By Ryan Daly – Betting/Denver Broncos Writer
Our first betting preview of the 2019 NFL season is here and what a scintillating game we have in store on Thursday Night Football… OK maybe not.
The Tennessee Titans travel to Jacksonville to take on a Jaguars team who’s bark seems to be a lot worse than their bite at the moment. The Titans have swept the Jaguars two years running and have won seven of the last ten meetings between the sides.
Expected Weather Conditions
We can officially sound the wind game klaxon for the first time this year with sustained winds of 15-20mph (gusts of up to 30mph) expected on Thursday. As the bettors and fantasy football enthusiasts among us know, passing production and efficiency metrics trend downwards as the wind gets up around 15mph and above. (This) Blog post goes in to greater detail on the effects of certain weather conditions on fantasy scoring for quarterbacks, showing a 12% decrease in fantasy points scored when winds get up to around 15mph, if winds get up around 20mph we see a 17% decrease.
Not that we should be expecting these two quarterbacks to be throwing the ball all over the field anyway, but it’s a factor that must be taken into account when analysing this game and it’s affected the points total for this one which opened up at 40 in most places and has been bet down to 39 (1.91).
Marcus Mariota’s Inconsistency
Inconsistency is Marcus Mariota’s middle name
Passing yards over/under set at 197.5 (1.85 Bet365)
Marcus Mariota has been given all the rope in the world at Tennessee as they are still trying to figure out if he’s going to be the franchise QB they thought they were drafting in 2015 with him heading into the final year of his rookie contract. In fairness, it hasn’t all been Mariota’s fault, he’s had to work with a new offensive play caller every year so far and he’s had horrible luck with injuries.
Through two games Mariota has completed 63.5% of his passes for 402 yards, four touchdowns and zero interceptions, most of which came against the Browns in week one. One of the biggest knocks on Mariota is his tendency to hold on to the ball too long and freeze for a split second if he doesn’t see a receiver open right away and this issue raised its head again last week as Mariota was responsible for at least two of the four sacks he took against the Colts.
Some of the route combinations drawn up by new OC Arthur Smith left a lot to be desired last week too, with receivers running a lot of stop routes creating spacing issues.
Henry the key to victory
Rushing yards over/under set at 74.5 (1.83 Bet365)
For one reason or another Derrick Henry has never really had an opportunity to be a workhorse back in Tennessee. Henry has rushed for over 80 yards in six consecutive games dating back to last year, totalling 10 TDs in that span. He carried 15 times for 81 yards (5.4 yards per carry) and a TD last week against the Colts, although for some reason he was taken out of the game at the start of the fourth quarter after breaking off consecutive runs of 11, 6 and 18 yards. Henry is one of the more bruising runners in the NFL with 90 yards after contact so far this year which is good for second in the NFL.
If the Titans can get Henry around the 20 carry mark in this game they have a better chance of getting the win.
Run defence the weakness in an aggressive Jaguars unit
This leads me on to the Jaguars defence. This unit has been the identity of the franchise for a few years now. In 2017 no team in the NFL allowed fewer points, yards, plays or time of possession per drive as they were one terrible call away from reaching the Super Bowl.
Inexplicably, none of the six players who made the pro bowl from that defence were rewarded with a new contract, instead they chose to first pay Bortles and then threw $88m at Nick Foles this off-season and as a result the unit has been gutted. Malik Jackson, Tashaun Gipson and Barry Church were all released, Aaron Colvin left in free agency and Dante Fowler was traded.
There’s still a lot of talent on this defence but they’re clearly vulnerable against the run. Last year they allowed an average of 116.9 yards rushing yards per game (19th in the NFL) and so far this year they’ve allowed 119.5 yards per game through the first two weeks.
Minshew to the rescue?
Passing yards over/under set at 220.5 (1.85 Bet365)
Big money off-season signing Nick Foles went down with a collarbone injury less than 10 minutes into the new season, up step Gardner Minshew II, a rookie sixth –round pick.
Minshew has actually surprised with what he’s shown so far, in his first start last week he completed 23 of 33 passes for 213 yards and a touchdown, adding 56 yards on six runs. The problem is there’s not whole lot of weapons on the Jaguars offence and the offensive line hasn’t been great so far, they will need to step up against a tough, physical Titans defence that has limited two high-powered offences in the Browns and Colts to just 32 points between them.
One positive is the rapport Minshew has built with DJ Chark so far who has 11 catches for 201 yards through the first two games. Chark’s receiving yards total for this one is set at 45.5 (1.83 Bet365) and he’s easily surpassed that in both games so far.
Can Fournette carry the load?
Rushing yards over/under set at 70.5 (1.83 Bet365)
After the worst season of his career where he totalled 439 yards rushing at 3.3 yards a clip, the Jaguars need a bounce back year out of Leonard Fournette. The man who was endorsed by Lil Wayne at 18 and compared to Michael Jordan in college knows he needs to step it up this year and he took measures in the off-season to get his career back on track.
Fournette exiled himself in a hotel in Wyoming for 3 months to go train with his old strength and conditioning coach from LSU and dropped 20 pounds. He’s had mixed results so far rushing for 66 yards on 13 carries (5.1 ypc) in week one and 47 yards on 15 carries last week (3.1 ypc). In both those games though he was targeted 6 times in the passing game, catching 4 in each game for 28 yards and 40 yards respectively.
The Running Back has a tough assignment against this stout Jurrell Casey-led Titans defence.
So what’s the betting?
On top of the fact that Thursday night games always seem to be hard to call, this one is not the most appealing of games for betting.
As our resident Jaguars writer Alex Kelly pointed out in his preview of the game (which you can read here) these are two physical defences that can get after the ball.
Calais Campbell and Yannick Ngakoue have a penchant for strip sacks and Minshew put the ball on the ground three times last week – one angle I’m keen to attack is a defensive or special teams TD – this can be backed at 3.25 (Bet365). I was quite keen on the under initially however with a total this low a couple of defensive/special teams slips and your in trouble – I still wouldn’t be running to the window to back the over though.
Gun to my head I’d lean Titans covering the spread but I just don’t trust Mariota at the minute so no bet there for me.
With Fournette seeing 6 targets in each of the first two weeks so far I’m happy to take him too have over 3.5 receptions at 1.77 (Bet365).
As alluded to above, I believe the Titans need to lean heavily on Derrick Henry in this game, especially if the wind gets up around 20mph, so I’m keen to take a few angles with him – over 17.5 rushing attempts is available at 1.83 (Bet365) as is an anytime TD.
It looks like Jalen Ramsey will be playing and he will probably spend a lot of time on Corey Davis so I’m keen on the under 21.5 yards on his longest reception at 1.83 (Bet365)
Defensive/special teams TD (3.25)
Leonard Fournette over 3.5 receptions (1.77)
Derrick Henry anytime TD (1.83)
Derrick Henry over 17.5 rushing attempts (1.83)
Corey Davis under 21.5 yards longest reception (1.83)
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