Anyone could make a great case for either the Jacksonville Jaguars or Pittsburgh Steelers reaching the AFC Championship Game based on their Week 5 meeting at Heinz Field. Jacksonville was the dominant team in that game, but it was a horrible scheduling spot for the Steelers with contests against the Ravens and Chiefs sandwiching that dud.
It’s a different time and a different place in the Divisional Round of the playoffs, and we suspect we’re going to see a totally different game when these two teams lace ’em up on Sunday afternoon.
Jaguars Playoff History
Winning one playoff game hasn’t been hard for the Jaguars; they’ve now done so in five of their seven postseason appearances in team history.
But claiming that second game has been virtually impossible. Jacksonville did so in its first postseason appearance, beating the Bills and the Broncos in its first two playoff contests before losing to the Patriots in the AFC Championship Game. That said, the Jags haven’t won two postseason games in the same year since.
This is going to be Jacksonville’s fifth trip to the second round of the postseason, and it sports a 2-2 record in its first four tries.
The Jags have been to the ‘Burgh before in the playoffs, winning 31-29 in 2008 in the only postseason meeting between these teams. Those Jaguars were favored over the Steelers, though, and this is a far different script they’re up against.
Steelers Playoff History
The Steelers are certainly no strangers to the Divisional Round. This is the 13th time since 1995 they’ve reached this stage of the playoffs; only New England has seen this spot more times over that stretch.
Pittsburgh has won its first playoff game in consecutive seasons, and it is 12-3 in its first postseason game dating back to the 1995 playoffs.
Why Jacksonville Will Beat the Steelers
Leonard Fournette is going to have to be much better in this game than he has been of late, but perhaps the sight of the Steelers will be just what the doctor ordered to get him going. Fournette’s best game as a pro came here at Heinz Field when he rushed for 181 yards and two touchdowns, including a 90-yarder late in the fourth quarter against a defeated team.
We know that the Jacksonville defense can play. This team sacked Ben Roethlisberger twice and picked him off five times in the first meeting, holding the Steelers out of the end zone in the process.
Why Pittsburgh Will Beat the Jaguars
The likelihood that Big Ben is going to get picked off five times in this one is slim to none. Let’s also not forget that the Steelers had three scoring drives in the first two and a half quarters of that first meeting and walked away with three short Chris Boswell field goals. If even one of those three red zone possessions ends in six points instead of three, we’re perhaps talking about a much different outcome.
The Steelers also played much better ball down the stretch of the season than in Week 5 when these two teams last met. Their only loss since that setback to the Jags came against New England in Week 15, and no one is going to fault them for getting beaten by a field goal by the best team in the league.
Jaguars vs. Steelers Prediction
It’s hard to trust either of these teams right now. The Steelers have been far more lucky than good on this winning streak, escaping with narrow wins over teams that should have been handily put down like Detroit (5), Green Bay (3), Cincinnati (3) and Baltimore (1).
Jacksonville has been much luckier than good all year, too, including finding a way to hide the deficiencies of Blake Bortles.
Bortles got away with a game in which he didn’t even throw for 100 yards last week against Buffalo. There’s no earthly way he’s going to do so against the Steelers.
We don’t have a lot of confidence about this seven-point spread one way or the other, but we do think the Steelers will find a way to slug out a victory.
Jaguars vs. Steelers Pick: Pittsburgh 20, Jacksonville 13
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