New England Patriots vs. Jacksonville Jaguars Point Spread – Pick Against the Spread

New England Patriots (10-4 SU, 8-6 ATS) vs. Jacksonville Jaguars (2-12 SU, 6-8 ATS)
NFL Week 16
Date/Time: Sunday, December 23rd, 2012, 1:00 p.m. EST
Where: EverBank Field, Jacksonville, Fla.
TV: CBS/DirecTV 711
by Badger, Football Handicapper, Predictem.com

Point Spread: NE -14.5/JAX +14.5
Over/Under Total: 49

The New England Patriots wrapped up the AFC East title weeks ago and now that a first round bye and home-field advantage in the playoffs are a hope and a prayer away, it should be interesting to see how they approach this Sunday’s game on the road at EverBank Field against the two-win Jacksonville Jaguars.

The Patriots dreams of earning the top seed and home-field throughout took a huge hit last week when they started slow and dropped a hard one to the San Francisco 49ers at home, 41-34. To make things even tougher, both Houston and Denver won last Sunday, and since Denver has a one-game lead and an easier schedule in the final two weeks (Cleveland and Kansas City), even the Pats hopes for a first round bye look pretty bleak now.

Since it’s that time of year where the sore muscles and bruised bodies are starting to feel heavier and heavier, the big question for Bill Bilichick and the Patriots front office is how hard to push Tom Brady and company down the stretch without taking the foot off the gas pedal and losing their playoff momentum.

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With only two wins the Jaguars season has been lost for a few months now, but that still doesn’t mean they’ll just roll over and play dead to the Patriots. Prior to last week’s lopsided loss to Miami on the road, 24-3, the Jags have actually been competitive in nearly every game like taking Houston into overtime and the Jets down to the final drive of the game before losing.

Jacksonville has surged a little behind the play of veteran Chad Henne at quarterback, but even Henne is not a miracle worker and the Jags have far too many other holes to fill to make them turn from competitive to winning. But a stunning upset win over the Patriots in week 16 is the kind of game that could make the Jaguars season, so this week is their Super Bowl whether the Patriots play hard or not.

Not too many people are expecting much of a challenge out of the Jaguars in this spot though, especially the folk in Las Vegas who set the opening point spread for this game with New England as 14-point favorites. Within hours the “fade the Jags” crowd had put enough money on New England that the number went up to minus -14.5 or even -15 at some sportsbooks on the Web.

The over/under total opened at 48.5 and can been still found at that number at some offshore sportsbooks, but the rest of the bookmaking world has moved the total up 49 including most of the books in Las Vegas.

Like a lot of teams in the NFL, the Jaguars have been racked with injuries on both sides of the ball. Henne is only playing because starting QB Blaine Gabbert hurt his forearm, and the Jags offense has struggled and dropped to the bottom of the league (284 ypg - 31st; 15.6 ppg -31st) when running back Maurice Jones-Drew went out back in week seven.

Now the defensive side of the ball is falling apart at the seams, with S Dwight Lowery (lower body), DE George Selvie (concussion) and CB Aaron Ross (leg), all of them either starters or strong contributors, all listed as questionable for this week’s game. Even with them healthy the Jags have had their struggles stopping the run (148 ypg - 32nd), so expect the Patriots to work on their run game this week and lessen the burden on Brady in the final two games of the season.

New England hasn’t lost to Jacksonville since the 1999 season, a string of five consecutive wins including a lopsided, 35-7, victory in their last meeting in Foxborough in 2009. It should be noted that only one of those wins was played in Jacksonville, and the 24-21, result was so much closer than any of the blowouts the Pats scored at home in the series.

The Patriots went 4-1 ATS in those five games, with their lone cover coming in the 2008 season when they closed as large 13.5-point underdogs (sound familiar?). Jacksonville hasn’t covered very well at home this year though, going 1-6 ATS at EverBank in the environment that is supposed to give them an advantage.

Badger’s Pick to Cover the Point Spread: I really expected to see a line of -21.5 which sounds ludicrous, but will make sense once this game is over. I can’t imagine a worse scenario for the Jags. The Pats are coming off a tough loss and are a team that will put the pedal down and not let off until the fat lady sings. Jacksonville’s defense is horrible. I fully expect Tom Brady to put up 40 or maybe even 50 points Sunday. I’d be surprised if the Jags scored more than 17, even against the Patriots mediocre defense. I’m all over New England here.

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