NFL Pick: 2023 Jacksonville Jaguars Over 9.5 Wins (-150) at BetRivers
The Jacksonville Jaguars turned a 2-6 start into a division title and thrilling playoff win in Doug Pederson’s first year as a head coach. Expectations are higher for 2023, but the over/under for Jacksonville is still only set at 9.5 wins at the top online sportsbooks.
Trevor Lawrence had his breakout season in Year 2 last year, but expectations will also be higher for him with another big weapon in town in Calvin Ridley. This team also has a young defense that could be interesting in a division that expects to feature rookie quarterbacks with the 2023 Houston Texans (C.J. Stroud) and the 2023 Indianapolis Colts (Anthony Richardson).
The Jaguars are in an unusual spot of division favorite, but with the rebuild nature of the Colts and Texans and the window closing on Mike Vrabel’s Titans, it makes sense why Jacksonville is the new “it” team in the AFC South.
But should you have concerns about this team living up to the hype? After all, the Jaguars were 2-6 and needed a lot to go right to get in the tournament last year. Only 4 teams in NFL history have ever started 2-6 and still won 9 games, and 3 of them happened last year with Jacksonville, Pittsburgh, and Detroit.
The biggest addition to the Jacksonville roster this year is a player the team already acquired last November in a trade. He just could not play because he was serving out a suspension for gambling. But it is not much of a gamble to add Calvin Ridley to this offense and see if he can help it improve.
Enter Calvin Ridley
These moves were widely panned a year ago with predictions that the Jaguars overpaid and would regret these signings. However, Pederson and Lawrence made every signing work as they were the leading receivers with over 750 yards each.
A Good Surprise
Kirk was especially good for Lawrence. Kirk had 1,108 yards and 8 touchdowns, and he scored a few times in the playoffs as well. He looked the part of a legitimate No. 1 wide receiver, and it will be interesting to see if that remains the case in 2023.
Calvin Ridley is here after serving his suspension. In his last full year with the Falcons, Ridley had 1,374 yards and 9 touchdowns in Atlanta, outproducing Julio Jones. He is a couple of inches taller than Kirk and could be a bigger play threat.
But after the chemistry Lawrence showed with Kirk, it could still be Kirk who leads the team in receiving as Ridley gets comfortable in the offense having missed a full year. This move should pay off in the long run though, and Ridley does make the team more likely to deal with those elite scoring teams like the Chiefs, Bengals, and Bills.
The Jaguars did not go crazy in free agency, so the draft was important in stocking the depth on this team. But in the 1st round, the Jaguars opted for a new right tackle in Anton Harrison, who should start in Week 1.
The rest of the draft focused on defensive depth with the Jaguars making 6 picks in the final 2 rounds alone. Could any of these players start down the road for Jacksonville? Possibly, but the team already has a lot of young starting talent on that side of the ball.
Speaking of drafts, something the Jaguars will want to see is Travon Walker, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2022 draft, taking the next step in Year 2. He had 21 pressures and 3.5 sacks as a rookie. That sack rate is low for that many pressures, so it could easily improve this year with natural progression from Walker.
2023 Schedule Analysis
The Jaguars notched a few impressive wins last year over the Chargers, Ravens, and Cowboys, so it was not like this team barely had a winning record by beating up on scrubs and backup quarterbacks.
The schedule this year could feature more elite teams as the Jaguars must play the:
However, all those games are at home except for Buffalo, which is being played overseas in early October instead of in winter weather in Buffalo late in the year. That is good news for the Florida team.
Even if the Jaguars went 0-5 in those games, that still leaves 12 potential wins against a schedule that could feature 5 games against the rookie quarterbacks, including the Panthers (Week 17)with the division teams (Colts and Texans).
The division could get Jacksonville halfway to 10 wins by itself as long as Lawrence is playing well. The Jaguars also get to play Atlanta (Week 4), Cleveland (Week 14), and Tampa Bay (Week 16). Ten days to prepare for a trip to Pittsburgh in Week 8 is also winnable for this team.
It is understandable to have some caution and reservations about this Jacksonville team. After a 2-6 start, the Jaguars still trailed by 17 points in 5 more games the rest of the year, tied with Seattle for the most such games after Week 9. This team was playing from behind often last year, and you cannot always count on getting defensive return touchdowns to win games or pulling off 17-point comebacks multiple times.
But the logical progression here is a better team, and Lawrence getting another weapon is an exciting move for the offense. When Pederson was the coach of the Eagles, they won the Super Bowl in his 2nd year in 2017 when no one was projecting that before the season started.
This team may not be ready for that kind of jump, but at least the schedule offers a lot of these litmus tests where we get to see how the Jaguars fare against the elite teams. Take the over 9.5 wins for your NFL best bets.
NFL Pick: 2023 Jacksonville Jaguars Over 9.5 Wins (-150) at BetRivers
2022 Recap: The Wild Ride to the Playoffs
The Jaguars were partying like it was 1996 again last season. That 1996 team, the 2nd year in franchise history, started 3-6 before rallying to make the playoffs with a 9-7 record and they even won a pair of playoff games on the road.
In 2022, the Jaguars were again fielding a young team with promise with Pederson hoping to right the many wrongs of Urban Meyer’s staff from last year. The first order of business was getting Trevor Lawrence on track in Year 2. It did not come along right away with Jacksonville starting 2-6 and losing the kinds of games we are used to seeing them lose.
But a 17-point comeback against the Raiders was the turning point. Lawrence picked up his play, and he had an even brighter moment in a 28-27 comeback win over the Ravens where he delivered the best game-winning drive of his career.
In a game against Dallas, a top defense, Lawrence led a 17-point comeback in the 2nd half and the Jaguars won 40-34 in overtime after the defense returned a tipped ball for a touchdown.
The Jaguars were still alive thanks to the Titans, who were once 7-3, continuing to lose week after week. The defense stepped up for Jacksonville late in the year, and they caught a break when Ryan Tannehill was injured, forcing inexperienced quarterback Josh Dobbs to get the start in a crucial Week 18 game for the division title.
The Titans shut down the Jacksonville running game, which looked better in the 2nd half of the year after the move to make Travis Etienne the workhorse back instead of splitting time with James Robinson. But the defense was able to force Dobbs into a fumble for a touchdown return in the final 3:00 to win 20-16 and punch the team’s ticket to the playoffs.
The Wild-Card Game
In a wild-card game at home, the Jaguars had a good chance to sweep a Chargers team they beat 38-10 back in Week 3. But this time, Lawrence threw 4 early interceptions and the Chargers led 27-0. However, if you know anything about the Chargers, then you know they are capable of blowing any lead.
The Chargers watched Jacksonville chip away at the deficit before coming all the way back to win 31-30 on a last-second field goal. It is the 3rd-biggest comeback win in playoff history.
The Jaguars had just one comeback win of more than 15 points in the team’s first 455 games dating back to 1995. But they now had comebacks of 17, 17, and 27 in their last 10 games of the season.
It looked like Jacksonville might even catch a huge break in the divisional round in Kansas City when Patrick Mahomes injured his ankle in the 1st quarter. However, Mahomes returned to finish the game and the Jaguars had a couple of bad turnovers late in the game to lose 27-20.
Still, it was a successful season for the team, and it should serve them well going forward.