The AFC Divisional Round matchup between the Jaguars and the Steelers is a rematch from a Week 5 regular season game where the Jaguars embarrassed Pittsburgh at Heinz Field. The Steelers have a chance at revenge in front of their home fans by defeating the Jaguars and earning a spot in the AFC Championship Game. Jacksonville is hoping for a repeat performance and to shock the Steelers nation one more time. Kickoff inside Heinz Field is at 1:05 PM ET.
Sunday’s playoff game will be the 25th time these two teams have faced each other. The Jaguars hold the series advantage with an all-time record of 13-11. With their win in Week 5 of the regular season, the Jaguars have tied the overall head-to-head series in Pittsburgh at 6-6. These two teams have played one time before in the Playoffs and the Jaguars defeated the Steelers 31-28 at Heinz Field in 2008.
The Jaguars (11-6) are 4-4 on the road and come into this matchup having won 4 of their last 5 games in Pittsburgh. Jacksonville defeated the Bills last weekend by a score of 10-3 and look to have their offense rebound from a poor performance against Buffalo. Can the Jags duplicate their performance from Week 5?
The Steelers (13-3) are 6-2 at home and come into this matchup off a much needed bye week. The huge news is that all-pro wide receiver Antonio Brown will play this weekend against the Jaguars and it’s a much needed boost for a potent offense. Can the Steelers o-line hold up against the ferocious front 7 of the Jaguars.
The Over/Under opened at 41 total points and it remains unchanged. The spread opened with the Steelers favored by a touchdown. The spread opened with the Steelers favored by 7 points, but it has slightly gone up to 7.5 points.
Steelers fans were hoping for a rematch against the Jaguars as they’re seeking revenge for Pittsburgh’s most embarrassing loss of the season. But, Steelers fans have to be careful of what they wish for because the Jaguars are a dangerous team.
In their Week 5 matchup, the Jaguars intercepted Big Ben 5 times and sacked him twice. They also hit him 7 times, had 7.5 tackles for a loss and returned two of the interceptions for touchdowns. It was an impressive performance by the Jaguars defense. Jacksonville kept Le’Veon Bell in check by allowing only 47 rushing yards on 15 carries and 46 receiving yards on 10 receptions. The only bright spot for the Steelers offense that day was Antonio Brown’s 10 receptions for 157 yards.
With Brown back this weekend, Pittsburgh is looking to take advantage of his playmaking abilities and his presence on the field, which opens up the defense for other players. Since that Week 5 tilt, JuJu Schuster has come on strong to be a legitimate #2 receiver. And if that weren’t enough, Martavis Bryant has risen from the ashes to become the most dangerous #3 receiver in the league. But, they are still going up against the best pass defense in the NFL.
Jacksonville finished the regular season at the top of the league allowing just 286.1 net total ypg, which was good for #2 overall. They also were #1 against the pass at 169.9 net passing ypg, #2 in scoring at 16.8 ppg, #2 in takeaways with 33, #2 with 21 interceptions, #1 with 56 sacks, #1 with fewest 1st downs allowed, and #4 in the league with a 3rd down percentage of 33.6. As you can see, this defense is legit. In fact, just ask the Bills offense who was shut down last weekend. The Jaguars held the Bills to 263 total yards, 3 points and forced 2 turnovers.
But, the one thing to note about last weekend’s game was that Buffalo shut down the Jaguars offense and held them to just 10 points, 260 total yards and just 15 first downs. If Buffalo had better play at the QB position Jacksonville would have lost that game. And, this is where I believe Vegas and NFL pundits see that Pittsburgh can take advantage and win this game.
Last weekend, Jags QB Blake Bortles was terrible. If it weren’t for his 88 rushing yards, it would’ve been one of the worst QB performances in the history of the AFC. Bortles went 12-23 for 87 yards and 1 TD. He looked inept the majority of the game. If Bortles plays like that this weekend, Pittsburgh will steamroll the Jaguars. As it stands right now, I believe Pitt wins the game 23-14 and here’s why:
Big Ben won’t have another 5 pick performance. He will outduel a struggling Bortles and capitalize on more offensive opportunities. The Steelers defense will focus on taking away the run game with Leonard Fournette just as the Bills did. Buffalo held the rookie RB to just 57 yards on 21 carries. Pitt will duplicate that game plan and lock down an average group of receivers with their secondary. They will also bring pressure on Bortles and force a few turnovers, which Buffalo was unable to do despite having chances.
The Jags will do their best to contain Antonio Brown and Schuster, but I believe this opens up a great advantage for the Steelers with Bryant against the Jags 3rd corner. Additionally, Buffalo’s RB McCoy had 119 total yards against the Jags and that was with an inept QB. I see Bell being the “cow bell” in this game and getting at least 125 total yards. Bottom line, Pittsburgh will look at how Buffalo game-planned the Jaguars last weekend and capitalize where the Bills could not. I like Pittsburgh this game and the terrible towels will be whipping like crazy as Pittsburgh wins 23-14.
Pittsburgh is 4-0-1 ATS in their last 5 AFC Divisional Round Playoff Games, 4-2 ATS in their last 6 games against AFC South opponents, and 24-12 ATS in their last 36 games as a home favorite of 7.5 to 10 points. The Jaguars are 3-6 ATS in their last 9 games where their opponent has a winning record in the second half of the season, 6-8 ATS in their last 14 games against an opponent with a winning record overall, and 1-2 ATS in their last 3 games during the month of January.