A busy slate of Week 15 NFL match-ups kicks off Thursday evening with the rebuilding Jacksonville Jaguars paying a visit to the red-hot Atlanta Falcons. Both teams are coming off emphatic victories last week, and though these squads are still heading in opposite directions of the standings, this will pit a hard-working, young and upcoming Jaguars squad against a Falcons team looking to secure a wild-card berth in the always competitive NFC.
The Falcons will be riding a wave of confidence after overcoming a 16-point halftime deficit to the Carolina Panthers their last time out. Every game at the moment is pivotal for Atlanta as they desperately need every win they can collect in order to lock-up a coveted playoff position. Currently they are mired in a dogfight with a handful of other capable teams, and Atlanta is well-aware they can’t afford a slip-up against an inferior Jaguars side.
Meanwhile, the Jags too initiated a comeback victory of their own last week under new head coach Mel Tucker. Jacksonville was trailing by as much as fourteen points, but no lead is insurmountable when you possess a running back with the talent Maurice Jones-Drew possesses. He is an immense competitor, and netted four touchdowns last week. While he won’t duplicate those totals this week against a staunch Falcons defense, he remains a talented back that can be a headache trying to game-plan for.
Jaguars vs. Falcons Spread, Line, and Betting Odds:
Jacksonville Jaguars +11.5 (-105)
@ Atlanta Falcons -11.5 (-115)
Over 42.5 (-110)
Under 42.5 (-110)
Jaguars at Falcons Pick:
Entering this contest the Jaguars are absolutely decimated by injuries on defense, especially in their secondary. Against a team led by the likes of Matt Ryan, Tony Gonzalez, Roddy White, and Julio Jones, that could be a recipe for disaster. The Falcons showed just how good they can be in the 2nd half of last week’s game against Carolina, and expect more of that dominance to continue on Thursday evening in front of an always loud hometown crowd. They possess a huge edge in talent and motivation entering this contest, and should have minimal difficulty extending their record and playoff chances to 9 wins and 5 losses. Unlike Jacksonville, they remain relatively unscathed by the injury bug, although sideline boss Mike Smith may be forced to miss this game as he has been experiencing chest pains throughout the week.
Though Jacksonville’s defense has been successful defending the pass this season, their injuries combined with the talent Atlanta will throw at them will be far too overwhelming to contain. On offense, the Jags have been stagnant when passing with the inconstant Blaine Gabbert at the helm. They rank last in the league through the air, and will have no choice but to constantly feed the ball to MJD and see what he can generate. Unfortunately for Jones-Drew and Jacksonville, Atlanta stifles the run, ranking 5th in the NFL in that regard so far this season. If Gabbert is his usual self, and the Jags can’t get the run game going, it could prove to be a brutal match-up for Jacksonville.
The Falcons are 9-1 against rookie quarterbacks in three seasons under Mike Smith, and will no doubt extend that record Thursday evening. Expect Atlanta to sit back and force Gabbert to make throws on a loaded defense while forcing the former Missouri star into turnovers. Matt Ryan is an incredible 21-0 when his passer rating exceeds 100, and against a depleted Jaguars secondary, he should face minimal resistance in reaching that level.
This game is a classic mismatch in all aspects of football. Despite the Jaguars big win last week, winning at home against an equally awful Tampa Bay squad isn’t the same as going into the Georgia Dome to take on a desperate Falcons squad. Look for the Falcons to score at will, while being staunch on defense in what should be a blowout victory for ATL. Laying double-digits can be a scary proposition in the NFL, but Atlanta will not turn in a letdown performance when they’re in a dogfight for the playoffs. Expect them to continue their solid play, and win a decisive one for their ill head coach.