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Kitten Fight: Lions-Jaguars Game Combines Tight Spread And Shootout Potential

Two improving young teams have slim playoff hopes, but this game should be fun




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Just a month ago, the Jacksonville Jaguars’ visit to Detroit loomed on the schedule as a potential fight for the No. 1 overall pick in next year’s NFL draft.

The Jaguars, who finished with that distinction last season, looked like they had a shot to defend their title at 2-6. The Lions, who finished 3-13-1 last season, were in even worse shape at 1-6. But those records masked progress that the two young teams had made, with both clubs losing a series of close games that made their records somewhat deceptive.

Both teams are now 4-7, with the Lions narrowly missing a fourth straight win last week against the Super Bowl-favorite Buffalo Bills and the Jags coming off two wins in their last three games. Detroit and Jacksonville meet Sunday at 1 p.m. ET at Ford Field, with momentum toward a rebuild and maybe even a whiff of playoff hope on the line. (That last part could be stretching things a bit, as the New York Times playoff simulator gives Detroit a 7% chance of qualifying for the postseason and Jacksonville just a 5% chance.)

At the very least, this game has the potential for copious action, with the over/under set at most sportsbooks at 51.5 points (51 at PointsBet). Of the 15 games in Week 13, that’s the second-highest total behind the Cincinnati Bengals-Kansas City Chiefs game (52.5 points). While it’s tempting to go with the hot offenses, bear in mind that four of Jacksonville’s last five games have come in under the total as the Jags defense, while far from dominant, appears to be on the upswing.

Line moves

Within limited parameters, this game has seesawed back and forth all week.The line opened in many places at pick’em before early action from the public came in on the Lions, who have been a strong play at home, driving them to 2-point favorites at some mobile sportsbooks.

But then money began pouring in on Jacksonville, likely coming from sharp bettors looking for value. Currently, the Jaguars are 1-point road favorites in some places (such as BetMGM), while the Lions are giving a point at others (including FanDuel).

All of this is another way of saying that this could be a fun matchup of hard-charging squads and nobody really knows what’s going to happen.

The matchup

The Lions seem to play with the passion of their head coach, Dan Campbell, particularly when they’re in front of the home crowd. Since Campbell took over last season, the Lions are 10-4 against the spread at home.

Yet Jacksonville has shown signs of being better than their record would suggest, having lost just one game this season (against the Chiefs) by more than one possession. With easy wins over the Indianapolis Colts and Los Angeles Chargers, the Jags actually have a positive point differential (+12) despite their losing record.

After their heartbreaking 28-25 loss to the Bills on Thanksgiving, the Lions are working on three extra days of rest for this one. The Jaguars, under rapidly improving second-year quarterback Trevor Lawrence, are coming off an inspiring comeback win over the Baltimore Ravens. The coaching switch from Urban Meyer to Doug Pederson apparently has done wonders.

Though they’re at different stages in their careers, Lawrence and Lions QB Jared Goff have had remarkably similar seasons. Lawrence has completed 66.5% of his passes for 2,655 yards, with 16 touchdowns and six interceptions. Goff has completed 63.7% of his passes for 2,682 yards, with 17 touchdowns and seven interceptions.

As reflected in the total, neither team has a particularly imposing defense. Detroit is allowing 414.5 yards per game, most in the NFL, while Jacksonville is giving up 362.9 yards per game, ninth-most in the league. With an offensive tilt this heavy, the game has the potential to be a shootout, meaning the outcome could pivot on one key turnover.

The more you dig into this game, the easier it is to understand why the line has hovered around the horizon all week. It really comes down to whose rebuild you believe in more, Campbell’s or Pederson’s.

Photo: Corey Perrine/USA TODAY