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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Wednesday, December 4, 2013 at 7:00 PM

Thursday Night’s pro football game on the NFL Network features a pair of teams who would both be better served by LOSING. Neither the Houston Texans nor the Jacksonville Jaguars benefit from a victory since both are way off the pace in the playoff race. Both are in the hunt for the league’s worst record that would come with the #1 draft pick this summer and the transaction maneuverability that comes with it.

Of course…you don’t want to look like you’re losing on purpose in front of a national television audience, on the commissioner’s personal network! Yet, why risk messing up the draft with a meaningless win?

It’s not clear at the moment that Houston and Jacksonville are in the tank. In fact, it was clear last week that Jacksonville WASN’T in the tank because they rallied late to beat the Cleveland Browns. And, that came on the heels of a road victory against these very Texans. What about Houston? They’ve lost 10 games in a row. But, they sure looked like they were trying to knock off New England last Sunday.

Complicating matters…the team that’s lost 10 games in a row is actually a road favorite against the team that just beat them! Does Vegas know something the rest of us don’t? Let’s see if we can get to the bottom of it…

 

Won-Lost Records (strength of schedule)

Houston: 2-10 (#6 schedule in USA Today)

Jacksonville: 3-9 (#2 schedule in USA today)

Both these teams have played poorly this season vs. tough schedules. Even if you adjust for that, they’re still losing teams. Maybe Houston would have been closer to .500 caliber of Matt Schaub had stayed healthy. He sure looked like he had hit a wall career-wise though. The numbers above suggest Jacksonville is the better team (better record vs. tougher schedule, including a heads-up win on the road). No resolution as to why Houston would be a field goal favorite on the road.

 

Yards-Per Play

Houston: 5.3 on offense, 5.1 on defense

Jacksonville: 4.5 on offense, 5.8 on defense

Here we go. Though some of that is influenced by Schaub’s ability to drive the field before his injury, Houston is still superior when it comes to the nuts and bolts of ball movement. They were in a virtual dead heat vs. the tired Patriots last week, falling 6.6 to 6.5. They outperformed the playoff bound Colts and Chiefs in this stat with Case Keenum at quarterback. THIS is why Houston still gets respect from the market.

 

Turnover Differential

Houston: -12

Jacksonville: -4

Houston’s turnover disaster came during the Schaub reign. Since Keenum became starter, the team is dead even. The Jags themselves are close to even since Chad Henne formally took over for Blaine Gabbert. So, this category is probably a wash. Both teams are bad enough to implode vs. quality. Both teams have tried to be conservative with these quarterbacks in a way that cuts down on mistakes.

 

Market Performance

Houston: 2-9-1 ATS

Jacksonville: 4-8 ATS

The market was really slow on the mark when Houston started the season poorly. Last week was only their second cover of the season and that was because New England was exhausted off their overtime win over Denver the prior Sunday. The market has been stubborn about a few teams this year (many more in the colleges). Handicappers who saw the writing on the wall early have been taking advantage for weeks. Jacksonville is better than Houston in this category…but it was 2-8 ATS until those last two wins over the Texans and Browns.

 

Current Line: Houston by 3, total 43

 

So, we’re back to that. The bulk of the numbers are suggesting value on the Jaguars. Houston has been the more overrated team all season. And, they’re better served by a loss because they control their own destiny in the fight for the #1 draft pick because everyone else in the league is 3-8 or better. That being said, if they ARE trying to win, they’re more likely to win stats in a game with even turnovers…which at least puts the game near the Vegas expectation.

JIM HURLEY’S exclusive TEAM HANDICAPPING approach has him ideally positioned to know if something is up in this game or not. He’s been in close contact all week with his sources in both cities as well as his Wise Guy connections in Las Vegas and offshore. You’ll be able to purchase the final word during the day Thursday (along with Louisville/Cincinnati and basketball) right here at the website with your credit card. If you’d like to talk to a live person about full season options, call our handicapping office during normal business hours at 1-888-777-4155.

We’ll be back with you tomorrow to pick up where we left off with our college football conference championship previews. We’ve already studied Florida State/Duke (Tuesday) and Stanford/Arizona State (Wednesday). Friday we’ll look at the SEC title tilt matching Auburn and Missouri, followed Saturday by the Big 10 Championship game involving Ohio State and Michigan State.

Then, it’s back to the NFL for prime time showdowns Sunday and Monday with Carolina/New Orleans and Dallas/Chicago respectively.

What a great week in football! And, what a great time to hook up with JIM HURLEY!

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