Jacksonville Travels To Pittsburgh In The AFC Divisional Round; The Winner Will Play In the AFC Championship Game: What To Watch
The Steelers want revenge from the 30-9 loss to Jacksonville in week five, where quarterback Ben Roethlisberger threw five interceptions.
Last week the Jaguars won their first playoff game since defeating Pittsburgh at Heinz Field in 2007.
The Steelers are the number two fan base in the city of Jacksonville, due to their dominance in the 70’s when Jacksonville did not have a team.
Almost no one is giving the Jaguars a chance Sunday afternoon, even though the Jags are top-two in total defense (286.1), pass defense (169.9), scoring defense (16.8), takeaways (33), interceptions (21), and sacks (55).
The Steelers do not care about Jacksonville’s defensive prominence.
Pittsburgh has a Hall of Fame quarterback (Roethlisberger), the best running back in the league (Bell), the best receiver in the league (Brown), and a top-five defense the gets to play Blake Bortles.
Are The Steelers Distracted?
Pittsburgh is dealing with a lot of “self-inflicted” outside noise this week going into Sunday’s matchup. It started last week when Roethlisberger said in an interview that he wanted to play the Jaguars.
Then Roethlisberger had answer questions about Sunday’s game being his last game at Heinz Field, due to his comments after the 30-9 loss to Jacksonville in week five.
Steelers’ offensive coordinator Todd Haley reportedly got into a bar fight last week (his second).
Steelers’ safety Mike Mitchell guaranteed a victory over the Patriots in the playoffs before the postseason even began.
Pittsburgh running back Le’Veon Bell was asked about his contract situation.
“Just get the numbers straight, exactly where we want them. I’m not going to settle for anything,” Bell said. “I know what I do and what I bring to the table. I’m not going out here getting the ball 400 times if I’m not getting what I feel I’m valued at.”
The Steelers need to focus on the task at hand. Jacksonville, a team who’s beat Pittsburgh earlier this season. The Jaguars are the only team ever to defeat Pittsburgh twice at Heinz Field in one season (2007).
Jaguars’ quarterback Blake Bortles has been the most scrutinized signal-caller in the NFL this season. Some just, some not so just, but the only reason the scrutiny is so high is because the Jaguars are good as a whole.
Despite Bortles’ limitations, Jacksonville has the NFL’s sixth-best total offense (365.9), fifth-ranked scoring offense (26.1), and the league’s top rushing attack (141.4).
However, the fourth-year signal-caller is coming off a game where he ran for more yards than he passed for; passing for just 87 yards. Also, in the week five matchup vs. Pittsburgh, Bortles threw for just 95 yards.
It’s simple when it comes down to Sunday’s matchup, If Bortles plays well, Jacksonville will win. If Bortles plays like he did vs. Buffalo, the Jags will lose. Look for Bortles to attack the Steelers in the middle of the field where linebacker Ryan Shazier used to be. Also, Jacksonville will pass more often on first down to loosen up the defense.
Bortles will have full complimentary of receivers when Jacksonville’s travels to Heinz Field. The receiving corps has repeatedly been hit with injuries throughout the year.
Matchups to Watch
Leonard Fournette vs. Steelers Front Seven: Fournette had his best game as a professional vs. the Steelers in week five, 181 yards and two touchdowns. Also, the rookie had a career-high 28 carries. The Steelers will load the box and dare Jacksonville to pass. It’s critical that Jacksonville does not abandon the run if the game is close. Keep pounding the ball, controlling the tempo of the game, then take your shots when they present themselves.
Le’Veon Bell vs. Jags Front Seven: The weakest part of the Jaguars stout defense is the run game, especially right up the middle. Bell is the most patient back in the league, combined with the best vision. Due to the five interceptions in the week five matchup, the Steelers were behind and had to throw the ball 55 times. Look for the Steelers to get Bell more involved and keep him involved. Most noteworthy, in the passing game where Bell has 85 catches.
Steelers Pass Offense vs. Jags Pass Defense: Jacksonville wants Pittsburgh to pass 40-50 times Sunday afternoon, into the strength of their team. Roethlisberger will need to be in rare form, eluding the Jags aggressive pass rush and delivering accurate passes to his weapons. In the week five matchup, Steelers receiver Antonio Brown torched Jacksonville for 157 yards. But he had 19 targets as Big Ben forced to him time and time again. This is the most intriguing matchup throughout the weekend.
The X Factor: Turnovers
Roethlisberger threw five interceptions in the week five matchup with Jacksonville, leading to the 30-9 loss in Pittsburgh.
Bortles came into this season leading the league in turnovers with 55 over the past three years. Jacksonville is 9-0 this season when Bortles does not turn the ball over.
Fournette and Bell don’t lose fumbles often. Bortles and Roethlisberger have done a decent job of protecting the ball this season.
The team that protects the ball better and the team that can capitalize on turnovers has an inside track to the AFC Championship.
Line: Pittsburgh by 7 | Over/Under 41 points
Prediction: Jacksonville 23 – Pittsburgh 20