brock Osweiler, they allowed very limited damage. I would put Tom Savage into the latter category. Savage, with his 0 career touchdowns in 2 starts, inspires little danger in the opposing pass defense, even though he has a star at wide receiver in the speedy and long-armed DeAndre Hopkins.

The Texans’ rush attack was a respectable eighth, even though its anemic pass offense could not take much press ure off of the running backs. The Texans’ run game relies above all on work horse Lamar Miller. But without help from their passing attack he ra n the ball 22 times for only 63 yards last December against the Jaguars.  Even with question marks in the offensive line, the improvement of the Jaguars’ defensive line with the signing of Calais Campbell from Arizona and the the lack of depth behind him, Miller will be Houston’s most potent weapon on offense. But he won’t be a game-changer against a Jaguars’ defense that was 6th last season in total yards allowed. 

 The Verdict

 I can’t trust the Texans to cover the 5.5-point spread because I can’t trust them to score -- especially against a  high-ranked defense. The Jaguars have an improved defensive line with Campbell and Dante Fowler Jr., who  finished 2016 on a strong note and will show this year why he was a first-round pick in 2015.  The sideline-to-  sideline animal Myles Jack at linebacker and the well-sized and long-armed Jalen Ramsey at corner are two  other rising second-year superstars who will be exciting to watch against a Texans’ offense that lacks a  passing attack. 

Best Current Line on the Jags is +6 at Bookmaker

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