The public perception of the Jacksonville Jaguars has taken a dramatic change in the last two months.
When the season started, the Jaguars were expected to remain one of the league’s bottom feeders. They’ve won just one playoff game since 1999.
The over-under on the Jaguars was 6.5 wins.
After a surprising 4-3 start, the Jaguars suddenly have a bandwagon as they prepare for Sunday’s pivotal game against the Cincinnati Bengals.
According to walterfootball.com, the Jaguars have become a popular public team with 62 percent of NFL bettors putting their money on them. That’s boosted the line from 2.5 points to five or six.
The website says the line is out of whack and is taking the Bengals with the points. It says the line should have stayed at 2.5 and that the Bengals are a top play.
The website said the Jaguars may not be up for the game after thrashing the Indianapolis Colts and then having a bye week, which means they’ve had two weeks to hear how good they are.
The website said it would be shocked if the Jaguars are motivated and predicts the Bengals will keep it close and may pull off the outright upset.
“I don’t see the Jaguars getting up for this game at all,’’ the website said, picking the Bengals to win by a point.
So that sets up an interesting dynamic. If the Jaguars win, they will continue to be a popular team — especially since they play the weakest schedule in the league in the second half. That includes two winless teams (Cleveland Browns and San Francisco 49ers) plus two teams they’ve beaten easily (Houston Texans and Colts).
With Deshaun Watson injured, the division race is between the Jaguars and Titans.
But if the Jaguars lose, they will continue to be on the win-one-lose-one treadmill they’ve been on all year.
The Jaguars have Leonard Fournette back for the game, so it is no secret how the Bengals will defend them. They will stack the box and try to force Blake Bortles to throw. The Jaguars have limited Bortles passing this year. He’s throwing 11 fewer passes than he did last year.
“We are not going to let the run game beat us,’’ linebacker Vontaze Burfict said, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer. “We’re going to at least let Bortles throw the ball. … I think the film tells us itself that obviously Fournette can beat you and I am not sure Blake can beat us. We want to put it in his hands and have him beat us, if he can.’’
The Bengals haven’t allowed a running back to go for over 20 yards this year, while Fournette has done it three times, including runs of 75 and 90 yards.
The problem with stacking the box is that if Fournette busts through the line, there is only one safety in the middle to stop him from a long gain.
Bengals safety George Lloka said Fournette shouldn’t be able to bust through because there is a player in every gap.
“But when guys get out of their gap in an eight-man box, any d-coordinator will tell you, bad shit is about to happen,” Lloka said.
The Bengals are only 11th against the run in the league but third against the pass.
“We’ve had our ups and downs,’’ coach Marvin Lewis said of their run defense.
And the Jaguars lead the league in percentage of run plays called and an average of five yards per rush.
Cincinnati defensive line coach Jacob Burney said the Jaguars don’t try to trick you, so the Bengals know what is coming.
“They are going to hit you in the mouth,’’ he said.
This figures to be a low-scoring defensive game. The Bengals don’t run well, and Jalen Ramsey will make it difficult for Andy Dalton to get the ball to A.J. Green.
Now it’s up to the Jaguars to show they are as good as the betting public thinks they are.