The playoff debuts of two exciting young signal callers, Justin Herbert and Trevor Lawrence, has arrived as the Los Angeles Chargers take on the Jacksonville Jaguars. The 9-8 AFC South champion Jaguars are hosting the 10-7 Chargers in a game where temperatures could dip into the low 30s in Jacksonville. Early lines opened with the point spread as low as a pick'em in some places, but now has the visiting Chargers at -2.5 point favorites and a total of 47.5 points. Let's preview the first AFC contest of the playoffs and see if we can find a smart place to make a wager. Here are the Chargers-Jaguars odds to take advantage of.
Is Home-Field Advantage a True Advantage for Jacksonville?
The Jaguars don't have markedly different splits on offense or defense based on where they are playing and they are 5-3 at home and 4-5 on the road. Similar can be said about the Chargers, who have virtually even performances this year. However, there is buzz around Jacksonville's first playoff appearance with top pick Trevor Lawrence, so I do expect the crowd to come out with more energy than normal in Jacksonville.
One consideration is that the Chargers will have to fly three time zones from Los Angeles for this game. Traditionally this is a horrible gambling omen from teams flying from the west coast to east, but because the start time for this game is in the evening, I don't expect that to have the typical impact.
Will Health Issues Be a Factor, Especially for the Chargers?
The Los Angeles Chargers have been one of the teams impacted the most by injury this season, losing star acquisition J.C. Jackson from the secondary early in the year, and dealing with injuries at the wide receiver position for most of the season. The good news for the Chargers is that star defensive end Joey Bosa has been a full participant in all practices this week, as has starting right tackle Trey Pipkins. The big question mark will be if wide receiver Mike Williams can go, after he injured his back in last week's game. Many pundits have been critical of coach Brandon Staley's decision to keep his biggest weapons in during the Week 18 finale. Williams is currently listed as questionable, and his downfield receiving ability certainly adds an element to the Chargers offense. All in all the Chargers are nearly the healthiest they have been all season, something the organization has been desperately craving.
The Jaguars remain relatively healthy, with quarterback Trevor Lawrence's appearance on the injury report with a toe issue expected to have little impact on the game.
Should You Care About the Jaguars Early Season Blowout Win over the Chargers?
Back in Week 3 the Jaguars went west to Los Angeles and laid an absolute beat down on the Chargers, with a four touchdown victory. Jacksonville would go on to lose 6 of their next 7 games before regaining their stride late in the year and rattling off 5 straight wins.
While the win was impressive for the Jaguars, Justin Herbert was dealing with a rib cartilage fracture suffered the prior week and the Chargers were without top receiving weapon Keenan Allen.
The biggest difference in this game was the rushing attack of Jacksonville scampering for 151 yards, while Los Angeles could muster just 26 on the ground. Combine that with nearly a 17 minute edge in time of possession and a 2-0 margin of victory in the turnover column and the Jaguars owned the game.
Since then the Chargers defense has improved significantly, allowing more than 20 points just once in their last five games. Lump in the improved defense with the return of Bosa, Keenan Allen and a healthier Herbert under center and it's hard to imagine the Jaguars won't see a different Chargers team this weekend.
Do These Offenses Deserve a 47.5 Point Total?
I think we are actually asking the wrong question here, which is ironic because I am the one asking it. While the offenses are both in the top half of the league in scoring, it's really the defensive inefficiencies that we need to be asking about.
Let's take a look at some of the Jaguars games as they have made their run to the playoffs in the second half of the season. Against the high octane and healthy offenses, the Jaguars defense proved to be worrisome at best, instead praying on the league's bottom feeders on their way to the playoffs. The Jags gave up 4 touchdowns and 300 yards passing to Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs, as well as 27 points to the Ravens, 34 points to the Cowboys and 40 points to the Lions.
Their late season victories came against the Titans twice, once playing against third string quarterback Josh Dobbs, who had only been on the team's active roster for a couple of weeks. Sandwiched between those wins were games against Davis Mills and the Texans and Zach Wilson's final start of the year against the Jets. Wilson was so bad in that contest he was replaced by undrafted Canadian Football League backup Chris Streveler. Not exactly an offensive gauntlet.
So yes, while it's the Jaguars job to play who is put on the schedule in front of them, we can deduce that the defense can be outclassed by the top end offenses in the NFL. The Chargers defense has performed better of late, holding Tua and a healthy Miami Dolphins team to just 17 points a few weeks ago, but throughout the year Staley and his defense have struggled to compete against strong rushing offenses.
Are There Any Trends We Can Learn from Early Betting?
The only trend is that the spread has swung several points from its opening line at a pick'em or Jaguars +1, to the Jaguars +2.5. Currently about 58 percent of the bets have been placed on the Chargers, but some of those were designed to capture the early line, and it is likely closer to an even percentage later in the week. The point total has risen slightly as well from 47 to 47.5 at most places, likely due to 78 percent of the wagers being on the over.
While the line has adjusted to match betting interest, I don't think we can see clear evidence of substantial sharp money on this game at this point.
So What's the Play for Wild Card Weekend?
While historically wildcard weekend games run under their projected point totals and the weather will be colder than typical in Jacksonville, I still expect this game to hit the over this weekend. It's always dangerous to bet the over on one of the highest totals on the board, but the reality is both quarterbacks have been playing good football the last two months, and both defenses have struggled to contain dynamic offensive attacks.
I don't think the Jaguars have an answer for the combination of weapons the Chargers have in the passing game, and I expect if either team gets ahead early that this game will showcase an aggressive approach on offense. As we have seen from his time in Philadelphia, Doug Pederson is not afraid to get in a shootout in the playoffs.
I will be placing a medium sized bet on the over, and a small bet on the Chargers to cover as long as the line stays under 3 points. I'm expecting a shootout in Jacksonville on Saturday night that ends with Los Angeles advancing 33-26.
It might seem like the obvious play but, I just think the Chargers are better than the Jaguars and the offenses are better than the defenses.
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