The Jacksonville Jaguars need every minute of this preseason to prepare for its Week 1 opponent and the uphill climb ahead of them this season.Will they be able to step up?
How Has The Betting Line Moved?
Open: Carolina -4
Current: Carolina -2.5
The Carolina Panthers were a pretty big road favorite to start but we’ve seen the line come down under a field goal. That’s probably because some people feel Jacksonville will be improved and those same people remember that Carolina started last season 3-8-1.
3 Key Storylines
The Importance Of A Fast Start: Carolina was the only division winner with a sub-.500 record a year ago as a 7-8-1 mark was good enough to edge out the New Orleans Saints at the top of the NFC South. The Saints will be in tough to improve this season after losing so many key pieces in the offseason but the Atlanta Falcons appear poised to improve so it might take at least nine wins to win the NFC South. A fast start will be key for the Panthers as they open the year in Jacksonville before returning home to host the Houston Texans and New Orleans and then they visit the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in their final game before their Week 5 bye. Those first four games come against opponents that combined for a 21-43 record last season and it will be important for Carolina to capitalize on that schedule with a fast start.
Jaguars Need Playmakers To Emerge: The Jaguars made some strong additions in the offseason including particularly on the offense where they signed tight end Julius Thomas in free agency and drafted running back TJ Yeldon in the second round. Their plan to surround second-year quarterback Blake Bortles has produced an intriguing situation even though Thomas is likely to miss the rest of the preseason with a fractured hand suffered on his first catch in a Jacksonville uniform. Big things are expected out of Thomas and Mercedes Lewis at the tight end position while expectations are also high for the rookie Yeldon as he looks to establish himself as the star of a group that also includes Denard Robinson, Bernard Pierce and Toby Gerhart this preseason. The Jaguars has six different players lead them in rushing yards for at least one game last season and six different players lead them in receiving yards for at least one game but they are banking on that Thomas and Yeldon can emerge as stars along with wide receivers Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns in order to cut that number down.
Bortles’ Progress In Year Two: Cam Newton has established himself as a star quarterback in the NFL and Jacksonville is hoping that Bortles can do the same after showing some strong progress through 14 regular season games as a rookie and then in his second NFL camp. Bortles threw for 2,908 yards and 11 touchdowns last season and while he did throw 17 interceptions there is no doubt that a big part of the problem was a young and inexperienced offensive line as well as a lack of playmakers in the offense. Bortles will benefit from the presence of Thomas, Yeldon, Robinson and Hurns as well as improved play on the offensive line so it will be interesting to see how he performs beginning with a very tough test against this Carolina defense in Week 1.
Bet Early or Bet Later…. And What’s The Play?
The Panthers won only three of their first 12 games last season before rallying with four straight wins to clinch the NFC South title and a playoff spot and this team has a penchant for slow starts as evidenced by the fact that their last three Week 1 games have all gone well under the projected total including 2012 and 2013 when they were held to a single touchdown in their openers. Carolina will be eager to get off to a better start this season but they are 1-5 in their last six Week 1 games and have averaged only 13.2 points per game in those contests. Benjamin’s status will be important and the reality is that even if the Panthers offense is kept in check the Jaguars might not be able to score more than 13 points. 3 is definitely the key number in this matchup and while we will wait before making this play there is no doubt that getting the Panthers minus anything less than a field goal is the right move even despite their tendency for slow starts.
NFL Pick: Panthers -2.5 at Pinnacle