|Time||1 p.m. ET|
|Odds via DraftKings. Find up-to-the-minute NFL odds here.|
The Trevor Lawrence era will finally begin on Sunday when the Jacksonville Jaguars take on the Houston Texans in an AFC divisional bout to start the season.
After a lost 2020 season that saw the team finish with a 1-15 record, the Jaguars will look to rebuild with Lawrence at the helm and a solid supporting cast of offensive weapons.
The Texans, meanwhile, finished the 2020 season 4-12 and have seen an offseason with little improvement and a myriad of off-field distractions led by quarterback Deshaun Watson. Watson will not play amid a myriad of sexual assault and misconduct allegations that are being litigated, as well as investigated by the league. Veteran Tyrod Taylor will be under center for Week 1 and the foreseeable future.
With a rookie quarterback in Lawrence making his first career start, should we count on the Jaguars to take care of business on the road in Week 1?
Lawrence, Meyer Begin Jaguars Tenure
The Jaguars come into the opener as a 3-point road favorite with rookie quarterback Lawrence making his first career start in the NFL. That line, however, is more of a testament to how poor the Texans defense is and less a nod to the Jaguars’ talents. Even prior to the recent trade of Bradley Roby to Saints, the Texans were one of the worst defensive units in the NFL. In 2020, they finished with a 14.3% Team Defense DVOA, per Football Outsiders, third-worst amongst all teams. After the Roby trade, this unit will likely fare even worse in 2021.
While there are always question marks with a quarterback making his first NFL start, Lawrence should have the time he needs to find his supporting cast of skill players in Laviska Shenault, DJ Chark and Marvin Jones Jr. in the passing game. Shenault established himself as Lawrence’s main target during the preseason, finishing with a 3-33-1 line on three drives with Lawrence in the finale.
James Robinson’s matchup as a runner is also strong. Last season, the Texans recorded a 1.6% Defense Rush DVOA, the fourth-worst in all of football. They did little to address that issue during the offseason, so expect a strong workload for Robinson given the matchup and the likely desire by Meyer to ease in Lawrence during his first NFL start.
Texans Offense Lacking Weapons
Veteran quarterback Tyrod Taylor will get the start in the home opener for the Texans in what will amount to just his fifth NFL start since 2018. For those that may have forgotten, Taylor offers little upside as a passer. While relatively efficient — he averaged a 62.7% completion percentage in his last full season as a starter in 2017 — he’s never really stretched the field as a passer. In fact, he averaged just 186.6 yards per game and 6.7 yards per attempt during that campaign. While he did offer upside in the rushing department, Taylor just turned 32 and will not possess the same kind of agility he exhibited earlier in his career.
With offensive weapons list that starts and ends at wide receiver Brandin Cooks, expect this offense to struggle to sustain drives both this week and throughout the season. With an implied team total of just 21.5 points, the sixth-lowest amongst all teams, oddsmakers agree.
While the Jaguars defense was near the bottom of the league last season with a 50.0 PFF Defense rating, the unit is markedly different in 2021. Not only will they be shifting from a 4-3 defense to a 3-4 under a new coordinator in Joe Cullen, but they also remade their defense with the additions of Roy Robertson-Harris, DaVon Hamilton, Malcom Brown and Damien Wilson.
While conventional wisdom may say to avoid betting on a rookie quarterback who is on the road in his first NFL start, today’s NFL — and Trevor Lawrence — are a different beast.
Lawrence and Co. get an ideal Week 1 draw in this hapless version of the Texans. Yes, there will be likely be some growing pains, but this poor Texans defense should yield plenty of opportunities to move the ball downfield with ease. The presence of Robinson and an established running game should also help ease the burden for the rookie on Sunday.
As of writing, 61% of tickets and 75% of money is on the Jaguars (per our Sports Insights tool), making this an instance when both sharps and the public agree. The data points in the same direction. I’m comfortable playing this one up to -3.5 if the line rises before kickoff.
Pick: Jaguars -3 (-110) at PointsBet