Following their skin-of-the-teeth victory last week against the Tennessee Titans, the Jacksonville Jaguars managed to keep their playoff hopes alive. This week, they’ll be looking for a similar result as they take on the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field in the AFC divisional round of the postseason (1:05 PM ET Sunday on CBS).
As many will remember, Jacksonville gave Pittsburgh their biggest loss of the year, when the Jaguars came into Heinz Field and defeated the home team 30-9. It was one of two home losses of the regular season for the Steelers, the second of which came against the New England Patriots, another team Pittsburgh could very well face in the next round of the playoffs. But the Steelers have to get there first.
Pittsburgh’s recent results speak for themselves as it’s clear that this is not the same team that played so poorly back in the early season. The Steelers have improved and have righted the ship, especially defensively. For that reason, it’s not surprising that Pittsburgh enters as 7- point favorites in the betting odds with our top recommended sportsbooks for Americans. That doesn’t however mean that the Steelers should take the Jaguars lightly. Before we get to our Jaguars vs Steelers predictions and picks, we will analyze this NFL game in the following preview.
Pittsburgh vs Jacksonville II
It was Ben Roethlisberger’s worst game of his long and storied career. Jacksonville came into Heinz Field and simply manhandled the home team to the tune of 30 points, half of which were scored on defense. Jacksonville forced five Roethlisberger interceptions, two of which were taken to the house for Jaguar touchdowns.
Of the two teams on the field, no one would have expected that the Steelers would have been the one to completely self-destruct and that Jacksonville would be the one primed to take full advantage, but such was the case in the week five upset. The loss was so bad in fact, that following the game, Roethlisberger publicly mulled retirement. Of course, that was just talk and the veteran QB went on to throw for 28 touchdowns and over 4,200 yards. All in all, it was a pretty successful season for the35-year-old.
Roethlisberger was able to overcome this career-worst outing and so too were the Steelers, who lost just one additional game over the rest of season. That is why, when interviewed about the lopsided week five loss, head coach Mike Tomlin noted the team has evolved since that point.
That much is true but the reasons for Jacksonville’s success are still there and it was on display last week. On the season, the Jaguars boast the NFL’s second best overall defense, allowing opposing teams just over 4,500 yards on the year. Additionally, the Jaguars passing defense is tops in the league with the team allowing opponents just under 170 yards per game and 2,718 yards on the season.
Known as Sacksonville because of their strong defensive line, the Jaguars finished the regular season with 55 sacks, the second most in the league. As it would turn out, the only team with more is the Steelers, who sacked the QB an NFL best 56 times for 393 yards. In the week five contest, both teams recorded two sacks, totaling less than 15 yards a piece.
So while the Steelers are not the same team that is going to turn the ball over five times, Jacksonville is the same team that is one of the best when it comes to getting pressure on the quarterback.
The Blake Bortles Regression Continues
Against the Titans in the wildcard round of the playoffs last week, Jacksonville’s defense was at its absolute best. Tennessee was allowed just three points total in the Jaguars’ grind-it-out style of victory. Defense undoubtedly won that game for Jacksonville, because for yet another consecutive week, the offense took a step backwards with Blake Bortles under center.
Bortles struggled with even the simplest of passes, continuing a downward spiral that began a few weeks prior when the team lost to the San Francisco 49ers. The young QB opened the season with six touchdowns to just two interceptions but in his last three games it has been the opposite. Bortles has thrown five interceptions and just three passing touchdowns.
In the victory, Bortles became just the third QB to win a playoff game while recording more rushing yards than passing. He completed just 12 passes for 87 yards compared to 88 yards on the ground. The plays Bortles made with his legs were definitely vital to Jacksonville being able to grind out the victory, but against a better team like the Steelers, those numbers won’t be good enough.
The Jaguars need Bortles to be the guy he was in early December, when he won three games and threw seven touchdowns and zero interceptions. That stretch helped get Jacksonville into the playoffs and the team will need Bortles at that level to stay there.
It’s not just Bortles though. One of the big reasons why Jacksonville was able to upset the Steelers the first time was because of the running game, namely Leonard Fournette. Fournette rushed for 181 yards and two touchdowns, absolutely torching Pittsburgh’s otherwise strong defensive backfield. But much like Bortles, Fournette has been off his game as of late. The young running back has been held to 70 yards or fewer in five of his last six games. The Jaguars have lost three of the five.
Needless to say, Fournette’s production is going to be vital if Jacksonville hopes to get yet another upset, on the road, against one of the league’s more formidable teams, both on offense and defense.
Our Preview’s Jacksonville Jaguars at Pittsburgh Steelers Picks & Predictions
Jacksonville struck first but Pittsburgh is more adept and more likely to strike next and last. The Steelers have shown themselves to be the better-looking team as of late and will finally be getting Antonio Brown back at full capacity for the first time since before Christmas.
With Brown, this game provides a great matchup as it pits Brown’s status as the league’s top wide receiver against Jacksonville’s Jalen Ramsey, who is the league’s second highest rated cornerback. This will be the one to watch as Jacksonville will need Ramsey to lock down Pittsburgh’s deep ball threat if they hope to have a chance to win. Brown will be aided in his efforts by 22nd ranked receiver in the NFL, the rookie standout Juju Smith-Schuster. Ramsey meanwhile will be backed up by sixth ranked cover man, A.J. Bouye.
So now we turn to our betting on this NFL game and our Jacksonville Jaguars vs Pittsburgh Steelers predictions and selections:
- The Jaguars defense has proved they can hang with anyone and they should put in a good effort on Sunday. However, it’s the Jaguars offense that will sink them this time as they won’t be able to keep up. Take Jacksonville +7.5pts @ -125 with Bovada to keep it close however, managing to best the spread. It is + 7pts with most other sportsbooks.
- Look for the points total to stay well below 41 as well. The best odds for this pick are under 41pts @ -105 with Bookmaker or BetOnline.
Marilee writes on NFL, MLB, NBA & tennis for USA Betting. Another area of her sporting journalistic expertise is pro wrestling. A native of Philadelphia and a big Eagles fan, she has been a sports writer for many major websites including Bleacher Report and Rant Sports. She started her journalistic career early, as sports editor for her college newspaper.