I was listening to a couple of podcasts over the weekend, one talking about philosophy and the difference between perception and truth, and another where Bill Simmons was talking about how a sports writer is usually right or wrong. Now I am not the kind of person to write a takedown piece just to generate traffic, but because I am an NFL obsessive this did get me thinking about what I am trying to do as a writer and specifically how I was approaching one of the teams that I am struggling the most to predict this season.
I am currently 1-4 in picking against the spread for games involving the Jacksonville Jaguars, and the only game I got right involved them going up against the Patriots, not exactly a difficult pick. The Jaguars have garnered a fair amount of good will in the UK with their commitment to the playing in London, and as a consequence of their repeated presence have naturally had more coverage over here than a team with their record might otherwise have garnered. It also helps that Gus Bradley is well liked and is a very positive person who is being given time to rebuild the Jaguars through the draft. However, they have never won more than four games with him as head coach, and currently stand as 1-4.
The media narrative surrounding the team is that they are building towards success, and that this could be the year that they could attain respectability even if the playoffs remain out of reach. I don’t want to delve into a metaphysical analysis of the nature of objective truth, but as the Jaguars are not a team I am watching week in week out, I decided to brave the Jaguars at Buccaneers week five game to take a closer look for myself.
I am no stranger to the dangers of hope, during the Bengals horrible run from 1998-2002 I didn’t go into the season thinking the team were doomed to double digit losses, but the proof was in the team’s results. In this game I saw a lot of the same things from those days, there is potential, but both teams were guilty of making the kinds of mistakes that lose you games. Also, we have a tendency to talk about good and bad players in the NFL, when the truth is that even the worst of them are professionals with physical skills or an understanding of the game that are likely far in excess of our own. The margin of error between success and failure is so fine that it only takes a few mistakes in key situations to change the result of a game, a slight lack of understanding to take you from a solid starter to ending your NFL career.
The Jaguars have been unable to get both sides of the ball working at the same time this season, and this loss to the Buccaneers must be so frustrating for the defensively minded Gus Bradley.
The Jaguars really do have promise on offence, I liked both Allen Hurns and Allen Robinson as receivers, and if they can work their big free agent signing tight end Julius Thomas into the game as he comes back from injury then they could have all the options they need in the passing game. There were also some flashes from rookie running back TJ Yeldon that made me think that things could come together very nicely for the Jaguars on offence. This is particularly true when you start looking at the development of their quarterback Blake Bortles, he threw for over three hundred yards in this game with four touchdowns and one interception. More importantly, he was able to throw some of those touchdown passes through tight windows, and in one play as the pocket broke down he was able to escape pressure and buy enough time for TJ Yeldon to come open in the end zone.
It is harder for me to comment on the defence as the Buccaneers found a weakness and kept exploiting it. There were plays were the Jaguars front would penetrate and stop the run for a loss, but the Jaguars essentially lost this game by giving up over one hundred and eighty yards on the ground as Dough Martin ran for over one hundred yards and two touchdowns as well as catching a third touchdown. With Bradley’s history as a defensive coach you would hope he could get this side of the ball to play well week in week out, but we will have to see.
So what is the truth about the Jaguars? Well like anything with this number of variables it is hard to tell, but there is more than the occasional glimpse of potential to this team and I hope for Jaguars fans that things do finally come good because I do see how they could. I will be watching them more carefully over the next couple of weeks to see how things develop, and whether they can get that elusive Wembley win in their week seven trip to London. Dan should expect some more texts from me announcing that I’ve gone with the Jaguars again.
Now on to the picks, with Dan pulling a game back on me last week I had better hit the mark in this week’s games.
Gee: Week 5 8-6 Overall 40-37
Dan: Week 5 9-5 Overall 37-40
Falcons @ Saints (+3.5)
This game has the potential to be a real blow out. The Falcons having been playing so well, and the Saints are really struggling. I don’t know how much is age, how much is the injury, and how much is the players around him, but Drew Brees has not looked good, whilst the defence is dead last in defensive DVOA and we’re already seeing friction between Sean Payton and Rob Ryan. They play the games for a reason, but it’s tough for me to see anything other than a big Falcons win in this one.
Gee’s Pick: Falcons
Dan’s Pick: Falcons
Bengals @ Bills (+2.5)
As a Bengals fan I am worried about this game. The Bills have been up and down on defence with Rex Ryan’s pressure schemes seeming to produce mixed results, whilst on offence they have been struggling to move the ball over recent weeks and Tyrod Taylor has a sprained kneww. However, as good as the Bengals have looked so far this season, they have to lose at some point and there is a part of me that is still waiting for the wheels to fall off, but I don’t think it will be in this game.
Gee’s Pick: Bengals
Dan’s Pick: Bengals
Bears @ Lions (-2.5)
The Lions are in such a mess right now, and I was so excited about them coming to London in week eight. The defence fell off again last week and who knows if we will see a fit DeAndre Levy this season. Things are even worse on offence with Matthew Stafford being benched during the last game. Meanwhile the Bears have quietly won two straight games under John Fox, who may not have won a Super Bowl in Denver, but he knows how to work with this kind of roster and it appears that the Bears are a better team that we thought at the start of the season.
Gee’s Pick: Bears
Dan’s Pick: Bears
Broncos @ Browns (+4.5)
The Browns are not the team I thought they were going to be, but Josh McCown has been undeniably effective moving the ball over the last two weeks, I’m just not sure what the long term plan is for them at quarterback given his age. The good news is that their poorly ranked defence, which is dead last in run defence DVOA is welcoming a Broncos team that are misfiring on offence and haven’t been able to run the ball at all. The Broncos are unbeaten so it is still too early to be talking about dropping Peyton Manning, but with his reduced effectiveness he has to at least protect the ball better for them to keep winning. Their defence will continue to be excellent even without DeMarcus Ware for a couple of weeks, but you can only succeed for so long when one side of the ball is performing so much worse than the other. I expect a close game, and having only missed picking against the Broncos by a half point last week, I’m going against them again as they visit Cleveland, even if I do expect them to win.
Gee’s Pick: Browns
Dan’s Pick: Broncos
Dolphins @ Titans (-2.5)
I really don’t know what to make of this game. The Titans were in an ugly game last week where neither team were able to move the ball. However, their defence has definitely been more effective this season and this could come into play in this game. The Dolphins will be hoping than new Head Coach Dan Campbell will produce a reaction in this game, but whilst the change in defensive coordinator and new attitude might help that woeful side of the ball, it is not going to suddenly improve their offensive line. It will be interesting to see how the situation develops, but I’m not backing the Dolphins until I’ve seen something with my own eyes that convinces me that things have changed.
Gee’s Pick: Titans
Dan’s Pick: Dolphins
Chiefs @ Vikings (-3.5)
The Vikings are coming off a bye to welcome a Chiefs team whose season is falling apart around them. The talent in their front seven has not stopped this team giving up too many points on defence, and they just lost Jamaal Charles for the year who is so central to their offence. I don’t think the Chiefs are exactly a bad team, but it feels like a lost season for them and I don’t expect them to be able to cope with the Vikings on the road.
Gee’s Pick: Vikings
Dan’s Pick: Vikings
Washington @ Jets (-5.5)
The Jets defence is right up there with the Broncos for the best in the league, and they can run the ball effectively on offence, I’m just not sure they should be giving five and a half points to anyone. This Washington team are definitely headed in the right direction, the defence seems to be coming together and they have been able to run the ball in some games. The problem for me is that their defence is not as good as the Jets, and I don’t think they will be able to get much going on offence. I simply don’t trust Cousins against that Jets secondary, and so whilst I don’t like the points, I also don’t think the NFC East is a good division this year so I’m worriedly backing the Jets.
Gee’s Pick: Jets
Dan’s Pick: Washington
Cardinals @ Steelers (+3.5)
This looks to be one the best games of the week. The Steelers were able to get the job done on Monday night despite Mike Tomlin’s clock management and losing seconds to clock errors. They were aided by injuries to the Chargers line, but the defence and their play makers, including Michael Vick, did enough to get the win on the road. However, this week they welcome a Cardinals team who are rolling and deserved to be mentioned alongside the remaining undefeated teams. There are still questions about the Steelers’ secondary and in Carson Palmer we have a quarterback with the ability to test them. This is a hell of a swing in terms of points, but the only team to be within four points of the Cardinals this season was their divisional rivals the Rams who beat them in week four, and I think they will get the win in Pittsburgh.
Gee’s Pick: Cardinals
Dan’s Pick: Cardinals
Texans @ Jaguars (+0.5)
This is where I compare what I saw this week with the Jaguars against the Texans, who have been woeful this season. The Texans can’t defend despite having one of the best defensive players in the league, and they’ve been all over the place with their quarterbacks. I would be playing Hoyer as I think Mallet makes too many mistakes, and this is one of the few games where it might matter, but I am once more picking the Jaguars.
Gee’s Pick: Jaguars
Dan’s Pick: Texans
Panthers @ Seahawks (-6.5)
This is a tricky game for me as we have seen a few cracks in the Seattle defence this season, and even with Kam Chancellor back they couldn’t stop the Bengals comeback in the last quarter. More worryingly for me, their offensive line is still really struggling in pass protection and so Russell Wilson is still under too much pressure. However, I was really impressed with Thomas Rawls who is averaging 5.6 yards per carry this season, and the run game was looking better last week. The Panthers have done really well so far, and have beaten the teams in front of them, but Cam Newton is running too much and that can only last so long. Their defence however is really good, and I foresee a close defensive game. I don’t know who will win it, but I don’t see why the Seahawks are getting the extra points so I’m backing the Panther to be less than a touchdown behind at the end of the game.
Gee’s Pick: Panthers
Dan’s Pick: Panthers
Chargers @ Packers (-9.5)
The Packers have not been the offensive juggernaut of the early weeks, but they still have Aaron Rodgers even if he did look mortal last week. However, this year the defence is ranked inside the top ten in defensive DVOA, even if the run defence is rated near the bottom of the league. They welcome a wounded Chargers team, whose offensive line suffered another injury last week, and were only able to move the ball thanks to Philip Rivers outstanding play, but they are soft on defence and I’m not sure I would back anyone against the Packers at home this season unless they are getting more points than this.
Gee’s Pick: Packers
Dan’s Pick: Packers
Ravens @ 49ers (+2.5)
This is a tricky one for me as Kaepernick managed to get a little something going last week, and the 49ers at least pushed the Giants into coming from behind in the fourth quarter to win the game. This week they welcome a Ravens team who have just been bad, I’ve talked about their problems at receiver and secondary, but it turns out that in addition to losing Terrell Suggs for the season, Elvis Dummervil has been fighting a groin problem all season and had to come out of the game last week resulting in very little pass rush. This is a match of two 1-4 teams, but it’s just possible that the Ravens are simply not going to be good this year, and with them going across country to play the 49ers, plus giving them points… I’m not ready to back them in this one.
Gee’s Pick: 49ers
Dan’s Pick: Ravens
Patriots @ Colts (+7.5)
The Patriots are on such a roll, and the Colts really could have lost to the Texans last week so this is a simple pick for me, even with the Colts getting this many points.
Gee’s Pick: Patriots
Dan’s Pick: Patriots
Giants @ Eagles (-3.5)
The Eagles got their offence going last week, but I have to wonder how much was the Eagles game plan and how much was the Saints woeful defence. The Giants are going to pose a sterner test, and I’m not sure what the Eagles have done so far this season to gain an extra half point.
Gee’s Pick: Giants
Dan’s Pick: Giants