The Atlanta Falcons (8-5) continue on their journey to secure a 3rd playoff appearance in 4 years, as they play host to the visiting Jacksonville Jaguars (4-9), a team that has struggled to find success on offense despite the best efforts of the NFL’s top running back.
Maurice Jones-Drew (1222 yards, 7 TDs) has truly been the lone bright spot for Jacksonville this season, as the Jags have had to deal with their long-standing head coach Jack Del Rio being fired and their passing game slumping to dead last in the league behind rookie quarterback Blaine Gabbert who continues to struggle with accuracy and poise in the pocket. Despite having a stout defense that ranks 4th in the league overall on their solid efforts to stop opposing passing game (allowing just 190.8 yards/game), Jacksonville simply hasn’t been able to overcome the lack of offensive production from the passing game, which is averaging a measly 140 yards per contest and has produced just 10 touchdowns all year. However, signs of improvement for the offense were evident all around last weekend as the Jags prevailed by a score of 41-14 over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, putting up more than 20 points of offense for the first time all season, and more points in a single game than at any time in the last 4 years. With MJD going for 2 rushing touchdowns as well as 2 more through the air, Jacksonville managed 21 first downs and found ways to score in all aspects of their game, including getting 1 TD on special teams and 1 by the vaunted defense. With a much bigger test awaiting the Jags offense tonight, as they move on from beating up on a fading Bucs team at home to standing toe-to-toe on the road against a playoff contender in the Atlanta Falcons, the ability of the Jags to move the football against a quickly improving defense will be one of the key areas of the game to watch for this evening, but with a confidence-boosting win under their belts there’s no doubt Jacksonville should make this game interesting one way or another.
The Atlanta Falcons on the other almost had their playoff hopes significantly dampened last weekend as they found themselves trailing Carolina 23-7 at half, before rallying late on 24 unanswered points to secure a 31-23 victory. Riding the strong arm of quarterback Matt Ryan, who threw for 4 touchdowns and 320 yards in the win, Atlanta used a combination of shutdown defense and their depth at wide receiver to overcome a relatively lackluster performance on the ground, which generated just 86 yards of offense. That ground game featuring Michael Turner as lead back (254 carries, 1,068 yards, 8 TDs) will have to be better especially in the face of a very good Jaguars’ passing game, that will likely keep Matt Ryan in much better check for tonight’s game despite his wealth of talented receivers downfield. Putting up points in any way possible is critical for Atlanta, whose last outing vs. Jacksonville saw them drop a low-scoring 13-7 affair back in 2007. However, with an entirely different team (the one that lost to the Jags finished 4-12) with much better offensive balance across the running and passing game, expectations should be high that Atlanta can muster more scoring tonight at home, especially with star receiver Roddy White (75 catches, 965 yards, 6 TDs), tight end Tony Gonzalez (73 catches, 812 yards, 7 TDs, and rookie down field threat Julio Jones (37 catches, 670 yards, 4 TDs) all able to shoulder their share of the offensive load regardless of match-ups.
The two defenses of Atlanta and Jacksonville both thrive on opposite sides of the defending game. While Jacksonville is lauded for their ability to shut down opposing passing games, the Atlanta defense continues to excel at stopping the run, holding rushing attacks to just 95.2 yards a game over the season. For Jacksonville to be successful in this tough road match-up, it will start with keep the pressure on Matt Ryan, and forcing Atlanta to favor the run. With an offensive line that hasn’t been that good this year, hedging on Michael Turner’s production in the backfield simply hasn’t been that effective. If the Jags can keep this match-up to a low-scoring affair by getting blanket coverage over the Falcons top receivers and forcing a reliance on Turner to produce yardage, Jacksonville’s chances of winning on the road for just the second time this year grow dramatically. However, if Atlanta is allowed to set a tone for the game by generating points with the passing attack, it could quickly turn into a long night for the Jags defense especially if Atlanta can focus in on shutting down Maurice Jones-Drew. There’s no question that MJD is going to find a way to produce, as he’s not only a top rusher but also a fantastic option out in the flats for short dump-offs from Blaine Gabbert, but whether he alone can produce enough offense to contend tonight will remain to be seen.
Betting Lines for Atlanta Falcons vs. Jacksonville Jaguars
Using the featured online sports betting website at TopBet Sportsbook today, we’re spotting the best wagers for the NFL’s Thursday Night showdown, at one of the best new online sportsbooks we’ve reviewed here. Despite Jacksonville’s strong home effort last week, heading back out on the road and into hostile territory has the Jags sitting as a +14 underdog against the spread, with bookmakers obviously skeptical about expectations that Jacksonville can repeat a similar performance against the Falcons. With the money line not giving much option for sports fans to wager on as Atlanta gets -900 odds to win and Jacksonville is a +650 underdog, the best choices for betting on this game lie with the points spread, or the over/under, which sits at 42.5 points. That’s a tricky mark to work with, especially if we see another run-based, low-scoring showdown that has been a reoccurring theme in games featuring the Jags, but with the prospects of Jacksonville showing more confidence on offense especially in their passing game, we might be surprised to see this game turn into a bit more of a shoot-out than initially expected.
Our Pick to Win:
This game is pretty much Atlanta’s to win or lose at home, and as such putting up solid offensive numbers will be crucial. Should Jacksonville keep Atlanta’s offense to just a couple of touchdowns, their opportunistic defense could be the difference maker in the game, and especially against the spread for online sports betting today. While I can’t picture a way that Jacksonville can get Blaine Gabbert to attack the Atlanta secondary with much success considering his awful completion percentage sitting at just over 50 percent, I do think the Jags defense can find a way to limit the effectiveness of Matt Ryan, and force this contest into a ground-first game. That would dramatically reduce the prospects for the total points mark getting pushed over, and would make this a much better contest than most bookmakers have lined up. With a renewed sense of confidence, Jacksonville will put up a good effort, albeit a losing one, but should keep the game close enough through the first half to make it intriguing down the stretch. Getting a win on home turf, Atlanta prevails this evening 24-14, but Jacksonville covers the spread and the under total points wager wins out.