Monday, August 27, 2012

Jacksonville Jaguars vs Minnesota Vikings: JAX +4.5 (Pinnacle)

UPDATE: MJD has reported the Jags (no surprise because these guys don't pass on game checks), but the jury is out how that will impact this game, if at all. We've seen many running backs hold out of camp and suffer for it early in the season.  At the end of the day though, getting a premier player can't be a bad thing. We've already seen a reaction in the market with the line moving to +4 and +3.5. 

Markets

Yesterday, Steve Fezzek tweeted the following:

If I'm the first one to show any interest in this game, so be it.  I fail to see why the line is set at -4.5 and it's even more puzzling why the line has stood there all preseason.  I suspect people want no part of a game that comes with so many unknowns, but despite the questions, we should be fairly optimistic and confident in one aspect of this game - the Jaguars defense.

Questions, Questions, Questions.

Handicapping matchups on paper is always a tricky venture heading into a season because no one is quite sure how the 'question marks' on each team will play out.  For the Jags we have the MJD holdout, the Blaine Gabbert pass-happy feet situation, and the enigma otherwise known as Marcedes Lewis. Beyond that no one is quite sure if Jacksonville will be able to the sacks/pressures needed from their D-line and their O-line have more appointments with the medical staff than Mike Vick.

Yet, the questions are just as significant for the Vikes. Adrian Peterson is reportedly going to play, but his effectiveness will be hindered coming off major knee surgeries, rehab, and lack of playing time.  Christian Ponder is way ahead of where he was in his rookie year, but it hasn't translated to the field yet. Outside of Percy Harvin there isn't a lot to get excited about at wideout - especially with Jerome Simpson out for the opener.  The secondary is young and Chris Cook is just getting back from a preseason concussion.

Mismatches

Sometimes when we have undervalued dogs it isn't a matter of favorable mismatches, but a lack of mismatches for the other team. Pick apart this matchup and show me one area where the Vikings have enough of an advantage to warrant this spread.  If you want to tell me that Jared Allen is unblockable and that he will wreak enough havoc to render Gabbert completely ineffective, ok.  I'll give Allen his due, but I don't think Gabbert is the same timid QB that we saw last year.

I'm not declaring he's about to lead the Jags to an 8-8 season, but he's shown enough improvement to give this offense a chance.  With a full offseason of OTAs and training camp, the coaching has made a difference.  Marcedes Lewis off-field problems are a thing of the past and Justin Blackmon adds a legitimate raw threat on the outside. 

Currently there is no MJD, but I'm sure the bookmakers created this line under the assumption that he'd be back. Now it's looking that there is a real possibility that he won't be and even if he does he won't be in game shape. The good news comes two-fold: 1) Rashad Jennings has looked real good in camp and in the preseason and 2) the running game is much less important in today's NFL than before.

The common myth is that teams need the running game to set up the pass, but in reality the stats suggest the complete opposite. Statistically, the pass sets up the run once teams have the lead. What is much more important than compiling 100+ rushing yards is running the ball effectively in critical situations - primarily getting first downs to sustain drives and run the clock.

I've made significant adjustments to my handicapping formula over the last few seasons to accommodate the heavy shift towards passing.  Not having MJD isn't good given how good he is rushing, pass catching, and blocking, but he's not going to cripple Jacksonville like some talking heads say he will.

Not many teams were hit as hard by the injury bug a year ago as Jacksonville and they still managed to have a dominant defense both against the pass and the run.  Now that they are healthy, I see this as their biggest weapon heading into Minnesota in Week 1.  Andre Branch is raw and still learning, but he's the kind of added punch they need up front.  The secondary should give Ponder some concerns and Paul Posluszny is a beast in the middle. 

Bottom Line

Is it risky putting faith into the unproven Blaine Gabbert and MJD-less Jaguars?  Sure.  But this pick is based on the trust in their defense and a complete fade of the Vikings.. It's my opinion that the Vikings have more critical questions on both sides of the ball than the Jaguars.  If I were setting this line I'd have Minnesota favored by 2.5 points.  I'll take the bonus points above the critical 3 and ride the road dog here.

NFL Pick: JAX +4.5.

The rest of my Week 1 predictions are here, or you can find all my 2012 predictions on the home page main menu.