8:15 PM EST, Prem Video – Line: Saints -1.5, Over/Under: 39.5
Week Seven kicks off with a game of high stakes poker in the Big Easy, as the surging Jacksonville Jaguars march into the Superdome to face off against the inconsistent New Orleans Saints, who have yet to find their rhythm on the offensive side of the football. Coming into this season, one of the trendy teams to make a leap into the contender tier was the Jaguars (4-2, 1st in AFC South), who possess many of the ingredients required to make that ascension. A Super Bowl-winning Head Coach (Doug Pederson)? Check. A supremely gifted young Quarterback on a modest rookie contract (Trevor Lawrence)? Double check. A diverse group of playmakers surrounding him? Check again. A defense also littered with young stars coming of age? Check once more. Coming off a campaign in which they improved by a league best SIX games (they drafted number one overall in each of the 2021 and 2022 NFL Drafts) Jacksonville has won TWELVE of their last seventeen outings dating back to last November, including their first playoff victory since 2017, rallying back from a 27-point deficit to topple the Chargers in last January’s Wild Card epic. Natural progression dictated that these cats take another step forward, with that notion pegging them as a dark horse candidate to represent the AFC in Super Bowl LVIII. So, with roughly a third of the schedule in the books, what do we make of these Jags, you ask? Well, it appears that they are right on schedule, even if they haven’t played their best football quite yet. Looking at the numbers, Pederson’s troops rank tenth in points scored (23.7) and thirteenth in total offense (354.7), even if they’ve struggled on third down (36.1%) and within the red zone (50.0%), placing twenty-fourth and twentieth respectively. Defensively, they’ve resided in the middle of the pack as well, though what they have proven to be VERY adept at is taking away the football, forcing an NFL-high FIFTEEN turnovers through six games. Indeed, (Defensive Coordinator) Mike Caldwell has this unit buzzing, as they have logged multiple takeaways in every game thus far save for one, including a +6 differential in their four victories. This was the case in last weekend’s 37-20 blowout of the Colts, which really wasn’t anywhere close to as competitive as the final score would lead you to believe. Simply put, the Jaguars dominated this affair, leading 31-6 at the end of the third quarter before conceding a pair of garbage time touchdowns in the final stanza. Jacksonville only had 233 total yards of offense, but that is where the numbers lie, folks, for Lawrence & Co found themselves operating with a short field on many occasions thanks to a season-best FOUR takeaways from the defense. The hosts scored immediately after each of the first three turnovers, the first two being rushing touchdowns courtesy of (third-year Tailback) Travis Etienne, and the third a 48-yard field goal from (veteran Kicker) Brandon McManus. For his part, Lawrence (pictured below) completed 20-of-30 passes for 181 yards, two touchdowns and an interception, though was sacked thrice and pressured on five occasions. Etienne racked up eighty-three yards from scrimmage on twenty-one touches, while (veteran Receiver) Christian Kirk and (young Tight End) Brenton Strange accounted for the two passing scores. The defense got after (former teammate) Gardener Minshew throughout the afternoon, sacking the QB three times, stripping him of the football once, hitting him on eight occasions, pressuring him nine times, and picking him off three more. (Defensive Backs) Rayshawn Jenkins, Andre Cisco, and Darious Williams each logged an interception, while four different Jags had a hand in the sacks, chief among them (Edge-Rusher) Josh Allen, who forced the fumble to boot. It will be interesting to see just how long this team can ride the wave of takeaways before things start to stabilize on that side of that football, though we expect the offense to have settled into a rhythm by then. Remember, the Jaguars started slowly offensively under Pederson last Fall, and you can see them starting to build up a head of steam now that we’re at the end of October. Lawrence’s stat line is remarkably consistent with that of last season, even though he has been subject to more pressure than in 2022; the third-year QB has already been sacked sixteen times (7.1%) thus far, which is just eleven away from last year’s total (27), with his pressure percentage increasing from 17.5% to 23.4%. As this team gets healthier in the trenches (which we’ll touch upon shortly), he should begin to benefit from performing within a cleaner pocket.
From a betting perspective, the Jaguars are both 4-2 straight-up and against the spread thus far, though have covered three consecutive games in a row, including last weekend’s romp over the Colts (+4). Dating back to last season, Jacksonville has won and covered seven of their last ten outings overall, including a run of SIX straight covers away from EverBank Stadium. Furthermore, being an underdog has certainly been advantageous for bettors, who have cashed in on the Jags in seven of the last ten contests in which they have been branded as underdogs by the oddsmakers, including a 4-1 mark over the past five. Looking at this particular matchup, this is only the SIXTH meeting between these teams since the turn of the century, with Pederson’s troops having covered NONE of the previous five, winning just one outright. In their most recent encounter, a 13-6 affair in Northern Florida back in 2019, the two sides exchanged field goals in a very uneventful affair that was ultimately decided by a short touchdown pass from Teddy Bridgewater to Jared Cook, though neither currently plays for the Saints. The hosts could muster a mere 226 total yards on eleven first downs, with an interception thrown by none other than Minshew on the opening drive of the second half shifting momentum in favor of the visiting side. On the injury front, there are a number of figures to monitor for this midweek showdown in the Big Easy, including (Cornerback) Tyson Campbell (hamstring), (Wide Receiver) Zay Jones (knee), (Offensive Linemen) Brandon Scherff (ankle) and Walker Little (knee), and most importantly, the aforementioned Lawrence. The former number one overall pick came away from that drubbing of Indianapolis with a sprained left knee, though reports coming out of Jacksonville have been positive as Lawrence prepares to start tonight. Looking ahead, the Jags will stay on the road for a trip to Pittsburgh before heading into their bye week, which should provide them with ample preparation time for a (dare we say) potential Super Bowl preview with San Francisco.
Meanwhile, the Saints (3-3, T-2nd in NFC South) may not have been a trendy pick to represent the NFC in Super Bowl LVIII, but they were the favorite to come out of an NFC South that was viewed as nothing but wide @#$%ing open. After struggling over the past two seasons in the wake of (longtime Quarterback) Drew Brees’ retirement followed a year later by the exit of (longtime Head Coach) Sean Payton, one of the league’s most prolific offensive sides has seen the proverbial well dry up on that side of the football, which prompted (HC) Dennis Allen and (General Manager) Mickey Loomis to search for reinforcements last Spring. From 2006 to 2017, New Orleans ranked no worse than sixth in total offense, and after slowly sliding to twelfth in Brees’ final season, they ranked twenty-eighth and nineteenth in that particular category in 2021 and 2022. The NFL has been a QB-driven league for years now, and this team has been starved for consistent play from that position since Brees rode off into the sunset; the Saints started FIVE different Quarterbacks during that span, including Jameis Winston, Trevor Siemian, Ian Book, Andy Dalton, and even Taysom Hill, who isn’t a QB. With that being said, this is a unit that still packs plenty of firepower, including a strong Offensive Line, one of the most versatile Tailbacks in the league (Alvin Kamara), and a number of playmaking pass-catchers (Michael Thomas and Chris Olave). Backed by an aging, yet elite defense, and all that was needed to sit atop the division once again was a steady (healthy) hand at Quarterback, which is why the franchise pounced on the opportunity to sign Derek Carr after he was released by the Raiders. Of course, Allen was then-Oakland’s HC when they drafted Carr (pictured below) back in 2014 and played a large role in bringing his talents to the Big Easy. While far from elite, the 32-year-old was selected to four Pro Bowls with the Raiders, and though he only won 44.3% of his games there, he proved to be clutch with thirty-three game-winning drives (28 fourth quarter comebacks) accounting for over half of his sixty-three victories. A change of scenery was expected to do him good, with the Saints hoping that he would reignite their stagnant attack. So, with six games in the books, how has this experiment fared, you ask? Well, it is hard to say in any manner that the faithful in New Orleans are pleased with what they’ve seen thus far, as Carr & Co rank twenty-fourth overall in points scored (18.2) and twentieth in total offense (333.3), including twenty-third in rushing yards (95.8) and twenty-eighth in yards per carry (3.4) despite attempting the tenth-most rushes in the NFL (28.0), along with twentieth on third down (37.8%) and a disappointing twenty-eighth in the red zone (36.8%). Granted, there have been A LOT of moving parts here, as injuries have beset the Offensive Line, Kamara was suspended for the first three games, and Thomas was working his way back from injuries that have excised the bulk of two seasons. With that being said, this is an offense that has cracked twenty points on just TWO occasions this Fall, with their highest-scoring effort, a 34-0 blowout of the Patriots, coming on the strength of three turnovers from the defense, who also scored in that contest. Of course, Carr has been dealing with a sprained shoulder for a few weeks now (more on that shortly), which must be affecting him in some manner, but no matter how you slice it, this unit has fell well below expectations. It was more of the same in last weekend’s 13-20 defeat at the Texans. Returning home against the franchise that drafted his older brother number one overall in 2002, Carr completed 32-of-50 passes for 353 yards, a touchdown and an interception, though much of that yardage came from the middle of the third quarter onward, with their inability to finish looming large. After driving to the Texans’ 27-yard line, Allen’s troops were forced to settle for a field goal, which (Rookie Kicker) Blake Grupe drilled from forty-five yards out to cut the deficit to seven. After a quick three-and-out, the visitors again drove the ball deep into the hosts’ territory, before being turned away at the 11-yard line, though Grupe would miss the ensuing field goal attempt. Then after the defense held once more, Carr piloted his team to Houston’s 15-yard line, but rather than give Grupe (who missed two on the day) an opportunity for redemption, their attempt on fourth-and-four came up short as Kamara was tackled before the sticks. Lastly, with one final chance to take the lead, New Orleans drove all the way from their own 15-yard line to their opponent’s 24-yard mark, with Carr intercepted on a deep pass down the left hash intended for Thomas, ending the affair altogether. In totality, the visiting side held significant edges in a number of categories, including total yards (430-297), first downs (24-19), and passing yards (357-199), but could not overcome their own self-inflicted wounds and poor execution. There is chatter suggesting that (Offensive Coordinator) Pete Carmichael could be axed if things don’t improve, though the worst could be behind them as this group continues to gel with better health.
From a betting perspective, the Saints may be 3-3 straight-up, but they have continued to vex bettors in covering just ONE of their first six games of the campaign thus far. After winning (and not covering) each of their first two outings, New Orleans lost three of the ensuing four games outright, with their lone cover coming in a 34-0 shutout at New England (-1.5) two weeks ago. Last weekend’s trip to Houston saw them fail to cover as 2.5-point favorites on the road, which hasn’t been a sweet spot for them by any means, posting a 0-2-1 record in such contests this season. Dating back to 2022, Allen’s troops are just 3-6-1 against the spread in their last ten games overall, including 4-6 over their last ten tilts at Caesars Superdome, riding a 4-game losing streak in that latter regard. Being favored has been toxic for this team, who haven’t covered SEVEN outings (0-6-1) when laying points to their opponents, while home field advantage has been averse to say the least; the Saints are currently mired within a 6-game home losing streak against the spread versus teams with a winning road record, which is the case tonight. Looking at this particular matchup, New Orleans has owned the series despite their infrequent encounters, winning and covering four straight since 2007, though it should be stated that one team (NO) has been one of the league’s best during that 16-year period, while the other (JAX) had been one of the worst. In that aforementioned meeting in 2019, Allen was serving as the club’s Defensive Coordinator and must have been pleased as his troops utterly shut down the struggling Jags. With Brees sidelined due to injury, Bridgewater ran the offense well enough, as the visitors took care of the football and controlled the game with clear advantages in total yards (326-226), first downs (18-11), passing yards (240-163), time of possession (33:09), and turnovers (+1). As for players still on the roster, Kamara amassed sixty-five yards from scrimmage on eighteen touches, while Thomas was in prime form with eight catches for eighty-nine yards on twelve targets. On the injury front, Allen & Co are dealing with their share of bumps and bruises on this short week, including the likes of (veteran Linebacker) DeMario Davis (knee), (Offensive Linemen) James Hurst (ankle), Andrus Peat (groin), and Ryan Ramczyk (concussion), (Tailback) Jamaal Williams (hamstring), (Wide Receiver) Chris Olave (toe), (Safety) Tyrann Mathieu (foot), (Pro-Bowl Defensive End) Cam Jordan (back), and (Tight End) Juwan Johnson (calf) are all listed as questionable. Carr is listed as probable as he becomes further removed from suffering a sprained AC joint in his throwing shoulder back in Week Three, though the same cannot be said of (young Edge-Rusher) Payton Turner, who has been placed on Injured Reserve with turf toe. Looking ahead, New Orleans faces a rather soft schedule moving forward, hitting the road to Indianapolis, before returning home to face Chicago, before one more venture away from the Superdome to meet the Vikings, with all three of those teams struggling to deal with significant injuries to offensive playmakers.