Nevada oddsmakers have generally set the Jaguars’ 2012 win total between five and 5½ games, with the number varying depending on the sportsbook. The win totals are a measure of oddsmaker and bettor expectations for Jacksonville, and they should not come as a surprise.
The Jaguars, who had a 5-11 record a season ago, hardly have much of a following among bettors. To wit: Jay Kornegay, vice president of race and sportsbook operations at the Las Vegas Hotel and Casino’s SuperBook, told me Wednesday that he has taken fewer bets on Jacksonville to win Super Bowl XLVII than any other team.
I would not talk someone out of a small flier bet on the Jaguars to win the title at 150-1 or more — a price that was available at multiple Nevada sportsbooks last week — but I do not see them as a serious Super Bowl contender.
However, I feel far more strongly about their ability to exceed five or 5½ wins. (The latter total was posted at the Cantor Gaming and MGM Resorts International sportsbooks as of Thursday, while five was available at the Caesars Entertainment books last week, as well as at the SuperBook as of Tuesday, according to Joe Fortenbaugh of NationalFootballPost.com.)
At either number, the Over looks like a solid play.
Some might scoff at Jacksonville clearing even the five-win bar. Their top offensive player, RB Maurice Jones-Drew, is holding out. The offense looks shaky. The defense improved from 28th to sixth in yards allowed a season ago — and Jacksonville still managed to win only five games. If the defense takes a step back, the Jaguars could be in big trouble.
Those are reasons to avoid the Jaguars. Some handicappers don’t figure to give them much thought whatsoever. They are not flashy, and they are not a brand name.
A look at their 2011 form and their current roster, however, suggests they are quite capable of improvement.
Five of the Jaguars’ losses a season ago were by seven points or less. The Jaguars also held a late fourth-quarter lead in a closer-than-it-looks 10-point loss to Cincinnati. While the Jaguars endured four defeats of 13 points or more, two were against strong passing clubs (San Diego, Atlanta) when the Jacksonville secondary was beset by injuries.
The Jaguars’ personnel looks better than it did entering 2011. Chad Henne is a viable alternative at quarterback should Blaine Gabbert continue to struggle. The WR corps is much deeper and much more talented. Also, the addition of former Giants CB Aaron Ross gives the Jaguars another dependable veteran at an important position.
Most of the Jaguars’ opposition in the AFC South isn’t terribly imposing. The Colts, whom Jacksonville beat twice a season ago, are rebuilding on both sides of the ball. The Jaguars split a pair of games with the Titans, and I don’t believe there is a big gap between the clubs whatsoever. The Texans’ best is probably too much for the Jaguars, but Jacksonville put in credible efforts in a pair of defeats to Houston last season (24-14, 20-13).
The Jaguars’ 2012 schedule is not without some major, major hurdles. They figure to be significant underdogs at Green Bay on Oct. 28 and at Houston on Nov. 18, and it’s rather unlikely they will be favored at home against New England on Dec. 23. Other visitors who could give them trouble include Houston (Sept. 16), Cincinnati (Sept. 30), Chicago (Oct. 7), Detroit (Nov. 4) and the N.Y. Jets (Dec. 9). As for road games? Well, nothing is a given for these Jaguars, with Oakland (Oct. 21) and Buffalo (Dec. 2) being out-of-division games that could be rather tough.
However, recent history also suggests having a little faith in a club to bounce back isn’t unreasonable. Since divisional realignment in 2002, at least six teams have finished 5-11 or worse in each season. From 2003-10, 41-of-63 teams who posted 5-11 marks or worse posted at least six wins the next season (65.1 percent). In 2011, only one of seven teams that won five games or less — Cleveland — also posted a 5-11 record or worse in ’10.
I’m not a statistician. Nor am I driving the Jaguars’ Super Bowl-or-bust bandwagon. All I am expecting is enough improvement to push past five wins.
Every team’s win total tells a story, and for the Jaguars, the expectations are bats, vampires, ghouls and zombies in 2012. I frighten easily, but I am not scared of the Jaguars’ AFC South competition. Jacksonville will be better than expected.