Green Bay Packers (0-0 SU, 0-0 ATS) vs. Jacksonville Jaguars (0-0 SU, 0-0 ATS)
NFL Week 1
Date/Time: Sunday, September 11, 2016 at 1PM EST
Where: EverBank Field
by Evergreen, Expert Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: GB -4.5/JAX +4.5
Over/Under Total: 48
That first week of college football action was great but I’m so glad that the NFL season is kicking off this weekend. One of the more interesting matchups in Week 1 takes place in Jacksonville as Aaron Rodgers leads the Packers south to take on the Jaguars. Both offenses appear ready to put on a display and both teams are looking to get off to a good start this season after disappointing campaigns in 2015. Gus Bradley is on thin ice in his fourth year as the head coach in Jacksonville with owner Shahid Khan going public with his impatience about not having a winner on the field. A bad effort in this one has that seat growing hotter for Bradley. The Packers made the playoffs last season but never looked right after losing Jordy Nelson in training camp and were never viewed as a realistic threat to win the conference. Nelson is back healthy from his ACL tear and all reports have him ready to give it a full-go this Sunday. I’m sure Rodgers is happy to have his favorite target back but the Pack will have to prove that Nelson’s return is all they needed to get right and not that the league has figured out how to stop them.
The news out of camp has always been that the Green Bay offense would be whole to start the season and the online betting sites responded by tabbing the Packers as 4.5 point favorites. That is a very predictable line that would be associated with traditional Rodgers led teams but I think this would have been a one or one and a half point line at the end of last year, just to show the difference that Nelson’s return makes. The Packers are 4-0 against the spread in their last four played in September and are 5-1 ATS in the last six games on the road. You won’t find many positive ATS trends associated with the Jags but they are 12-5 against the spread in the last seventeen opening week games. The fall is pretty fast with Jacksonville just 9-23 ATS in the last 32 games played in September. I guess they love week one but can’t hold off reality past that first game.
While I think it is clear that Green Bay owns some key positional advantages, it is plausible that Jacksonville puts up enough points to stay in this game from the start. Blake Bortles has proven to be more than capable while throwing for over 4,400 yards and 35 touchdowns last season. He is a sneaky-good scrambler as well and he should have no real issues moving the ball against a Green Bay defense that can be beat on the ground and with the pass. Allens Robinson and Hurns were on the receiving end of 24 touchdown passes as Jacksonville finished the season as the 10th best passing outfit in the NFL. Some of that air prowess came as necessity however as the Jags trailed big in so many games that the offense put up a lot of meaningless stats while chasing points. The Jags were very busy in free agency, especially on the defensive side where Malik Jackson was brought in to help shore up a defense that finished second to last in points allowed. Prince Amukamara should help on the defensive perimeter and the addition of Chris Ivory is a signal that the offense may try to control the ball and the clock this season.
If you didn’t see a lot of Packer games last season, you might be a bit confused still about why they struggled so much on offense. Jordy Nelson is a tough player to replace but no one could have predicted just how valuable he was to this team. It turns out Rodgers needs that trust factor with his receiving corps and he simply did not have the trust in Randall Cobb and Davante Adams playing the 1-2 instead of the 2-3. To make matters worse, the Packers were reluctant to install new concepts and the book got out on them pretty quick. Throw in offensive line struggles and too many trips to the buffet for Eddie Lacy and the Packers fell to 24th in total yards gained. Now, is Jordy Nelson going to cure all those woes? No, not by himself but Lacy has trimmed down and is playing in a contract year and all the receivers are back where A-Rod wants them so the Pack reverting to a top-5 offense is almost universally expected. To be honest, I think there will be lingering issues for Green Bay but they will be better and I don’t think the Jags are going to be good enough right away with the new defensive pieces to overly stress Rodgers and Co.
Gameflow is going to be so important for the Jaguars’ chances this week. Using Ivory and T.J. Yeldon to play keep-away has to be plan A, especially as Bortles has proven to be turnover-prone with 18 interceptions last year. Green Bay is a statistically average defense but they are so dangerous with a lead as Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers remain one of the best pass-rush duos in the league. Keeping the Packers honest on defense will let the Jags be versatile on offense and Julius Thomas should see plenty of good looks down the seam as Green Bay has never invested much effort in covering the tight end. A measured pace will keep Rodgers off the field and that is always a good thing.
The Packers, by comparison, should be moving as fast as they can push the pace. Rodgers is fantastic from the no-huddle and the very best in the league at catching opposing defenses in substitutions. The Packers will be motivated to get the ground game going but the Jags are actually decent at stopping the run so I can see a bit of a slow start in this one. Jacksonville finished as the 4th worst pass defense last year so it should not take long for that Green Bay passing game to find it’s rhythm. Davon House graded out as one of the worst cornerbacks in the league so Rodgers may wind up throwing to Cobb or Adams in that matchup while much of the attention is paid in Nelson’s direction. Converting third downs wound up being a killer for Green Bay last year but the Jags were second worst at getting off the field on defense so put another check in the plus column for the Packers offense.
I think Green Bay comes out and takes control of this one almost from the start. Jacksonville is better and is scheduled to be a better team overall but this is a tough opponent that has dealt with nearly every issue that bothered them in 2015. Even with all the struggles and inefficiencies, Rodgers was able to carry the Packers to the doorstep of the NFC Championship game and I think he is primed to re-claim the top-QB title. That starts in this game and Green Bay can cruise even if Jacksonville is improved as advertised. It doesn’t even have to be about Nelson’s production but I think there is enough of that as Green Bay puts away Jacksonville by a score of 29-20.
Evergreen's Pick to Cover the Point Spread: Green Bay
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