AFC South rivals will clash this weekend as the Jacksonville Jaguars host the Tennessee Titans. Game time is scheduled for 1:00 EST on Sunday, September 23, at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville. Fans in local markets can see the game on CBS.
Oddsmakers are listing the Jaguars as 9-point favorites at home with an over/under is set at 39 points. Click here to see a full list of this week’s NFL odds.
With their 2-0 start, the Jaguars have announced to the world that last year’s run to the AFC Championship Game was no fluke. The Jags survived a tricky road game against the Giants in Week 1 and then beat the Patriots in convincing fashion last week. With a little help from the Jacksonville defense, Blake Bortles outplayed Tom Brady to further raise expectations that the Jaguars will be Super Bowl contenders this season.
Meanwhile, the Titans have had a rather erratic start to their season coming off last year’s playoff appearance. Tennessee came up short in Week 1 against Miami in a game that was plagued by multiple weather delays. However, with Marcus Mariota out with an elbow injury, the Titans were able to rally behind Blaine Gabbert last week to beat the Texans 20-17, salvaging a 1-1 start to the season. Unfortunately, Mariota’s status for Week 3 is still up in the air.
With these two teams being the top teams in the AFC South last season and both making the playoffs, there is a budding rivalry between the Jaga and Titans. Tennessee has had the better of things lately, winning four of the last five head-to-head meetings with Jacksonville, including a two-game sweep last season. Of course, that could make the Jaguars just as motivated to beat the Titans on Sunday as they were against New England last week.
With Mariota’s status uncertain, the Jaguars blowing out the Titans is a distinct possibility. However, it’s tough to swallow this many points in a rivalry game. I also think it’s inevitable for the Jags to have some kind of let down following last week’s win over the Patriots. With or without Mariota, I think the Titans have enough on their roster to avoid getting blown out. I’ll take my chances with Tennessee keeping this game within nine points, even if a win seems unlikely.
It sounds crazy, but Gabbert getting the start for the Titans isn’t the worst thing in the world. Long-term, Tennessee needs Mariota to be healthy. But Gabbert has become a competent enough backup. In fact, he started for Arizona last year when they beat the Jaguars. He won’t do anything spectacular, but he was 13 for 20 for 117 yards and a touchdown last week against a solid Houston defense. It wasn’t pretty, but he did enough to help the Titans win that game.
The key, of course, is the Tennessee rushing attack. The numbers in terms of yards per carry say the duo of Dion Lewis and Derrick Henry have been rather mediocre through two games. But the Titans have reached 100 yards rushing in both games. There’s nothing wrong with letting those two guys keep pounding the ball on the ground and trying to wear down the opposing defense. As long as the Titans don’t fall behind by two touchdowns or more, I expect them to stay committed to the run, which I believe will help keep them within striking distance.
Likewise, the Jaguars will be relying on a strong rushing attack this week. As well as Bortles played last week, Jacksonville still needs to run the ball to set up the passing attack. Much like Tennessee, the Jags are facing some potential injury problems with both Leonard Fournette and T.J. Yeldon listed as questionable to play on Sunday. Corey Grant is a capable backup, but if the Jags are missing both Fournette and Yeldon, they may not be able to rely on their running game against a Tennessee defense that’s been vulnerable against the run this season.
It’s important to keep in mind that while Bortles is occasionally brilliant, he’s not the most consistent quarterback from week to week. As well as he played last week, the week before against the Giants he was passable at best. He’s accustomed to having a reliable running game, and not having that could throw him off his game.
Also, remember that Bortles will be facing a defense that got the better of him twice last season. The Titans should have a good idea of what Bortles can do, as does Mike Vrabel, who has spent the last three seasons facing Bortles on Houston’s coaching staff.
With Mariota’s status still uncertain, it’s definitely tempting to swallow the points and take the Jags to cover at home. However, Jacksonville has some injury questions as well. I also don’t think the Titans are completely reliant on Mariota. If he doesn’t play, things will obviously be much harder, but with an extra nine points, I’m still leaning toward the Titans to beat the spread.