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NFL countdown: Jaguars find sharp backers

This is the first in a series of 32 NFL team betting previews in 32 days leading up to the league’s Sept. 10 season opener. We’ll count down the teams from the lowest season win total to the highest.

The Jacksonville Jaguars are projected to be the worst team in the NFL this season, the front-runners in the race to draft Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence in 2021.

Westgate sportsbook vice president of risk Ed Salmons didn’t see much to like in the Jaguars either, but he said he was forced to pay attention when a group of “highly respected” bettors fired in wagers on Jacksonville recently.

“They bet them every way,” he said. “They bet Jacksonville over wins, Jacksonville to win the division, to make the playoffs.”

The group bet the Jaguars to win the AFC South at 60-1, and they’re now 30-1 at the Westgate to win the division.

Salmons said the Westgate is confident in Indianapolis (+100) to win the division.

Sunset Station sportsbook director Chuck Esposito said he expects Jacksonville to struggle against the rest of the AFC South, including Tennessee and Houston, both playoff teams last season.

“You can make the case that the top three teams in the division are all really good,” he said. “I just don’t see that with the Jaguars.”

Jacksonville appears set to go with Gardner Minshew at quarterback after he played well at times as a rookie after starter Nick Foles was injured in the season opener. The Jaguars traded Foles to Chicago in the offseason one year into a four-year, $88 million deal.

Minshew went 6-6 in the 12 games he started, completing 60.6 percent of his passes for 3,271 yards and 21 touchdowns with six interceptions. Advanced stats weren’t impressed, as Minshew ranked 22nd in Football Outsiders’ DYAR and 26th in ESPN’s QBR rankings.

Esposito said he thinks Minshew is an NFL-caliber starter with a solid group of receivers (DJ Chark, Chris Conley and Dede Westbrook) and that he should be improved this season with new offensive coordinator Jay Gruden.

“They didn’t get a guy in the draft, so that shows something,” Esposito said.

But if Jacksonville exceeds expectations this season, it will likely be because of running back Leonard Fournette and a solid defense. Fournette ran for 1,152 yards and caught 76 passes for another 522 yards last season.

The Jaguars used both of their first-round picks on defense with Florida cornerback CJ Henderson and Louisiana State linebacker K’Lavon Chaisson.

“They’re a team that runs the ball, and the defense is good,” Salmons said. “Maybe they can win that way.”

Contact Jim Barnes at jbarnes@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0277. Follow @JimBarnesLV on Twitter.

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