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AFC Divisional Playoffs: Jaguars at Steelers Prediction

Jacksonville Jaguars (11-6) @ Pittsburgh Steelers (13-3)

  • Where: Heinz Field . Pittsburgh, PA
  • When: January 14, 2018 1:05 pm EST
  • Spread: Jaguars (+7.5) at Steelers (-7.5)
  • Moneyline: Jaguars (+270) at Steelers (-340)
  • Over / Under: Over 41 (-110) vs Under 41 (-110)

If there was ever an ultimate study in contrasts in the NFL playoffs, this would be it.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are an age-old powerhouse. Steeltown children as young as 4 years old speak about the “immaculate reception” like it happened yesterday. Mike Tomlin is the latest in a line of legendary long-term head coaches and is a Super Bowl winner along with multiple veterans on the squad. As for the defense? The Steel Curtain nickname still has meaning.

Pittsburgh’s opponent this Sunday, the Jacksonville Jaguars, represent the other end of the NFL spectrum. The Jags have been hapless almost every year since coming into the league, drawing ridicule and endless exhortations to leave town or change owners. Surprisingly, Jacksonville has boasted one of the very best defenses in the league in 2017-18, and has already won a playoff game. Yet their QB, Blake Bortles, is a punch line…and few pundits are giving them a solid chance to reach the Super Bowl in February.

Under the circumstances, you wouldn’t expect the Steelers to feel threatened. But “Big” Ben Roethlisberger had a miserable day when the teams met in October, intercepted 5 times by the ball-hawking Jaguar secondary. The veteran quarterback told a reporter before the AFC Wild Card round that he hoped to play Jacksonville in the Divisional playoffs, to prove the early-season meltdown was a fluke.

Big Ben got his wish. Should he be careful what he asks for?

Odds-makers don’t think so, as the Steelers have been installed as (-340) favorites at Bovada.

Curtain of Ice

Bad winter weather usually affects the O/U total. MSB made the mistake of not considering the long-term forecast in Philadelphia when touting the Army-Navy Game a week before kickoff; a not-so-surprising blizzard turned the contest into a low-scoring scrum after driving the O/U down by more than a TD. (Luckily, our only pick was Army to win straight-up.)

But this time, weather seems to have affected the money line. Bookies are convinced that Pittsburgh will have the upper hand in frigid temperatures on Sunday. After all, they’re facing a warm-weather team from Florida.

Roethlisberger’s style lends itself to cold – the QB is not asked to throw 50 short passes for 1st downs like Tom Brady or Drew Brees. Instead, Ben will hand-off to Le’Veon Bell and look for Anthony Brown deep. If passes fall incomplete and the Steelers punt, a defense that collected 56 sacks in the regular season will keep the opponent at bay until the offense makes something happen.

Bell, however, has picked the wrong time to raise a contract dispute, distracting the locker room and the fan base with threats to retire if given the franchise-tag in the 2018 offseason. Pittsburgh has only lost once by a field goal since getting blown out by the Jags in Week 5, but they’re not overwhelmingly talented. All hands must be on deck for the team to play its best.

Jaguars run great…if you can start them up

Jacksonville QB Blake Bortles is yet another NFL signal-caller who plays well enough to win but is somehow considered a terrible football player. Bortles-hate is not limited to snarky fans, either – many opposing teams have joined in the cat-calling before and after games.

But is Bortles really that bad? The quarterback only completed a dozen short passes in the squad’s Wild Card win over Buffalo, but he galloped for 88 yards and threw the winning TD pass. 2 fumbles were the worst part of his day.

Obviously, the defense will need to play well – which would be true if Joe Montana was starting under center. The Jags have played mostly lock-down defense since mid-season and made Tyrod Taylor’s life miserable last week. The 10-3 win helped answer questions as to how Jacksonville’s talented ‘D could handle a scrambler at QB – Russell Wilson raced for 10 yards a carry on December 10th as Seattle produced 24 2nd-half points and lost to the Jaguars 27-24.

However, Wilson was also intercepted 3 times. Calais Campbell is a monster pass-rusher with 14.5 sacks on the year, but the threat of the rush also sets up the secondary to make game-winning plays. Cornerback A.J. Bouye has 6 interceptions in ’17-18, and several teammates have scored on interception and fumble returns.

Bortles is a rhythm quarterback. If he falls behind early and is forced to pass on 1st down too often, the Steelers could run away with the game. But if the defense plays well again, and Leonard Fournette finds room to run in the 1st half? Then there’s nothing stopping the QB from shocking his critics…even in the cold.

Jacksonville at Pittsburgh money line pick

Click to bet on the Jacksonville Jaguars to upset the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field and and get an A1 sign-up bonus from Bovada Sportsbook.

The Steelers have a good chance to advance. Roethlisberger is a master at squirming out of sack-opportunities in the 4th quarter, creating huge plays on the scramble. Calais Campbell is everything but fast and agile – if he reaches the pocket without help, the veteran Pittsburgh QB can get away and find Brown and other receivers down the field. It is extremely doubtful that the hosts will be kept out of the end zone as the Bills were last weekend.

But against the betting odds? We’re liking a money line bet on Jacksonville. Steeler starters took time off at the end of the regular season, and combined with a bye in the 1st round of the playoffs, that’s a long time for sea legs to get stiff. A slow start could open the door for the Jags, and almost all scenarios in which a Jacksonville win could be in the offing are based on the visitors taking an early lead and making life easier for Bortles.

With a near-$3 payout on the dollar for SU win, it’s worth every dime to take a chance on the unheralded upstart. After all, the pigskin doesn’t know which franchise has won more Super Bowls…or which team has more super-fans in Kindergarten.

Kurt BoyerThis article was written by Kurt Boyer

A freelance sportswriter from Missouri, Kurt has covered court, gridiron, rink and ring for 10+ years. He muses about High School football on social media as The Gridiron Geek.

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