Bears-Jaguars Preview

BORTLES AND JAGS ON ESPN THURSDAY AS JAX/CHICAGO KICKS OFF NEW NFL WEEK

We resume our NFL divisional previews today with the AFC South, to get you ready for Thursday Night’s nationally televised game between the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Chicago Bears. We looked at the Bears and the rest of the NFC North last weekend. We’ll close out the league over the next few days, looking at the AFC East (Friday), the AFC North (Saturday), and the AFC West (Sunday).

If you’re just joining the NOTEBOOK after taking some time away this summer, be sure you review the archives for all of our prior NFL divisional previews…and the full slate of college football conference previews that ran through the month of July.

Normally, there’s not much to get excited about when Jacksonville is in the national TV game. But, rookie quarterback Blake Bortles looked surprisingly sharp and dynamic in his Preseason debut last week. Could the Jags be poised to matter in the AFC South this season? And, what’s going on with the rest of the division? Our key indicator stats will set the stage…

2013 AFC SOUTH STANDINGS
Indianapolis: 11-5 (+14 turnovers, #10 rated schedule)
Tennessee: 7-9 (+5 turnovers, #13 rated schedule)
Jacksonville: 4-12 (-6 turnovers, #11 rated schedule)
Houston: 2-14 (-19 turnovers, #6 rated schedule)

Notebook: Just a horrible division last year. Jacksonville was Power-Rated as the worst team in pro football…but Houston’s collapse dropped the Texans down to the worst record (and the #1 draft pick!). You can see that this group played a very tough non-conference schedule. They each got six games against each other, yet still were all above league average in toughness. But, this remains a group that has a lot of work to do in terms of true competitiveness. Some pundits are arguing that Indianapolis was lucky in close games, meaning NOBODY in this division was really a “quality” team.

The good news if you’re a fan of the AFC is that all four have the potential to improve in 2014. In short:

Indianapolis: Maturing young star quarterback still rising on his learning curve
Tennessee: Upgraded at head coach from Mike Munchak to Ken Whisenhunt
Jacksonville: Nowhere to go but up! Bortles may contribute quickly
Houston: New head coach in Bill O’Brien, and new quarterback in Ryan Fitzpatrick

Continuing now with our key stats from last year…

2013 YARDS-PER-PLAY
Tennessee: 5.2 on offense, 5.3 on defense
Houston: 5.1 on offense, 5.2 on defense
Indianapolis: 5.3 on offense, 5.6 on defense
Jacksonville: 4.6 on offense, 5.6 on defense

Notebook: Nobody in this division had a positive differential in yards-per-play! Indianapolis made up for that with a good turnover differential and a lot of clutch performances. Houston collapsed the other way because of a turnover disaster and generally throwing in the towel over the second half of the season. Jacksonville’s -1.0 differential was worst in the AFC, and tied for Tampa Bay for worst in the whole NFL.

2013 THIRD DOWN CONVERSIONS
Tennessee: 41% on offense, 34% on defense
Houston: 36% on offense, 35% on defense
Indianapolis: 38% on offense, 38% on defense
Jacksonville: 31% on offense, 42% on defense

Notebook: This is where Jacksonville really needs to get things figured out. And, it’s something you should be evaluating when studying Bortles and the offense Thursday and the rest of this month. A good sign for Tennessee that they were so positive. If they can shore up some other weaknesses, they’ll have a shot to steal the division. The Titans led the AFC South in YPP differential and third down differential in 2013, THEN upgraded at head coach. Andrew Luck can’t be considered a true “future Hall-of-Famer” until he pushes Indy’s number up into the 40’s. That’s likely to happen as he continues to gain experience.

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2014 PROJECTED WIN TOTALS IN LAS VEGAS
Indianapolis: 9.5 wins
Houston: 8 wins
Tennessee: 7 wins
Jacksonville: 5 wins

Houston was getting a lot of summer respect for a team breaking in a new head coach and a new starting quarterback. A woeful start to the Preseason at Arizona may change a few minds about the Houston’s chances at getting to .500. Be sure to check out Saturday Night’s game with Atlanta to see if there’s improvement. Tennessee has some nice darkhorse indicators going for them. They visit New Orleans Friday Night. Indianapolis may just coast through August to keep everyone healthy. They host the Giants Saturday Night.

On the whole, a disappointing division has a chance to get a lot better given changes we’ve seen in the offseason. It remains to be seen whether that will be enough to make a splash in the playoffs.

Jacksonville/Chicago is the only NFL game in town Thursday. JIM HURLEY will post a TV winner hours before kickoff. You can always purchase game day BEST BETS right here at the website with your credit card. If you have any questions about longterm service in either football or baseball, call us in the office during normal business hours at 1-800-323-4453.

Our NFL divisional previews continue tomorrow and through the weekend. Here’s the NOTEBOOK football schedule for the next few days…

Friday: AFC East Preview: (New England hosts Philadelphia on NFL Network)
Saturday: AFC North Preview: (Baltimore/Dallas on NFL Network)
Sunday: AFC West Preview: (Denver/SF on NFLN, Kansas City/Carolina on FOX)
Monday: NFL Big Game Preview: Johnny Manziel vs. RGIII in Cleveland/Washington!

You’re going to be parked in front of the TV with that schedule. Heck, you’re going to be parked in front of the TV watching football for the next six months! Make the most of 2014 gridiron action with proven winner and handicapping legend JIM HURLEY!

22
Sep

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