It’s Week Seven in the NFL and teams are starting to show their true colors. Last week for Thursday Night Football we saw the Denver Broncos take on the defending Super Bowl Champion, Kansas City Chiefs. I’m pretty sure that everyone had the Chiefs winning this matchup, playing the game on their home turn, being division rivals, and just being an overall better team than the struggling Broncos. The only shocker may have been that the score was only 19-8. I was expecting more of an offensive performance by both teams, but at least the Chiefs covered the 10.5-point spread, right?
This week we get to watch an intriguing game with the (4-2) Jacksonville Jaguars going into New Orleans to play the (3-3) Saints. The Jags (which does not stand for “Just A Guy”) are on top of their division, but not by much, as the Indianapolis Colts and Houston Texans are right on their tail at 3-3 each. The Saints have struggled more than I expected them to coming into this week, and are currently only slightly behind the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-2) due to Tampa already having their Bye Week, and the Atlanta Falcons, who are also 3-3. This is a big game for both teams, so we should be able to expect a lot of intensity.
Jacksonville Jaguars (4-2)
Coming into the 2023 season I had the Jaguars winning the AFC South with a record of 14-3 and getting the #1 Seed in the AFC playoffs. While they are currently 4-2, technically this is still feasible. However, the way that they have been playing is average overall. On offense Jacksonville is 13th in yards per game, 12th in rushing yards per game, 15th in passing yards per game, and 10th in points per game. Quarterback Trevor Lawrence ranks 15th in QBR and 11th in Passer Rating throwing seven TDs and three INTs. Travis Etienne is sixth in rushing yards with 451 yards, averaging 4 yards per carry, and five rushing TDs. The Jaguars receivers seem like a three-headed monster with Christian Kirk 19th in the NFL in receiving yards with 384. Calvin Ridley is 24th with 363, and Tight End Evan Engram is 43rd with 301. Engram is also tied at 11th in total receptions (36) with Travis Kelce and TJ Hockenson.
Defensively, Jacksonville has been great against rush, ranking 3rd for giving up only 75 rushing yards per game. Linebacker Josh Allen leads the way and is tied for third in the league with seven sacks. However, their passing defense needs some help. While Cornerback Darious Williams and Safety Andre Cisco are both tied in the league with three INTs a piece, overall, they give up an NFL second to worst 270 passing yards on average per game. Overall, their defense gives up 346 total yards per game (21st in the league) and 20.3 points per game (15th). Another “gold star” for Jacksonville is that they are winning the turnover battel with a +7, which is second best in the NFL.
New Orleans Saints (3-3)
The Saints are also slightly underperforming early in the season. I had projected that they would be at 4-2 in the NFC South and starting to run away with what looked like the second easiest division in the NFL behind the AFC South. To be fair they’ve been banged up a bit, including Derek Carr who has been sacked eighth most in NFL, 17 times. Alvin Kamara didn’t play the first three games as well and looks like he’s still trying to get his feet underneath him. With all the hype around getting Carr in the offseason, it sure hasn’t translated into a highly efficient offense, where they currently rank 20th in yards per game, 15th in rushing yards, 23rd in passing yards, and 24th in points scored. Derek Carr has thrown just five TDs with three INTs, a QBR of 51.3 (17th), and Passer Rating of 85.4 (19th). Wide Receivers Chris Olave and Michael Thomas are ranked 15th and 34th respectively for reception yards, but combined only have one TD between them.
Defensively the Saints have been much improved. They are currently fifth in the NFL in yards per game, and sixth in points giving up. The Saints run defense is ranked ninth in the NFL for yards given up per game, and is led by Defensive End Carl Granderson with 4.5 sacks. Their pass defense is even better, giving up the league’s fifth best 182 passing yards per game. Safeties Tyrann Mathieu and Marcus Maye, along with Cornerbacks Paulson Adebo, Marshon Lattimore and Isaac Yiadom all have interceptions, as the Saints have a turnover differential of +2.
The biggest news is whether Trevor Lawrence is going to play or not. If Lawrence can’t go, then it’s C.J. Bearthard under Center, and he is average at best. In his last three seasons with the Jaguars, he’s played in eight games, and completed 11 passes for 77 yards with one interception. Wide Receiver Zay Jones is out again for Jags, as it Left Guard Walker Little, and starting Cornerback Tyson Campbell. Right Guard Cooper Hodges is also still on IR, so Jacksonville’s O-line is starting to run thin.
Despite Jacksonville having “mediocre” numbers over the first six weeks, they are still the best 4-2 team in the NFL, and one could make a case that they are better than some 5-1 teams. The Jaguar’s opponents are 21-15 this year. The only other team with a 5-1 or 4-2 record that has opponents with an overall winning record are the Buffalo Bills (4-2) that have played teams that are a combined 19-17. Jacksonville has proved two things this season: First is that they can beat Indianapolis, who they’ve already beaten twice, and that they can win in London, where they defeated the Atlanta Falcons and Buffalo Bills.
If you thought the Jaguars offensive line injuries were bad, then look at New Orleans. Offensive Tackles James Hurst, Ryan Ramczyk, and Landon Young are all listed as Out. Currently the Saints only have two OT’s on the team; Trevor Penning and Cesar Ruiz. Tight End Juwan Johnson will miss his third game as well. Defensively, Safeties Tyrann Mathieu and Lonnie Johnson Jr are listed as questionable along with starting LB Demario Davis, who has 23 solo tackles, and two sacks on the year.
It could be argued that the Saints are the worst 3-3 team in the league. Two of their three wins were by three points and one point, and the other they blew out the New England Patriots by a score of 34-0. Two of their three losses were by one score, with the other losing to division rival Tampa Bay by a score of 26-9. Their opponents have a combined record of 11-23, which is one of the weakest schedules to start the season.
My gut tells me that Lawrence will play. Jacksonville is also undefeated on the road (including two games in London). I think this game is going to be close, but looking at the strength of who each team has played and been tested against, I’m leaning towards the Jaguars. It will be a close, and relatively low scoring: Jacksonville 23, New Orleans 17. Thanks for the “read”!