AFC South Showdown: Tennessee at Jacksonville

AFC South Showdown: Tennessee at Jacksonville

Jacksonville Jaguars vs. Tennessee Titans

Line: Jacksonville -6

Total: 40

Where: TIAA Bank Field, Jacksonville, Florida

When: Saturday, 1/7 at 8:15 p.m. ET

TV: ABC

Two AFC South teams trending in completely opposite directions will square off on Saturday night with the division crown and a playoff spot on the line.

Tennessee was once in firm control of the AFC South proceedings with a 7-3 record, but it has lost all six of its games since then and is playing without starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill. Jacksonville is quietly one of the hottest teams in the NFL, rattling off four straight wins to put itself in the driver’s seat heading into this matchup.

The Jaguars covered the spread for the fourth consecutive game in their 31-3 blowout win over Houston last week, while Tennessee came up short against Dallas with third-string quarterback Joshua Dobbs under center. Jacksonville picked up a 36-22 win as a 3-point road underdog against Tennessee in Week 14 to kickstart its current winning streak.

Oddsmakers opened Jacksonville as a 5.5-point favorite for this matchup, which was flexed to Saturday for TV purposes. The early betting action moved the line up to -6.5 as of Wednesday afternoon, but it was reduced to six by late Wednesday night. The total has been bumped up slightly from 39.5 to 40.

Dobbs is going to make his second straight start for Tennessee after completing 20 of 39 passes for 232 yards, one touchdown and one interception in the 27-13 loss to Dallas last Thursday. Head coach Mike Vrabel opted to go with Dobbs instead of rookie Malik Willis, who had been struggling as Tannehill’s replacement.

Fortunately for Tennessee’s offense, star running back Derrick Henry is expected to play on Saturday after missing last week’s game due to a hip injury. Henry was a full participant in Tuesday’s practice following a pair of limited practice sessions. He is averaging 120.5 yards from scrimmage per game, scoring 13 rushing touchdowns in 15 games.

The Titans have dropped to No. 30 in the NFL offensively (295.8 yards per game), despite having a top-15 rushing attack. They are playing without starting center Ben Jones (concussion), tackle Taylor Lewan (knee) and guard Nate Davis (ankle). Jacksonville is No. 23 in the NFL defensively, allowing 355.9 yards per game.

The Jaguars went 3-7 through their first 10 games this season, but they have won five of their six games since then. They are riding a four-game winning streak coming into this matchup, beating the Titans, Cowboys, Jets and Texans—three of those wins came by at least two touchdowns.

Quarterback Trevor Lawrence did not practice on Tuesday due to a lingering toe injury, but he was able to rest during the fourth quarter of the win against Houston. Lawrence completed 17 of 21 passes for 152 yards and an interception before getting pulled early in the third quarter of the blowout. He has completed 66.5% of his passes for 3,901 yards, 24 touchdowns and eight interceptions.

The Jaguars have relied on their offense to win games, ranked seventh in the NFL in yards per game (365.8). Second-year running back Travis Etienne has been excellent, racking up 1,108 rushing yards and five touchdowns, averaging 5.2 yards per carry.

Wide receiver Christian Kirk is the top target in the passing game, catching 78 passes for 1,009 yards and seven scores. He became the fifth player in franchise history with a 1,000-yard receiving season.

“There’s a reason why he has the numbers he does, and it’s because of his work ethic,” head coach Doug Pederson said. “He’s been great for the room and great for our team.”

Tennessee is winless against the spread in its last six games, but it is 8-3 ATS in its last 11 games against Jacksonville, winning five of the last six meetings straight up. Jacksonville has gone ‘over’ the total in four of its last six games, while the Titans have gone ‘under’ in 10 of their last 13 games.

The pick: Tennessee +6

I would love to get a full touchdown with the Titans without having to pay the juice for the extra point, but I am content getting six points, too. This is going to be another mental hurdle for Jacksonville to overcome as it looks to make the playoffs for the first time since 2017. The Titans have been the best team in the division for several years and have Henry back on the field, giving them the rushing attack necessary to control the tempo and keep the ball away from Lawrence and co. They have covered the spread in four of their last five trips to Jacksonville, and they have had extra time to get Dobbs prepared after playing a Thursday night game. I expect the extra preparation and historic success against the Jaguars to play a role in Tennessee’s mindset, creating the perfect scenario for an upset.

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