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Eagles-Jaguars Odds: Heavy favorites to start the season

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Breaking down NFL Week 1's game lines.

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The Eagles' season kicks off on Sunday, which means it's time to start my weekly odds column.  For newbies, I do a weekly look at the Eagles game line and over/under, breaking down each side and ultimately picking one as a recommendation.  For regular readers, this year's columns will likely be shorter, but I promise no less research went into them.  Also, I'll be doing a much better job of tracking performance over time (I was far too disorganized last season).  Lastly, before I get to the actual game, note that I generally work with the Bovada lines, though I'll mention if it differs significantly from other sports books.

Now, to the game.

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Picks Record to Date:

Line - 0 - 0

Over/Under - 0 - 0

This week's lines:

Eagles -10.5 (-110)

Jaguars +10.5 (-110)

Over/Under = 52.5

Notes: The line opened at 11.5, meaning it's moved a full point towards the Jags.  If I knew nothing else besides the movement, I'd go against the shift.

The Breakdown:

This is a VERY big line, especially to start the season.  Generally, there are two ways to view week 1 in terms of it's betting opportunity: (1) There is a lot of uncertainty and its best to avoid wagering until we have more confidence in our appraisal of each team, or (2) the best time to wager because the betting public is working with very little information, most of it subject to recency bias.  I tend to fall into the first camp.  I hate to preface an odds pick like this, but it's true, I find week one betting to be much more difficult than weeks 3 through 14 (the sweet spot as far as I'm concerned).

Still, this week's line presents an interesting opportunity because of it's size.  Let's get a few facts and data points out there, then I'll try to make sense of them.

- The Eagles had an offensive DVOA (Football Outsiders) of 22.9% last season, good for 3rd in the league.

- The Jaguars had a defensive DVOA of 10.9% (high numbers are bad on defense), ranking the team 28th in the league.

- The Jaguars had an offensive DVOA of -29.8%, worst in the league.

- The Eagles had a defensive DVOA of 4.9%, or 23rd in the league.

- The Eagles overall DVOA last season was 15.2%, 8th in the league.

- The Jaguars overall DVOA last season was -38.2%, last in the league.

So, using the measures from last season, we have a great offense against a terrible defense couple with a bad defense against a horrendous offense.  Together, that spells a very big advantage for the Eagles.  Add in home-field advantage and we can see why the line is so big.  With last year as our guide, the Eagles should beat the Jaguars by a lot.

Of course... last year isn't always so instructive.  For starters, the Eagles offense is unlikely to be as good this year as it was last year.  Foles is due for some turnover regression, the team lost a great deep threat and didn't replace him (at least not with another deep threat), and the offensive line was healthier last year than we should expect it to be this year (Johnson, though not injured, is already missing the first 4 games).  Also, the Jaguars were SO bad last year that, from a pure probability perspective, they're likely to improve.  It's just very difficult to be that bad.

Now things look a little more complicated.  This is why week 1 is so difficult (but also a great opportunity).  We just don't know how big an impact certain additions/subtractions will have.  In light of that, let's take a more historical view:

- Since 2004 (last 10 seasons), there have been 12 teams that were favored in week one by more than 10 points.  8 of those teams have failed to cover.  Note that just one of those teams actually lost the game.

That's a very small sample, so we certainly can't draw conclusions from it, but I do think it's instructive.  Over the long term, the cover rate should be 50%.  Given week one uncertainty, a huge favorite should raise some flags.

If we expand the search to include teams favored by 9 points or more, we get 19 data points.  13 of those teams failed to cover, with three of the favorites losing outright.

This is a long way of saying the following:

My gut says the Eagles win by 2 touchdowns.  My head (and the data) say to take the points.

Therefore, I'll take the Jaguars +10.5.

Now lets move to the over/under.  The line is 52.5 (over -105, under -110).  That sounds like a lot of points, until you remember we've got two poor defenses (potentially).  For reference, last season the Eagles hit 52.5+ in 8 out of 16 games.  The Jaguars hit that number 6 times last season.

Still, if the Eagles hit 30 points, the Jaguars would still have to score 23 points to hit the mark.  That's asking a lot, no?  Last year, the Jaguars scored 23+ points just 3 times.  They averaged just 15.4 per game.  They've likely improved, and the Eagles defense doesn't look to be anything better than mediocre, but expecting anything above 20 from them is unreasonable.

So the question is, how confident are you in the Eagles scoring 33?  That's four touchdowns and 2 FGs (34 points).  Last season, despite the offensive prowess, the Eagles scored 33+ just 5 times.  They averaged 27.6 per game.  That means we need to believe the Eagles will outscore last year's average by a full touchdown in week one.  Without more data to go on regarding this year's team, I just don't think that's the smart bet.

Hence, I'm left to take the Under 52.5.

That's the complete opposite of what I'd like to see (Eagles win and hit the over themselves), but objectively I don't feel good going the other way.

To repeat my caveat from above:  It's week one and we know much less about each of these teams than we think we do (generally speaking).  Trying to handicap a game in that situation is very difficult, and ends up being even more of a coin-toss than usual.  Later in the season I'll come across lines I feel much more confident in (hopefully with results to match), but for now, tread lightly.

Now let me leave you with a positive note:

Over the past 10 seasons, 42 teams have been favored by 10.5.  34 of those teams have won the game.  That's a success rate of 81%.  Regardless of how pretty it looks or how many points are scored, the Eagles are very likely to win Sunday's game.  If we limit it to home favorites, the success rate falls slightly, but is still 78%.