NFL Wild Card Saturday Picks: Best Bets for Chargers vs Jaguars, More
Todd Kirkland/Getty Images. Pictured: Justin Herbert.
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John LanFranca: On the surface, you may think the forecasted rain and wind in this game might be a greater detriment to the team who relies more heavily on their passing attack, but I feel strongly it simply hinders the favored team in capitalizing on the edge they already have.
The variance increases in a game with sustained wind and rain. One fumble, dropped pass or player slippage can more often swing the outcome than in a contest played in dry conditions.
The 49ers pressured Geno Smith on nearly 40% of his dropbacks when these teams met in the regular season, and I’m expecting the lack of traction to also hinder the vaunted 49ers’ pass rush.
In the previous 11 occasions we have seen a divisional rematch in the Wild Card Round when the favored team has swept the underdog in the regular season, the favorite is just 6-5 straight-up.
Seattle covered this number in the Week 15 encounter despite getting out-gained 6.2 to 4.5 yards per play and losing the turnover battle.
If we see one of the bigger underdogs come through this weekend to get the win, it will be the Seahawks in a fluky game played in poor conditions. I will happily take the points and I have sprinkled on the money line as well.
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Tony Sartori: There are a couple of reasons why this line is set so low.
First is the presence of Deebo Samuel, who returned in Week 18 after an extended injury absence. Aiyuk, however, still hauled in four catches (on five targets) for 59 yards.
Another reason for this low total is that there is a narrative in the media that Brock Purdy’s go-to guy is George Kittle. And while Kittle has been a touchdown machine of late, Aiyuk has been utilized just as much.
Since Purdy took over in Week 14, Aiyuk and Kittle are tied in receptions, but Aiyuk leads the team in receiving yards. In fact, Aiyuk has racked up at least 44 yards in 11 of his last 13 games, many of which took place with Deebo also in the lineup.
Can he keep it going against Seattle?
In the regular season, the Seahawks defense ranked in the bottom half of the league in pass DVOA. When these two teams met in Week 2, Aiyuk totaled 63 receiving yards and led the team in targets — that was with Deebo fully healthy.
The market has over-adjusted on Aiyuk’s receiving total, making over 43.5 my best bet for Saturday’s first playoff game.
Brandon Anderson: It’s a second straight Saturday night elimination game for the Jaguars, but I’m not sure they’ll survive this time. Jacksonville may have eked out a victory against Joshua Dobbs and the Titans‘ leftovers, but the Chargers are a different animal.
Jacksonville is outstanding at one specific thing — passing the ball with sophomore Trevor Lawrence. The Jaguars offense surprisingly ranks in the top 10 thanks to their No. 6 passing attack.
But Brandon Staley builds his defense to take away the pass, and the Chargers defense has found its footing after the bye. The pass defense has leapt to No. 2 in DVOA since Week 8, and the defense has improved from 16th to 9th overall. Don’t forget, Joey Bosa is also back in the fold.
L.A.’s pass defense should keep Lawrence and his receivers in check, but Jacksonville’s defense can’t do the same against Justin Herbert now that he’s got Keenan Allen back. The Chargers offense ranks top 10 by DVOA over the past six weeks, and Jacksonville’s pass defense is an ugly 28th for the season. The Jaguars’ pass rush is fierce and will be a factor, but Herbert will light this secondary up when he finds time.
Jacksonville’s defense leads the league in EPA over the past five weeks, but has done so against a pathetic schedule. The Jags faced the league’s softest schedule by DVOA, but they’ve proven fraudulent against competent offenses.
In six games against an offense in the top half of the league, the Jaguars have allowed 30 points per game — nearly double their 15.4 points per game in the other games — with a DVOA ranked 31st against the pass and overall. The offense has also fallen off against top defenses, especially the passing attack.
The Jags dominated the matchup in September by the score of 38-10, but Herbert played with bad ribs on a short week without Allen, C Corey Linsley or CB J.C. Jackson, and the Chargers also lost Bosa and LT Rashawn Slater mid-game.
The Chargers are much healthier now and finally look like the team everyone expected coming into the season. Their defense is still leaky against the run but terrific against the pass, the exact right lean in a conference featuring Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen and Joe Burrow.
Wild Card Round hosts who missed the previous year’s playoffs are 12-28 ATS (30%) over the past two decades, and hosts who just won their finale by 10 or less are 9-16-2 ATS (36%). The trends tell us the same thing we’re seeing in the numbers — that the darling Jaguars are a little overrated right now.
Chargers to win and cover is my favorite bet of Wild Card Weekend. As of Friday at 1 p.m. ET, you can still get Los Angeles at -1.5 at Caesars, but it’s -2.5 at most other books. I’d play this to Chargers -2.5.
Ricky Henne: The Chargers’ mind-boggling decision to play Mike Williams in the season finale has been front and center all week long. His back injury was entirely avoidable, which is what makes Brandon Staley’s decision to play him in a meaningless game so frustrating.
Everyone knows it’s a huge loss, but they might not realize just how drastic it is.
Williams played all of six snaps between Weeks 8 and 14 due to an ankle injury. The Bolts’ offensive DVOA over that span was -15.2%, which would be the fourth-worst mark in the NFL for the entire season.
So, how can we use this information to gain an advantage?
Bet Los Angeles vs. Jacksonville at FanDuel
Well, for some reason, Austin Ekeler has struggled to run the ball without Williams in the lineup. He averages 4.5 yards per carry on the season, but just 3.8 when Williams is sidelined.
Truth be told, a dirty little secret about Ekeler is that while he’s one of the league’s best weapons, he’s not all that effective toting the rock except near the goal line.
He may average 4.5 yards per carry, but that’s greatly inflated by a handful of long runs. Ekeler only eclipsed 100 yards on the ground twice all year, and those came in games in which had a run over 70. Take those two games out of the equation and he averages nearly a full yard per carry less (3.6).
Making matters worse is that the Jaguars are relatively stout against the run. They rank 11th in DVOA (-11.8%), according to Football Outsiders. Meanwhile, they struggle mightily against the pass, ranking 30th in DVOA (19.7%).
The Chargers throw the ball the second most in the league behind only the Buccaneers, and that very likely will continue even without Williams. If anything, it might make Ekeler – who is already one of the league’s most targeted players – an even bigger part of the passing game.
Los Angeles loves getting Ekeler the ball in space through the air. In fact, the 123 passes thrown his way rank 19th in the league. They’re 18 more than Christian McCaffrey, who ranks second among running backs with 105 targets, and a whopping 41 more than Rhamondre Stevenson and Leonard Fournette, who are tied for third with 82.
Ekeler is a huge part of the Bolts’ offense, but far more as a receiver than a runner. Look for them to get the ball in his hands often, just not on the ground, which is why I’m on the under for his rushing yards at 51.5.