Jacksonville (-4.0) @ Houston
Power rankings: Jacksonville 10, Houston 31
Spread update: This line is sticking at 4.0.
Jacksonville update: Jacksonville is in a weird spot. They'll play Tennessee next week, and the winner of that game will be crowned the AFC South champion regardless of what happens in this game. The Titans were in the same situation, and rested a few starters on Thursday Night. The starters that Tennessee rested did all have some injury situation going on, and given that they needed to play on short rest, it makes more sense to give the banged up players the week off. Jaguars HC Doug Pederson has indicated that he has no intention of resting starters. The line has stuck around 4 and 4.5 (an insignificant movement), signaling that the market believes Pederson. We do as well.
Keys to the game: It's virtually impossible to find the difference between players breaking out, declining, and just straight variance, but a bet on Trevor Lawrence turning into a top 10 quarterback seems correct. Lawrence, as one might remember, was arguably the most highly touted quarterback to be drafted since Andrew Luck ahead of being taken 1st overall in the 2021 draft. Lawrence sits at 11th in PFF grades, completing 65.9% of his passes and gaining 7.1 yards per attempt. Since week 9, he's the 2nd highest graded QB in PFF's system. Thanks to Lawrence's improved play, the Jags offense is now 8th in offensive DVOA and 9th in EPA/play. They're facing off against a Texans defense that ranks 20th in DVOA and 19th in EPA/play. The battle in the trenches is a classic example of strength on strength. The Jaguars have a one-dimensional line - they excel in pass protection but are horrid in the run game. Meanwhile, the Texans pass rush is strong, but they rank just 24th in DVOA against the run. Houston's pass rush is led by Jerry Hughes (outside), Maliek Collins (inside), and Ogbonnia Okoronkwo (outside). Okoronkwo, a 5th round pick from 2018, has been an animal as of late, accumulating 18 pressures in his last 4 games. Due to the Jags line and Lawrence's average time to throw of 2.5 seconds, the pressure rate on Lawrence is 8th best in the league, and since Houston doesn't blitz often, Lawrence should be able to stay upright most of the game. The Texans secondary has a few solid corners (Desmond King and Steven Nelson), but their safety tandem is poor. As a result, they've been horrible against deep passes, ranking 27th in DVOA. Lawrence has average deep passing rates. The Jags offense is far better throwing the ball (5th in DVOA) than running (19th) for the above mentioned reasons, which matches up well against Houston.
The other side is a classic suck vs suck matchup -- Texans offense is 31st in both DVOA and EPA/play. The Jags defense is 27th in DVOA and 22nd in EPA/play. The Jaguars are far better up front -- they rank 5th in pressure rate this season (23.7%), thanks to strong play from Josh Allen (outside) and Arden Key (inside). They're also far better against the run (12th in DVOA) than the pass (27th). CB Tyson Campbell has been excellent in his second season, but the secondary has holes at every other position. The Jaguars will have an advantage in the trenches while their pass defense simply needs to hold up against Davis Mills, who ranks 31st out of 35 qualifiers in PFF passing grades.
Chicago @ Detroit (-6.0)
Power rankings: Chicago 30, Detroit 11
Spread update: This line is sticking at 6.0.
Keys to the game: The Bears offense is 23rd in DVOA and 20th in EPA/play. The Lions defense is 28th in DVOA and dead-last in EPA/play. This matchup isn't complicated -- the Bears offense is almost purely rushing based -- they rank far better running (12th in DVOA) than throwing (27th), thanks to a combination of the offensive line and the play of Justin Fields. Fields has correctly drawn comparisons to Lamar Jackson for his rushing abilities, but he's still having issues throwing the ball. Further, his receiving core is horrid -- even if he can get Chase Claypool (knee) back. Claypool hasn't played since week 8, but did finally get a limited practice session in on Thursday, his first since the injury. The Lions defense is bad everywhere, their only legit pass rushing threat is 2nd overall selection Aidan Hutchinson, who ranks 39th in total pressures and 49th in PFF pass rushing grade. The Bears will want to run, knowing full well that the Lions defense isn't capable of stopping them. Detroit will want to jump out to an early lead, thus making it difficult for the Bears to utilize the run game.
There's good reason to believe that'll be an effective strategy. The Lions offense is potent, ranking 6th in offensive DVOA and 8th in EPA/play against a Bears defense that is dead last in DVOA and 31st in EPA/play. A brutal mismatch, the Lions have a top-10 offensive line against a non-existent pass rush (that also doesn't blitz) and a run defense that ranks 29th in DVOA. Amon-Ra St. Brown, who has become one of the premier wide receivers in football, will be running most of his routes against slot corner Josh Blackwell, a rookie undrafted free agent who has played 93 snaps this season. Jared Goff isn't a great quarterback, but he'll be more than enough given the matchup.
NY Jets @ Seattle (+2.0)
Power rankings: NY Jets 15, Seattle 14
Spread update: Seattle is now 1.5 point favorites, a slight movement against the model. The model thinks Seattle and NY Jets are relatively even, so thank you for the free points at home.
Keys to the game: Mike White is back! The QB has missed time with rib injuries, but is back to practicing in full. I don't expect any injury limitations whatsoever. The 27 year-old who has 272 career dropbacks is fighting to prove he belongs in the league. He's played well this year, gaining 7.4 yards per attempt and completing 62% of his passes, good for a 73.4 PFF grade. I'm still firmly in the camp that he isn't actually good -- there's a reason why someone who was drafted in 2018 didn't play a snap in the NFL until 2021 -- but he's done an excellent job at making me look dumb thus far. He has a great matchup against a Seahawks defense that ranks 26th in DVOA and 29th in EPA/play. In the trenches, Seattle's blitz rate of 15.1% is 3rd lowest in the league, but they generate pressure at a 19.7% clip, 24th highest in the league. The pressure mostly comes from Uchenna Nwosu, who will be mostly going against a struggling Noah Fant. The Jets offensive line, which has been hampered by injuries this year, has done a poor job of keeping opposing defenders out of the backfield. The Jets will look to Garrett Wilson, who suddenly turns into an All-Pro when not-Zach Wilson is playing QB. In Garrett's 6 non-Zach Wilson games this year, he's averaging 9.7 targets, 6.2 catches, and 91.5 yards. The Seahawks secondary is well below average - with S Ryan Neal (knee) projected out, no projected starter outside of rookie CB Tariq Woolen is playing well. Garrett Wilson, Corey Davis, Elijah Moore, and Tyler Conklin will certainly have an advantage over that secondary.
The Seahawks offense is 12th in DVOA and EPA/play, but they'll have their work cut out for them. Their offensive line has held up well despite starting two rookies at each tackle position, but the Jets defensive line is flat out scary. The Jets have the lowest blitz rate in the league (14.7%), but still generate pressure at a rate of 23.3%, 8th best in the league. DT Quinnen Williams is the best player of the bunch -- he'll have a big advantage over the Seahawks weak interior. WR Tyler Lockett (hand) looks set to return, giving Seattle a strong 1-2 punch at receiver (along with DK Metcalf). However, the Jets are equally strong at corner (Sauce Gardner and DJ Reed). Seattle has been far stronger passing the ball (9th in DVOA) than running (23rd), while the Jets are equally strong in all phases. Lockett and Metcalf simply must win their matchups for the Seahawks offense to play up to their standard.