NFL Wild Card Best Bet for Chargers at Jaguars
NFL WILD CARD BEST BET: CHARGERS AT JAGUARS -- The postseason is finally upon us and we have an absolutely loaded weekend of high-stakes football to watch. There will be games on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday so be sure to pace yourself. We'll be previewing all the games here at Godzilla Wins with you crack team of analysts providing insights. I'm going to lead things off with what I think is the most interesting game of the weekend when the Los Angeles Chargers (10-7) head to Jacksonville to take on the Jaguars (9-8) at TIAA Bank Field.
Los Angeles Chargers at Jacksonville Jaguars (+1 [-105], o/u 47.5)
I was high on the Jacksonville Jaguars all year. I made a small Super Bowl wager on them long before the season started, then I hyped them up on our radio show and in various articles throughout the season, contending that they would win the AFC South and make the playoffs.
Then they proceeded to make me look like an idiot during a five game losing streak where they lost to the Eagles, Texans, Colts, Giants and Broncos. If you're just now thinking about the NFL and don't know anything about those teams they lost to, let me tell you that most of them aren't very good. The Colts and Broncos fired their coach at some point during the season after beating the Jags, and the Texans fired Lovie Smith immediately after the season ended.
The Chargers were the sexy team that a lot of touts were high on to begin the season, but they got hit with the injury bug in a bad way that left them hobbled and a mere shell of what they should have been for large portions of the season. Those injuries are clearing up now and they are starting to resemble a team that could give somebody a scare in the playoffs. So, they are becoming what many had predicted early in the season.
This is the night game on Saturday, so make sure you're getting your bets in early because by Sunday, it will be too late.
How does Jacksonville win?
Well, it's not going to be easy, but don't put anything past head coach Doug Pederson when it comes to making some serious noise in the playoffs. The man is 4-2 in the playoffs, including a 3-0 run in the year that he won a Super Bowl with Philly in 2017, in his second year as a head coach. Let us not forget that he won that Super Bowl with backup QB Nick Foles after Carson Wentz went down with an injury late in the regular season. Nick Foles can barely complete a pass now, and was horrible in his only action this season. But Pederson managed to get 373 yards out of him and a touchdown reception to defeat the Patriots.
All of this is to say, the real magic on this team may not be Heisman Trophy winner and budding superstar Trevor Lawrence, but may instead come down to Pederson making magic happen again. For this to happen, however, they will need to be working together because they'll need to harness and unleash their biggest strength this season, which has been passing the ball. The Jags rank 6th in passing DVOA this season, and after Week 10 they actually move up to 5th. That means that the passing game is good and getting better.
They'll need every bit of that passing game, as their rushing attack is below average. They rank 19th in rushing DVOA, which means they are good enough at rushing to keep a defense honest, but not good enough to keep defensive coordinators awake at night.
On the defensive side of the ball, there isn't much to be optimistic about. They rank 26th in total defense, and if you single out their pass defense it's 28th in DVOA. That's not good. The only teams who fared worse against the pass this season were Detroit, Atlanta, Las Vegas and Chicago. So, they aren't keep great company on defense.
There isn't really any other way to look at this game: the Jaguars must move the ball against the Chargers. Their defense is going to give up points, that much seems obvious. They haven't shown they can slow many teams down and that's bad news against gunslinging Justin Herbert and his pass-catching weapons. If the Jaguars want to win, they are going to need incredibly high-level play from Trevor Lawrence.
How do the Chargers win?
The Chargers have a few more avenues to victory in this game. Simply put, they are a more well-rounded team.
Judging by their DVOA alone, you would think that the Chargers are a fairly pedestrian offense. They rank 19th overall on offense and pass the ball marginally better than they run it.
Those numbers don't tell the whole story though. The Chargers dealt with injuries everywhere that severely depleted their ability to move the ball. At various times Herbert, chunks of the offensive line, and almost the entire receiving corps were injured. They should be playing at relatively full strength now. The only exception being Mike Williams who suffered a back injury late in the game last week.
On defense, the Chargers have also been riddled with injuries. Over the course of the season, the Chargers defensive DVOA ranks mid-pack at 16th. The pass defense has been decent all season, ranking 9th, and they've mostly been let down by their rushing defense. The pass defense gets even better and jumps up to 5th, from Week 8 onwards.
After going on at length about the coaching prowess of Doug Pederson for the Jaguars, I would be remiss not to mention Brandon Staley. If you're looking for a coach who seldom misses an opportunity to do something annoying or downright stupid in a game, look no further than Staley. He is a liability on the sidelines. He also managed to get two of his best and most consequential players hurt last week by playing them in a meaningless game when Mike Williams and Joey Bosa both exited with injuries.
Ultimately, even though Brandon Staley is not a very good coach, I think the Chargers are just a more complete team. The offense with Herbert is solid when healthy (which they mostly are) and the defense has played well despite being without the services of stud defensive end, Joey Bosa, who spent much of the season on injured reserve and is now injured again.
I'm sort of surprised that this line hasn't moved very much since it opened. I bet this game at -1.5, and all it's doing is moving in the opposite direction than what I predicted. It's pretty clear that the money is flowing in on the Jaguars to steal an upset here, but I'm not in agreement with the market.
The Jaguars feel like a team that is still a year away from really making noise as a postseason contender, and the Chargers have been here before. The pass defense for the Chargers should neutralize Jacksonville's biggest strength as a team. So, if we think that the Chargers match up well with the Jags, and they are a better team, we should bet the Chargers, right? Right. This may be a trap, but I'll gladly take the Chargers -1 in this spot.
Chargers -1 (-115)