Though the New York Giants boast a Super Bowl-winning quarterback in Eli Manning, field one of the NFL’s best receivers in Odell Beckham, Jr. and have the highest-drafted running back of the 2018 rookie class in Saquon Barkley, Las Vegas doesn’t think that’s quite enough to defeat the Jacksonville Jaguars in the season opener on Sunday. As of now, the Giants are three point underdogs to the Jaguars according to SBNation and OddsShark.
While the Jaguars have long struggled, they and the Giants essentially reversed roles in 2017. Jacksonville ended the year 10-6 and reached the AFC Championship game, with its Super Bowl hopes dashed by the New England Patriots. In contrast, the Giants went 3-13, the season marred by Beckham’s early-October season-ending ankle injury and a leaky defense.
NFL.com analysts remain bullish on the Jaguars this year; of the 21 polled, 13 believe that Jacksonville will come out on top of the AFC South yet again. Meanwhile, the Giants received just two votes to be the NFC East’s leader for 2018 (the 19 remaining went to the reigning Super Bowl champs, the Philadelphia Eagles).
Jacksonville’s defense hasn’t changed much since the previous season, when it ranked second in both points and yards allowed, first in passing yards allowed and first in first-downs allowed. But the Giants do have the return of Beckham in their favor, the addition of Barkley to help bring the pressure off of Manning and the passing game and a (hopefully) improved offensive line—all factors that can inhibit Jacksonville’s defensive efficacy.
Jacksonville, while in possession of a top-tier run game behind Leonard Fournette, also have myriad questions in its passing game, ranging from the talent level of quarterback Blake Bortles, who the MMQB.com’s Andy Benoit reminds is “not... a natural thrower,” to the lack of key playmakers in the receiving and tight ends groups. Add in the defense’s hidden weakness in run-stopping, and there’s both a reason why the Jaguars are Vegas favorites and why it’s by a mere three points.