Friday, September 6, 2013

NFL Predictions 2013 Week 1: Chiefs vs Jaguars

Kansas City Chiefs vs Jacksonville Jaguars: KC -3.5 (Pinnacle)

Market Watch

Somewhat amazingly, the Chiefs were only -2.5 point favorites when this line was released back in May.  By the time the preseason came around, the line had already moved to -3.5. The Jaguars were only 2-6 ATS at home in 2012, and they don't usually get the obligatory -2.5 points for home field advantage. Simply put, no one is intimidated to travel to Jacksonville to take on this team. A whopping 80% of the bets are on KC, which has pushed the line to -4 at a lot of books, but -3.5's are available if you shop around. Even if I had to take -4, I'd lay the points. I won't be surprised if this line closes higher at kickoff.

When the Jaguars have the ball

In a league dominated by passing, the Jaguars are in short supply at the QB position. Blaine Gabbert is listed
as questionable and will be a game-time decision. He's expected to start, but I'm not sure it matters. There are some out there who are cautiously optimistic about him after what they saw in the preseason, but you don't find me in that camp. I need to see him overcome his lack of awareness and jitterness in the pocket in regular season play first.

Complicating matters, Justin Blackmon is out due to a suspension and Marcedes Lewis is out with an injury. This depletes what was already an anemic passing game. Cecil Shorts is a nice complimentary weapon, but he's by no means a #1 WR. 4th round rookie Ace Sanders will see a lot of action on the opposite side. I don't see how this group can overcome a KC secondary consisting of Flowers, Smith, and Robinson. Locking things down on the outside is going to allow Bob Sutton to bring the heat up front with an aggressive game plan.

This is bad news for Jacksonville's offensive line. 90% of the sacks they gave up in 2012 were the result of poor protection. Monroe and Joeckel are decent options at the tackle spots, but most of the Jags success should come from a faster paced offense. That, along with MJD, will alleviate a lot of the pressure on this below average line.

The problem is the KC defense is filled with rising young talents and bona-fide stars. If it's not Eric Berry coming in off a blitz, it will be Derrick Johnson, Tamba Hali, or Justin Houston disrupting the play. The defensive line itself isn't very formidable, but Dontari Poe made nice strides last year and should make things easier on the linebackers.

When the Chiefs have the ball

In 2012 KC has a league worst turnover differential of -24.  The interceptions were a huge problem, but they also had bad fumble recover luck (only recovered 9 of 35).  They had 13 turnovers inside their own 30 yard line. It's no wonder they didn't hold a lead until Week 10. I also can't put much blame on a defense when they are faced with this kind of field position and deficit week in and week out.

Regression to mean laws will fix this, but it's also a huge help to have someone like Andy Reid and Alex Smith leading the way. Smith might not be a all-pro passer, but he has good football intelligence (only 10 interceptions in 21 starts) and will carry out the plays that Reid asks of him (unlike Vick).

Dwayne Bowe, Donnie Avery, and Dexter McCluster make up a pretty good receiving core, and Jamaal Charles is the superstar straw that stirs the drink. The offensive line is well-sized and athletic, which is a perfect fit for the kind of scheme that Reid likes to run. They also get a boost on the right side with the number one overall pick Eric Fisher.

Gus Bradley earned his head coaching job based on his defensive prowess, but he doesn't have shutdown corners to work with in Jacksonville. This will significantly hamper the options they have on that side of the ball. In fact, they might have one of the worst secondaries in the NFL. Dwayne Gratz is a third round rookie and Alan Ball is very inexperienced on the other side. Jonathan Cyprien is a second round rookie at strong safety.

Even if this group steps up and impresses, they'll likely be hung out to dry by a poor pass rush. Jason Babin is fine on one side but he hasn't shown the same pass rushing dynamics that he displayed in Philadelphia. Opposite him is Tyson Alualu, who is a converted defensive tackle.

The best hope Jacksonville have is that their run defense is improved enough to limit KC's options. Adding Marks and Miller at defensive tackle could turn out to be underrated pickups, especially if Paul Posluszny remains stout at middle linebacker.

All in all though, this isn't a unit that's going to scare anybody. I think Bradley would be happy with solid play and some improvement throughout the season. He's really hampered by the secondary situation and the kids need to get some experience under their belts. This is all part of the rebuilding process that will take time.

Bottom Line

I was hesitant about making this pick due to the turnover on KC's offense. It certainly can't be worse than 2012, but I don't expect it to be a smooth transition on day one. That said, I do like the fact that Alex Smith plays a smart game, and he has Jamaal Charles, Dwayne Bowe, and a solid offensive line in support. That, and he's facing an anemic pass rush and iffy secondary.

Yet, what solidifies this as a solid pick for me is the mismatches in favor of KC's defense. I can't imagine how frustrating 2012 was for them given what they had to put up with. With a fresh start and a weak opponent, I expect them to kick off 2013 with a bang.

NFL Pick: KC -3.5.