The Seattle Seahawks caught a break when it was announced that their Week 14 game against the host Jacksonville Jaguars would be pushed back to the 4 p.m. time slot. Still, as noteworthy of an edge as this is, the Seahawks still have to travel across the country with a porous offensive line to “Sacksonville” to battle one of the league’s biggest surprise teams. Jacksonville is a field goal favorite, but this number has already dropped from 3.5 to 3 and most of the +3s are carrying extra juice, which suggests that a move to 2.5 could be coming as we go throughout the week.
Seattle is back, right? That’s what the overriding opinion will be this week with the Seahawks fresh off of a quality win over the Eagles. The Seahawks, injuries and all, are still 8-4 and just one game back in the NFC West. If the playoffs started today, Seattle would be in. The Seahawks have not been as kind to bettors with a record around .500, though under bettors have enjoyed their season. Jacksonville is 8-4 straight up and 7-5 against the spread on the season. The Jaguars control their own destiny with a head-to-head meeting against Tennessee in Week 17 and a couple of friendly scheduling spots the next two weeks. This game, however, is a huge test.
For my money, Russell Wilson is the NFL MVP this season. With an offensive line full of broken turnstiles, no semblance of a running game, and a defense to carry on his shoulders, Wilson has been exceptional. He’s completed 62.4 percent of his throws with a 26/8 TD/INT ratio. He’s also the team’s leading rusher by 124 yards over Chris Carson, who hasn’t played since October 1. No, that is not a typo. Wilson has 6.1 yards per carry on his 71 attempts. Doug Baldwin is having a huge year with 63 grabs for 782 yards and Paul Richardson has emerged as a solid WR2. The Seahawks are tied for 11th in yards per play with 5.5, in spite of the league’s worst rushing attack by a long shot and a quarterback forced to scramble more than he is able to stand in the pocket. Offensive line injuries have been a major problem as well, as Oday Aboushi remains questionable and George Fant and Rees Odhiambo are on IR. Luke Joeckel returned against the 49ers and played last week against the Eagles.
If the offensive injuries are bad, the English language is missing a word to describe the defensive injuries. Kam Chancellor is out for the year. Richard Sherman is out for the year. Malik McDowell is out for the year. Dion Jordan has missed two straight games. Bobby Wagner is questionable almost every week. Earl Thomas missed two games earlier in the season and was questionable last week. Fortunately, between scheme and depth, the Seahawks have been able to survive. The Seahawks have allowed just five yards per play this season and have held opposing quarterbacks to a 58.7 percent completion percentage, which is the fourth-best mark in the league. Seattle is in the top 10 in adjusted net yards per pass attempt allowed and has a top-10 run defense. The Seahawks have only allowed 14 passing touchdowns and nine rushing touchdowns this season.
What the Jacksonville Jaguars have managed to do without a quarterback is quite impressive. Really, what the Jaguars have done without much of an offense. Blake Bortles has a 14/8 TD/INT ratio with a 59.8 percent completion percentage. The Jaguars are one of eight teams with a team completion percentage below 60 percent. The Panthers are in the playoffs. The other teams are among the worst in the league. Jacksonville’s ground attack has averaged 4.5 yards per carry and is tied for fifth in the NFL, but Leonard Fournette only has four yards per carry on his 207 attempts and Chris Ivory hasn’t found much success. Guys like Bortles, TJ Yeldon, and Corey Grant have had some long runs to boost the average for this group. Fournette had 90 of his 822 yards on one carry this season, so he only has 3.55 yards per carry on his other 89 attempts. This offense has a smoke and mirrors element to it and that may be the downfall of the Jaguars.
The cure-all for the Jacksonville offense is the league’s best defense. The Jaguars have only allowed 4.5 yards per play this season, which is easily the best in the NFL. Jacksonville also has the second-most takeaways with 27. With 45 sacks and a 10.2 percent sack percentage, the Jaguars are far and away the best defense in the league when it comes to adjusted net yards per pass attempt against with 3.4. The Ravens are second at 4.1. Jacksonville has had some issues stopping the run with 4.5 yards per carry allowed, but that won’t be a problem this week against a horrendous Seahawks ground game and probably won’t be exposed by the teams that make the playoffs, since most do so on the strengths of their quarterbacks. Credit Jacksonville defensive backs for holding the opposition to just 879 yards after the catch. In an era of bad tackling, the Jaguars defense pays attention to the details.
Free NFL Pick: Seattle Seahawks +3
The Seahawks match up really well with the Jaguars and the kickoff getting moved to 4:25 p.m. ET was a big help for a team that would have basically been on a short week off of Sunday Night Football. This projects as a very low-scoring game, which heightens the edge for the Seahawks in the Wilson vs. Bortles matchup. Jacksonville has a good running game on paper, but Fournette has been less effective than the numbers would suggest and Ivory hasn’t done much either. The Seahawks are banged up, but the Seahawks are the more proven commodity, especially in games that project to be defensive struggles.