This week's Jaguars vs. Broncos matchup is shaping up to be a blowout for the ages. On Sunday, R. J. Bell of Pregame.com announced that the betting line for the game would be minus-28 in favor of Denver, meaning the Jaguars could lose by 27 points and still cover the spread.
As you can see in the tweet, this is the largest betting spread in NFL history, and there's good reason for it.
Through five games, the Denver Broncos look simply unstoppable. They are scoring a league-high 46 points per game and have put up 230 total points, the highest total in NFL history through the first five games of a season.
Denver is on pace to score a ridiculous 736 points in 2013, which would obliterate the previous record of 589 set by the undefeated 2007 New England Patriots. Its point differential is plus-91, another league-leading number.
Jacksonville, meanwhile, is at the bottom of the league in points per game with a lowly 10.2 points-per-game average, and its point differential is a league-worst minus-112. The Jaguars have scored 51 points all season; the Broncos scored 51 points in their Week 5 matchup against the Dallas Cowboys. According to Jaguars beat writer Ryan O'Halloran, the Jaguars are the first team to lose its first five games by double digits since the 1986 Indianapolis Colts.
Simply put, this is a mismatch of epic proportions. This game seems like a lost cause for Jacksonville.
The Jaguars are overmatched on both sides of the ball and just lost starting left tackle Luke Joeckel and starting free safety Dwight Lowery to injured reserve. Denver sports Peyton Manning and his insane 20 touchdown passes; the Jaguars have a total of five touchdowns all season. How can the Jaguars even compete?
Per Josh Katzowitz of CBS Sports with an assist from Las Vegas-based online gaming company Bovada, there have been seven NFL spreads of 21 points or more in league history, and the Jaguars-Broncos matchup will make eight. The bad news: The favorite has won each of the previous seven spreads of 21 points or more. However, there is good news: Every single one of the previous seven underdogs has covered the spread.
Though it seems like an unbeatable juggernaut, Denver, like all teams, has weaknesses. If the Jaguars want to have any chance at hanging with the Broncos, they're going to have to work to exploit Denver's weaknesses as opposed to the old Jack Del Rio "here's what we do; try and stop us" philosophy.
I consulted Chris Hansen, Bleacher Report's AFC West Lead Writer, to see where the Broncos might be vulnerable and what Jacksonville could do to exploit their weaknesses. Here are the two main things the Jaguars will have to do to compete against Denver.
1. Beat Denver's Secondary
As evidenced by their Week 5 matchup against Dallas in which Tony Romo torched the Broncos for 506 passing yards and five touchdowns through the air, the Broncos secondary isn't bulletproof. As you can read in B. J. Kissel's great breakdown of last week's game, Romo and the Cowboys had success attacking the middle of the field and finding holes between Denver's linebackers and safeties.
Denver's best cornerback, Champ Bailey, hasn't played through five weeks and seems likely to sit again against Jacksonville, leaving Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Chris Harris as the two starting corners and pushing Tony Carter into the nickel corner role.
The Broncos have been very good against opposing No. 1 wide receivers. According to Football Outsiders' DVOA metric, the Broncos are seventh in the league against No. 1 receivers with a DVOA rating of minus-20.10 percent (note: negative DVOA ratings are good for a defense); however, Denver is not nearly as good against opposing No. 2 options:
As you can see from the table, Denver ranks seventh in the league against No. 1s but only 25th against No. 2s. The Broncos also rank in the bottom 10 defending the pass against all other wide receivers, tight ends and running backs.
According to Chris, nickel cornerback Tony Carter is the weakest link in the secondary. When the Broncos bring extra defensive backs onto the field, Chris Harris shifts inside to the slot, leaving Carter matched up against an outside receiver. In addition to Carter's issues against the pass, both safeties, Duke Ihenacho and Rahim Moore, have also struggled in coverage.
The Jaguars, meanwhile, boast two playmaking wide receivers in Cecil Shorts and Justin Blackmon and a receiving tight end in Clay Harbor that has shown flashes of ability over the first five games of the season. In addition, running backs Maurice Jones-Drew, Justin Forsett, and Jordan Todman all have the ability to catch the ball out of the backfield.
Per Chris, Denver likes to bring safety Duke Ihenacho into the box and play Cover 1, which means the Broncos defensive backs will play a lot of one-on-one. This forces the receiver to beat the defensive back in a head-to-head matchup and can result in some big plays if he is successful.
Rodgers-Cromartie will be matched up with one of Shorts or Blackmon on almost every play. To exploit the Broncos' weakness against the pass, Chad Henne will need to look away from Rodgers-Cromartie and pick on Denver's other defensive backs.
When Chad Henne has thrown the ball downfield, he hasn't looked half bad, though he's still far from a viable NFL starter. To have a chance to stay competitive against Denver, he's going to have to air it out similarly to what he did against Houston in Week 11 of last year. Is "chuck it downfield and hope your receivers make a play on the ball" the best strategy to win an NFL game? Absolutely not, but it might be Jacksonville's best shot.
2. Contain Peyton Manning and the Denver Offense
Peyton Manning doesn't appear to be stoppable. He's thrown for 300-plus yards and two or more touchdowns in every game this season and has broken the 400-yard barrier twice. He's put up four or more touchdowns through the air three times. The Broncos are on a record-breaking offensive pace, and Manning and his fantastic receiving corps of receivers Demaryius Thomas, Wes Welker and Eric Decker and tight end Julius Thomas are a huge reason why.
Twenty touchdowns is a nice total for a full season and would be tied for the second-highest season total in Jaguars history, but Manning has thrown those 20 touchdowns in only five games. Want to see them all?
The Broncos have scored at least 37 points in every game this season, while Jacksonville's highest total is the 20 they put up against St. Louis. I can't imagine the Jaguars having a shot to win the game without breaking the 30-point barrier, which means they'll have to hold Manning and the Broncos offense to their lowest point total of 2013 to have a chance.
Manning and the Jaguars have met before, and though Peyton has gotten the best of Jacksonville the majority of the time, the Jaguars have still defeated him five times in 19 games. His 38 career touchdowns against the Jaguars are the most Jacksonville has allowed to any opponent, but 38 touchdowns in 19 games is only two touchdowns per game.
Manning's career average against Jacksonville is approximately 23-of-35 for 276 yards, two touchdowns, and an interception. While that's a nice game for a quarterback, it would be a massive accomplishment to hold the 2013 iteration of Peyton Manning to that stat line. For Jacksonville to have a chance to win, it'll likely have to do just that.
According to Chris, the best thing a team can do to try to stop Manning is get to him with four pass-rushers and hope the secondary can hold its coverage. If the Jaguars decide to blitz Manning, they can't tip their hand before the snap; Manning is a master technician at the line of scrimmage and has no trouble finding the blitzer and throwing a hot read to the open man.
Chris notes that the Broncos are susceptible to the interior rush against guard Manny Ramirez and that Chris Clark, Denver's replacement at left tackle for the injured Ryan Clady, can be beaten as well. However, Denver has only allowed an NFL-low five sacks this season, partly due to its pass blocking and partly due to Manning's incredible ability to sense pressure and deliver the ball before the rush arrives.
The Jaguars' goal shouldn't be to sack Manning; it should be to make him get rid of the ball before he wants to. With Dwayne Gratz still likely on the shelf this week, the Jaguars' starting cornerback duo of Will Blackmon and a banged-up Alan Ball will have their hands full with Manning and his amazing band of pass-catchers.
Jacksonville defensive tackle Sen'Derrick Marks has looked explosive all season; if he can pressure Manning from the interior, it should help the Jaguars' chances immensely. Marks and defensive ends Jason Babin and Andre Branch will be counted on to get to Manning early and often; if they allow Manning to sit in the pocket and deliver the ball when he wants, Denver will run up the score, and the game will be over by halftime.
Are the Jaguars going to beat the Denver Broncos in Denver this week? Almost certainly not. This is one of the most lopsided matchups in recent memory, and I'd be shocked if the game was even close.
Through five games, the 2013 Denver Broncos are one of the best teams in NFL history, and the 2013 Jacksonville Jaguars are one of the worst teams in NFL history. The Jaguars face an uphill battle from the get-go, but if they can put up 30-plus points and hold Manning to a "pretty good" game instead of a "Madden stats" game like he's been putting up recently, they have a chance to make it close.
All stats taken from Pro Football Reference unless otherwise noted.