It’s finally playoff time, and this Saturday night, we’ve got a good one. It’s two teams with young first-time playoff QBs, as both franchises have had a medium-length hiatus from postseason participation. Let’s take a look at the odds and make some picks for this Wild Card clash between the Jaguars and Chargers.
Chargers Vs. Jaguars Betting Odds
As the team with the better record but the road team in this one, the Chargers are a narrow favorite at -2. The total is a pretty standard 47.5, as this one could go any number of ways.
Chargers Vs. Jaguars Prediction
When these two teams met in week 3, things were very different, to say the least. Justin Herbert was somewhat-inexplicably playing through broken ribs, and the Jags picked up what ended up being one of just two wins in their first 8 games. Now, Herbert is healthy, and after a 6-1 run to end the season, the Jaguars are one of the hottest teams in football, and as division champions, will host a postseason game for the first time since their magical 2017 season.
Surely, this game is a quarterback story, above all else. Trevor Lawrence has been in the spotlight since perhaps even before he got to Clemson, but he’s been heralded as something akin to the second coming of Peyton Manning ever since leading the Tigers to an emphatic National Championship victory as a freshman. He was never asked to carry much of the load in college, however, so entering the NFL on a pretty rough team was always going to be an important test. The results overall have been mixed- Lawrence has been one of the streakier quarterbacks in the league over the past couple of seasons- but what he’s helped the team achieve is undeniable, a playoff berth after two consecutive seasons of picking first is something to be really proud of. We’ll see if he can continue acing tests, and extend the postseason magic he flashed at Clemson.
On the other sideline, we have a quarterback who came out of college with more questions being asked by evaluators, and was the third QB taken in his draft class. Herbert has also been a bit uneven at times in the NFL, but on an oft-injured Chargers team with an unbelievably incompetent coaching staff, he’s raised eyebrows with what he can do with the football in his hands. I’ve often said that he’s been the most-hyped quarterback who’s never won anything at all- a division, a conference title, or even a playoff game- and while the hype is not undeserved, that’s not a distinction anyone really wants. But now, in his first postseason campaign, he has a chance to change that, and start building a reputation as a winner.
This game excites me in large part because I truly am not sure what’s going to happen; Vegas sees this one as very even, and so do I. That being said, I am going to side with the better record in the far tougher division, and the much more talented roster. I understand if the concept of betting on Brandon Staley and Joe Lombardi in a road playoff makes your stomach turn a bit, but the Chargers have too much going for them to ignore, and won the last four meaningful games of their season. I know the Jags ended hot too, but the opponents have been very questionable, and man, was that Titans win unconvincing. Both sides have plenty to prove, and I believe Los Angeles will do just that; they’re my pick to cover the narrow spread.
The scoring total, I have a bit more confidence in; I like the under a lot. The Jags offense has had puzzling stretches, like a three-week stretch where they were shut down by a very questionable Lions defense, and then turned around and hung 40 on the excellent Dallas defense. On the LA offense side of things, they’ll be missing key offensive tackle Rashawn Slater, and may or may not be without the services of star wideout Mike Williams. That all being said regarding the offenses, both defenses are trending up to end the season; I see this one being a hard-fought battle that stays below the points total.
The Chargers are hot against the spread, as they’re 4-0-1 in their past 5 games. Meanwhile, the Jags are 4-1 ATS during the same stretch.
The under is 5-1 in the Chargers’ past 6 games, and 11-3 in the past 14 Jags games played in Jacksonville.
Chargers Injuries: Rashawn Slater (O), Mike Williams (Q), Joey Bosa (Q)
Jaguars Injuries: Brandon Scherff (Q), Cam Robinson (O), Shaquill Griffin (O)
Jaguars Passing Offense vs. Chargers Pass Defense
When it comes to the task of outgunning a very talented Chargers team, a big day out of Lawrence would go a long way towards securing a Jaguars win. However, while his second season can be considered nothing if not triumphant, there’s reason to believe that he could be in for a tough evening in this matchup. While LA’s season-long metrics are not outstanding, they’ve been steadily improving over the later stages of the season, as they’re second in the NFL in pass DVOA since week 8.
Since the defensive players meeting called by Kyle Van Noy after the week 13 loss to Vegas, the team’s defensive efficiency has leapt up to 5th-best in the league, all the way from 26th, and their yardage allowed per game has fallen from 371.7 to 238.3, the best figure in the league over that time period. Derwin James has been mostly healthy and the team’s best overall defender, as per PFF; he’s versatile enough to be a major positive in both pass coverage over the top, and as a rusher in more of a box-safety role. Michael Davis has also put together a really nice year in the secondary, as he’s been a key cornerback for Los Angeles this season.
Jacksonville famously splurged on weapons for Lawrence this offseason, and I’d say it’s worked out fairly well in terms of team results, although Lawrence could be slightly more prolific, and PFF rates the receiving group as just 22nd-best in the league. Newcomers Christian Kirk and Zay Jones have led the way, with 1108 and 823 yards, respectively, to go along with over 80 catches each as well as 8 touchdowns for Kirk and 5 for Jones. Tight end Evan Engram has also experienced something of a resurgence, as he caught 73 balls for 766 yards. Many metrics see Lawrence himself as just above league average; among qualifiers, he’s 10th in passer rating, 15th in total QBR, and 13th in PFF’s rankings.
Perhaps the biggest question, however, is that of the performance of Jacksonville’s offensive tackles. Cam Robinson going down for the year is a huge deal, he was replaced by Walker Little who did well last week, but against a depleted Titans defense, was not facing a caliber of pass rushing anywhere close to what he’ll be seeing with Joey Bosa and Khalil Mack on the other side. The Jags have had the 6th-best pass blocking line this year, per PFF, but the line is a unit and losing an individual like Robinson can hurt the whole group immensely; we’ll need to see a big day out of Little after he’s had limited opportunities to prove himself so far this season.
Chargers Passing Offense vs. Jaguars Pass Defense
When we’re looking at the air game on both sides of the ball, you know we’re in for a fun ballgame; whether or not it’s high scoring, this game should be wide open, and has the potential to include plenty of big plays. And there’s nobody quite like Justin Herbert when it comes to big plays, who has one of the best pure arm talents in the entire league right now. He had something of an up-and-down season, as he played through injury and dealt with absences for his top wideouts, but the ability to play high-level football is undeniable.
Although Mike Williams is an injury question, it looks like the offense might be mostly intact for the Jacksonville clash, which would be a huge boost for a group that ranked as the 11th-best pass-catching corps in the league despite the assorted injuries. The offensive line has been a bit iffy, and tackle Rashawn Slater does not look like he’s going to make his return from injury this week, so there’s some vulnerability there, although rookie Jamaree Salyer has done a great job in relief thus far. But with the full group of offensive skills intact, the sky is still the limit for this Chargers offense, look for big days from guys like Austin Ekeler as a receiver- the running back caught over 100 passe for 722 yards this year- and Gerald Everett, as the Jacksonville defense has really struggled with covering tight ends in recent weeks.
They’ll be going up against a Jaguars defense that is, by many metrics, bottom five against the pass, although things have improved in recent weeks. The shift has come along with switching Darious Williams from a slot role to playing on the outside; in the five weeks since that move, the Jags are a respectable 14th in pass defense DVOA, third in dropback EPA, and an astonishing first in the NFL in overall defensive EPA. This defense isn’t the most talented on Earth, but they’re coming together at the right time and will surely make things tough for the Chargers on Saturday.
The pass rush has been a positive over the scope of the whole season, despite a disappointing rookie year from first-overall pick Travon Walker. Josh Allen has been excellent off of the edge, while Davon Hamilton and Dawuane Smoot have provided solid support along the d-line en route to a team pass rush grade that places Jacksonville 7th in PFF’s rankings. Getting to Herbert will be a priority; it’s important to not put too much burden on this secondary, and it will be a doable task with Slater out on the left, and Trey Pipkins struggling at right tackle.