Jacksonville Jaguars (4-9 SU, 5-7-1 ATS) at Atlanta Falcons (8-5 SU, 5-6-2 ATS), Thursday December 15th, 2011. 8:20PM EST. NFL Football Week 15
Georgia Dome Atlanta, Ga.
By Jay Horne, Pro Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: Jax +11/ATL -11
Over/Under Total: 42
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The Atlanta Falcons stormed back from a 23-7 deficit last Sunday to score 24 unanswered points to take down the Carolina Panthers 31-23. The gutsy performance moved the Falcons to the 8-5 mark on the year and kept them in control of their destiny in the playoff picture. Not only do the Falcons still control their postseason faith, but they also have an outside shot to win the AFC South if a lot of things fall their way. Still, Atlanta will look to keep a strangle hold on their postseason position this week when they host the Jacksonville Jaguars for a huge Thursday Night showdown inside the Georgia Dome.
The Jaguars ended a 3 game losing streak last Sunday with a blowout victory over the Buccaneers 41-14. The Jaguars cashed in on 7 different Tampa Bay turnovers in that game to score their most lopsided victory in over 2 years. This week Jacksonville looks to keep that momentum going when they travel to Atlanta and battle the Falcons on the Thursday Night stage. However, the odds are stacked against Jacksonville to score their 2nd straight victory. In fact, odds makers currently have the Jaguars listed as 11 point underdogs in their Thursday night contest with Atlanta.
So far this season Jacksonville is 2-0-1 ATS in games where they have been more than double digit underdogs. However, that has not stopped the betting public from siding with the Falcons. In fact, 65% of the betting action is favoring Atlanta to cover the 11 point spread. The Falcons have only been double digits favorites once this season when they were 10 point favorites over Minnesota earlier this year. The Falcons won that game by 10 points exactly resulting in a push. However, if you look through the history books the Falcons failed to cover the spread in their last 5 games where they were favored by more than 10 points prior to this season.
If the Falcons are to win the game and possibly cover the spread for that matter, QB Matt Ryan will need to have a repeat performance. Ryan had an outstanding showing against the Panthers completing 22 of 38 passing for 320 yards with 4 scores and 0 picks. It was one of Ryan’s best performances of the year statistics wise, but that credit should also go to the Atlanta receiving core as well. WR Julio Jones broke the game wide open with a 75 yard touchdown pass and WR Roddy White caught 7 passes for 86 yards with an additional touchdown as well. The Atlanta receivers normally give defenses a hard time in coverage as they present multiple mismatches on the field, especially when you throw TE Tony Gonzalez into the mix.
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However, the Jaguars pass defense is one of the better groups in the NFL as they rank 4th against the pass holding opponents to just 191 yards per game through the air. Therefore, the Atlanta offense may turn to running back Michael Turner as a more reliable weapon against that Jaguars defense. Turner has already eclipsed the 1,000 yard plateau on the season this year despite being rather quiet in recent weeks. Considering how Jacksonville has struggled at times to stop the run this season, this appears to be a perfect situation for Turner to have a breakout game and end his recent slump.
For the Jaguars, they still need to find some answers on the offensive side of the ball. Sure Jacksonville scored 41 points last week with the help of 7 turnovers, but that was also the only game this season the Jags have scored more than 20 points. In actuality, the Jacksonville offense ranks dead last in the NFL averaging a measly 260 yards per game. Running back Maurice Jones-Drew has posted big numbers running the football and leads the NFL with 1,222 yards on the ground. While those numbers are impressive, Jones-Drew has nearly 40 more rushing attempts than any of the other top rushers in the league. The reason is simple. The Jaguars only offense is the running game with Jones-Drew.
QB Blaine Gabbert has not provided any answers behind center completing just 50% passing for 1,783 yards with 10 scores and 9 picks. Gabbert had another so-so type performance last week completing 19 of 33 passing for 217 yards with 2 scores and 2 picks against the Buccaneers. However, completing just half your passes will not get offenses very far in the NFL and that is something that has to change for this Jaguars offense to become a dangerous force again. However in my opinion, I just don’t think Gabbert is the guy that can make that happen.
Jay’s Pick to Cover the Point Spread: Even with Gabbert behind center, the Jaguars defense should keep this game close unless Jacksonville coughs the ball up multiple times. Both Jacksonville and Atlanta lead the NFL in rushing attempts which should keep the clock running in this game. Therefore if a low scoring game presents itself, I like the points the Jags are receiving. Take Jacksonville +11.
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