Vegas has had a difficult time trying to figure out what to make of this game between the Saints and the Jaguars, as the Jags opened as 2.5 point favorites before the line was bet to Saints -1.0; but the line has since swung back the other way with the Jags installed as favorites again — this time by 1.0 points. Along the way, the Over/Under has held fairly steady (rising from 43.5 to 45.0 before settling in at 44.0), with the bettors leaning on the home team in this spot — both in terms of who is favored and who will dictate the way this game plays out. In the three games in which the Saints were able to prepare knowing Teddy Bridgewater would be under center, they have gone 3-0 with wins by six points, two points, and seven points, but scoring in those games has been all over the map, with their game at Seattle generating 60 combined points and their game at home against the Bucs producing 55.0, sandwiched around a 22.0 point home affair vs the Cowboys. The Jaguars, on the other side of this matchup, have played four games knowing Gardner Minshew would be under center, and those games have produced totals of 25.0, 27.0, 50.0, and 61.0. The key to those two higher-scoring games for the Jags came in the matchup on the ground, as the Broncos and Panthers were both favorable spots for Leonard Fournette, while the same cannot be said for the Saints. More on this in a moment, of course; but taking a look at those point distributions for Bridgewater and Minshew reminds us that a Vegas Over/Under is not a vote from Vegas on what the score in a game will be, but is instead an indication of what they feel an appropriate midpoint would be if we played out this game over and over again. Both of these teams are capable of producing at a level higher than 44.0 — so while it wouldn’t be surprising to see this game fall into the low-scoring bucket, it also wouldn’t be surprising if it instead turned into a back-and-forth affair (especially by the second half, when both of these teams could look to unleash their offenses a bit more).
We’ll start with Minshew’s Jaguars — a team that has allowed their young quarterback to throw 33 // 30 // 33 // 44 times through his four starts, producing yardage totals of 213 // 204 // 213 // 374. The first three games give us a feel for what the Jaguars would fundamentally like to do (lean on the run game, lean on defense, and allow Minshew to pick and choose his spots) — though that fourth game is a reminder that the Jaguars don’t mind putting the ball in Minshew’s hands if they fall behind (something they have also done late in games multiple times already). Again: this team would prefer to lean on the run (something they do fairly heavily even when Fournette’s carries are going for only two and three yards at a time — knowing that the odds are in their favor that their big back will eventually break a long one), while asking Minshew to work the underneath areas to Fournette, the underneath/intermediate areas to Dede Westbrook, the intermediate/deep areas to D.J. Chark, and the deep areas to Chris Conley (who has settled in with a downfield role that has him averaging only 3.3 targets per game across the last three weeks, but that also has him ranked second in the NFL in aDOT). The Over/Under in this spot tells us that we should expect Minshew to end up in the “30 to 33 pass attempt” range once again — though it isn’t an off-the-wall tournament bet to say that the Saints put up points in this spot, and that the Jaguars are forced to throw a bit more often in order to keep pace.
The most obvious player to look to in this passing attack is Chark, who has become a legitimate force this season — seeing target counts over his last four games of 9 // 5 // 8 // 11, while ranking third in the NFL in PFF’s receiving grades and making difficult catches appear routine. Speaking of PFF: they do not currently project Chark to be shadowed by Marshon Lattimore, though this seems unlikely given that Lattimore has shadowed DeAndre Hopkins, Amari Cooper, and Mike Evans. Lattimore has been up-and-down this season, but Chark’s route tree is variable enough that he has a solid shot at succeeding in this spot regardless of who is covering him. Of course, if PFF is right (and Chark sees as much of Eli Apple as he sees of Lattimore), he’ll have potential to really light things up once again.
Westbrook has also seen an expanded role in recent weeks, finally building off the hype that followed him into the season — with recent target counts of 9 // 6 // 11, and with yardage totals of 46 // 66 // 82. Westbrook (87% slot rate) will pick up the matchup in the slot against P.J. Williams that is one of the top matchups to target in DFS; and while Westbrook has not been used on the downfield looks that allowed Chris Godwin to generate another big game last week in this spot, his route tree has expanded beyond the “at the line of scrimmage” looks he was seeing at the beginning of the year. The Jags are also down James O’Shaughnessy (torn ACL), who had been seeing around four targets per game; and while Geoff Swaim will be around to pick up the slack, this could lead to a couple more looks flowing Westbrook’s way.
The matchup is not so great for Fournette, as the Saints have shown an ability to tighten up against running backs who pose a threat (allowing 1.9 yards per carry to Ezekiel Elliott, 3.9 yards per carry to Todd Gurley, and 3.5 yards per carry to Chris Carson), and they have especially dominated on runs between the tackles (with any issues this year coming on runs to the edge — where Fournette has had his least success). Fournette is going to be on the field nearly 100% of snaps, and he will be involved in the pass game (six or more targets in four games already), keeping him in the conversation; but the matchup lowers his floor this week.
On the other side, Alvin Kamara will be taking on a Jaguars team that has been walloped on the ground this year, ranking 32nd in DVOA and 25th in yards allowed per carry, while especially struggling with shiftier backs — allowing over 5.0 yards per carry to Christian McCaffrey, LeSean McCoy, Phillip Lindsay, and Duke Johnson (while performing well against Derek Henry and Royce Freeman). Kamara has had a disappointing year thus far, and he is priced like a workhorse back when he is only seeing about 75% of the running back touches on this team, and he has (unsurprisingly) had his most success on runs to the edge — the only area where the Jaguars have not had trouble — so there are a few red flags in this spot. Last week, the Jaguars also got completely manhandled by the Panthers’ backfield misdirection, which is not something the Saints bring into play nearly as often. But Kamara also has touch counts across the last three weeks of 25 // 20 // 22, and it’s only a matter of time before he turns these touches into multiple touchdowns or multiple big plays, keeping him in the thick of the Week 6 mix.
Last week (against the Bucs’ secondary, with his price at a massive discount) was the week to target Michael Thomas, who has topped 100 yards in only four of his last 18 games (with the Saints’ opponents in those four games scoring 35 // 28 // 28 // 24) — but Jacksonville has been average in most categories against the pass this year and has allowed an increase of 18% on the league-average YAC per reception rate (the fourth worst mark in the league). With target counts over his last four games of 13 // 7 // 9 // 13 and his unbelievable efficiency continuing, it’s not a crazy bet to hope for another 100-yard game or a multi-touchdown game from the Saints’ unguardable receiver, especially if Jalen Ramsey misses action once again. If Ramsey misses, the Jags will have a difficult time finding ways to slow down Mike.
JM’s Interpretation ::
With these teams both ranking bottom eight in situation neutral pace of play and middle of the pack in pass play rate with backup quarterbacks under center (high-end backups, sure; but the coaching staffs are still calling games as if these guys are backups), there is a chance this game lands on the low end that some of these Jags and Saints affairs have hit already — and even if these teams clear those low-water marks, there’s at least a 50% chance this game stays around the game total set by Vegas. But we should also realize that these teams — with weapons like Chark // Fournette // Thomas // Kamara — have the potential to break clear through that mark of 44.0, and to turn this into a spot with multiple usable pieces. Firstly, this makes this a worthwhile game to keep in mind for stacks in large-field play; but it also makes the pieces mentioned above (Chark // Fournette // Thomas // Kamara) viable in tourneys, with a case to be made for any of those guys in cash games as well. (Cash game rankings — with pricing taken into account — would go Kamara // Chark // Thomas // Fournette.)
Behind those four pieces, Westbrook is a solid floor piece with potential for the matchup or a score to shoot him toward ceiling, while either quarterback could be leaned on in tournaments at the low end of the price range if you want to bet on this game environment turning positive across the board.
If expanding tourney play, Jared Cook has maintained his steady role (low floor; decent ceiling), and if Ramsey plays we can expect a few extra targets on the Saints to flow to “someone not named Mike Thomas” — with the likeliest bet being a few extra looks for Kamara, but with potential for Ted Ginn to emerge with six or seven targets as well after seeing 5 // 5 // 2 across his last three games.