NFL Picks: Grab Jaguars +4.5 on a Neutral Field vs. Bills

Sterling Xie

Saturday, October 24, 2015 4:34 PM GMT

It's unclear how much of the country will wake up for the 9:30 A.M. Eastern kickoff between the Buffalo Bills and Jacksonville Jaguars this Sunday, but bettors should have their alarms going off at this NFL odds.

On a neutral field, this line appears overly generous for Buffalo, as there are numerous game factors which suggest Jacksonville could either cover this spread or even win outright.

Despite its lackluster 1-5 record, the Jags have finally shown signs of progress in their seemingly interminable rebuild.  Second-year quarterback Blake Bortles still turns the ball over far too much, with a 2.9 percent interception percentage that currently ranks 23rd among 33 qualified passers.  However, while Bortles is still working to cut down on his turnovers, he's also begun to flash the arm and downfield throwing ability which made him the third overall pick in the first place.

Indeed, Bortles' 5.4 percent touchdown percentage is more than double his meager 2.3 percent rate from his rookie season.  His 2015 figure ranks eighth in the league, ahead of more ballyhooed quarterbacks such as Philip Rivers, Ben Roethlisberger and Andrew Luck.  The Jags in general have become a sneaky big-play offense, with 24 passes of over 20 yards.  Only five offenses have more, with the sophomore tandem of Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns providing Bortles with two big-bodied vertical targets downfield.

Moreover, the debut of free-agent signing Julius Thomas has given Jacksonville an important red-zone target and middle-of-the-field presence capable of threatening the seams.  Since Thomas returned to the lineup in Week 5, Bortles has tossed seven touchdowns and completed 61.6 percent of his passes.  Thomas himself should be a particularly integral component of Jacksonville's game plan this week—Buffalo possesses a pair of excellent boundary cornerbacks in Stephon Gilmore and Ronald Darby, which could enable them to contain Robinson and Hurns.  Thomas was Bortles' favorite target last week against the Houston Texans, garnering a team-high 13 targets and pulling in seven catches for 78 yards and a touchdown.

The Jacksonville Jaguars might also jumpstart its stagnant run game against Buffalo's surprisingly porous front seven.  A unit loaded with talent on paper, the Bills have apparently had a difficult time adjusting from Jim Schwartz's straight 4-3 scheme to Rex Ryan's amoeba defense with hybrid fronts.  Consequently, Buffalo ranks an abysmal 25th against the run in Football Outsiders' DVOA metric.  Even with T.J. Yeldon questionable for the game, Denard Robinson and Toby Gerhart might be sneaky candidates to have strong games.

Most importantly, Bortles and the Jacksonville offense shouldn't have to press as much as they have over the first six weeks of the season.  The Jaguars' injury-riddled defense has taken a step back in 2015, and currently ranks 27th in overall defensive DVOA after ranking 20th in 2014.  However, Jacksonville gets the huge benefit of playing EJ Manuel, a player who has essentially been one of the game's five worst quarterbacks since entering the league in 2013:

 

EJ Manuel Career Passing Stats and Rankings

Yards/Att.

Adj. Yds./Att.

TD %

QB Rating

6.4 (33rd)

5.9 (30th)

3.5 % (31st)

78.7 (31st)

*Rankings out of 35 QBs with min. 450 pass attempts from 2013-15.

 

The Jags are hardly facing a quarterback capable of threatening them vertically, and should be able to force Buffalo into plenty of unfavorable down-and-distance situations on Sunday.  For all its struggles against the pass, Jacksonville has remained stout against the run, ranking sixth in run defense DVOA and allowing a league-best 3.4 yards per rush attempt.  Though LeSean McCoy has looked explosive when healthy this year, the Jaguars have the personnel to limit Buffalo's best (and really, only) offensive weapon.

With Sammy Watkins, Tyrod Taylor and Percy Harvin all out of the lineup, it's hard to imagine the Buffalo Bills being a strong bet for your NFL picks to score enough points to cover this spread.  Buffalo has looked extremely impressive at times en route to its 3-3 record, stomping the Indianapolis Colts and Miami Dolphins in September.  However, the Bills have been trending downwards for three weeks now, with a sloppy 14-13 win over the moribund Tennessee Titans representing Buffalo's only win in that stretch.  With a JV offensive squad and underachieving defense still adjusting to Ryan's system and general boisterous demeanor, the Bills are a teetering squad who likely did not need this trans-Atlantic road trip.

The Jags deserve better for their tangible signs of progress on offense, and this is a nice time to strike against a vulnerable opponent.  Jacksonville remains a callow squad that may not win this game outright given its tendency to make just enough errors to lose.  However, they should be favorites to cover the 4.5-point spread on the NFL odds board, especially given Buffalo's severely limited scoring ceiling.

NFL Picks: Jaguars +4.5 at Bookmaker

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