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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Friday, December 22, 2017 at 5:00 PM

In recent days, the Jacksonville Jaguars have been getting a lot of positive media run as a Super Bowl dark horse. In fact, some experts don’t even consider them a dark horse any more. Jacksonville’s great defense and adequate quarterback play has them positioned to swipe a top two seed and a bye in the AFC brackets if the Pittsburgh Steelers falter.

The problem is…we don’t really know how good the Jaguars are right now.

*They’ve played the league’s easiest schedule (according to USA Today)

*They’ve played 8 home games, and only 6 road games

*They haven’t played anyone who matters lately

Crushing Houston or Indianapolis doesn’t make you a Super Bowl team. Jacksonville did catch Pittsburgh napping, but that was early in the season and was keyed by turnovers rather than all-around greatness. Computer models that focus on recent form but don’t account for strength of schedule see Jacksonville as a juggernaut rather than a bubble that’s about to burst.

This Sunday’s road game at San Francisco at least presents a challenge. That might sound surprising to you because the 49ers were so bad earlier this season. But, they are 3-0 straight up and ATS since Jimmy Garappolo became the starting quarterback. They may not be playing quite like a playoff team. But, they’re going to show up with energy and enthusiasm, which is more than we can say for most recent Jaguars opponents.

It’s also a game that the Jags might take too lightly. It’s not a divisional or conference game. And, it’s on the opposite side of the country sandwiched between two divisional matchups. This has “flat spot” written all over it for the road favorite. As weird as it sounds for the 49ers, of all teams, to become a litmus test. Late in this weird 2017 campaign, that’s exactly what’s happened. Off of opponents like Houston, Indianapolis, Arizona, and Cleveland (along with collapsing Seattle), the Jaguars are at least now facing a fired-up opponent that presents some challenges to this defense.

Oddsmakers have Jacksonville favored by -4.5. If the Jags are a threat to Pittsburgh and New England next month, they’ll win here by at least a touchdown. If they’re a pretender that’s likely to fall short (or even get surprised earlier than expected), that will be foreshadowed here in a loss or a thriller against the Niners. There just aren’t any blockbusters this weekend. THIS may be the game that matters most in terms of outlining playoff likelihoods.

What to watch for:

*Can Jacksonville shut down Garappolo? If San Francisco moves the ball Sunday, you know for sure that New England and Pittsburgh will be able to do that in playoff action. But, if the Niners are punting all afternoon (rather than driving for field goals like they’ve been doing so much of), then it’s a final confirmation that Jacksonville has a Super Bowl caliber defense. You can go the distance in this sport with an average offense and a championship defense.

*Can Blake Bortles avoid turnovers in a game like this where expectations are high. Sure, he put up big numbers last week against Houston. Everybody’s doing that against the non-contenders who are playing out the string. San Francisco is showing up…and the home crowd is getting behind this team. If Bortles throws two interceptions or otherwise struggles, how could you ask him to win in Pittsburgh or New England (or Minnesota if they get lucky) under postseason pressure?

*What is San Francisco’s outlook for NEXT season? Smart handicappers are always thinking about the future. Right now, San Francisco has the look of a team that has a shot at .500 in 2018, and possibly better than that if Seattle and Arizona continue drifting the wrong way in the NFC West. Beating Chicago, Houston, and Tennessee is nice. If Garappolo shines while stepping up in class, next year’s San Francisco could suddenly look a lot like this year’s Los Angeles Rams.

JIM HURLEY will definitely have his eye on this one. It might even be a major release. You’ll have to sign up for service to make sure you get the top pro and college investments this weekend. You can purchase our college and pro football BEST BETS right here at the website with your credit card. If you have any questions about extended service, please call us in the office at 1-888-777-4155 to take care of business. Don’t forget to ask about combination packages with basketball, as some great attractions are on the holiday schedule between now and New Year’s.

We’ll be back early next week to either recap major developments from a huge football weekend, or to look ahead to post-Christmas marquee bowl matchups. TV viewers haven’t been treated to too many thrills yet. That’s about to change as we get to the loaded part of the schedule. In the meantime, GET THE MONEY throughout the holiday weekend with PROVEN WINNER JIM HURLEY and his NETWORK OF EXPERTS!

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