The Spread and Total
Jacksonville Jaguars at Pittsburgh Steelers (-7.5, O/U 41), courtesy of bovada.lv
The Steelers are hoping to reach the AFC title game for a second straight year while the Jags, coming off their first postseason game in a decade, aspire to make just their second ever conference championship. These two division-winners squared off in early October with Jacksonville winning on the road, 30-9.
[Also see: Falcons vs Eagles; Titans vs Patriots; Saints vs Vikings]
Jacksonville Jaguars: 11-6 SU (9-8 ATS); 1st AFC South (10-6 SU, 9-7 ATS in the regular season)
Pittsburgh Steelers: 13-3 SU (7-9 ATS); 1st AFC North
Key Injuries and Absences
LB Blair Brown (ankle), questionable; CB Aaron Colvin (illness), questionable; WR Jaydon Mickens (hamstring), questionable; LB Paul Posluszny (abdomen), questionable; CB Jalen Ramsey (achilles), questionable; LB Telvin Smith (ankle), questionable.
CB Artie Burns (knee), questionable; DT Javon Hargrave (back), questionable; DE Stephon Tuitt (elbow), questionable.
- Oct. 8, 2017 (Heinz Field, Pittsburgh): Jacksonville 30, Pittsburgh 9
- Oct. 5, 2014 (EverBank Field, Jacksonville): Pittsburgh 17, Jacksonville 9
- Oct. 16, 2011 (Heinz Field, Pittsburgh): Pittsburgh 17, Jacksonville 13
- Oct. 5, 2008 (Jacksonville Municipal Stadium, Jacksonville): Pittsburgh 26, Jacksonville 21
- Jan. 5. 2008 (Heinz Field, Pittsburgh): Jacksonville 31, Pittsburgh 29
Significant Betting Trends
- The Jaguars have failed to cover in three straight games.
- The Jaguars are 3-2 straight-up and ATS as an underdog this season.
- The only other time that Jacksonville was an underdog of more than seven points, they beat Pittsburgh 30-9.
- The Jaguars have dropped each of their last three road games and failed to cover in all three.
- When the Jaguars have had an over under of 40 to 41 this season, the under is 4-1.
- The Steelers have failed to cover in five of their last six games.
- As a favorite of more than seven points, Pittsburgh is 5-1 overall but 2-4 ATS.
- During the last four home games, Pittsburgh is 3-1 straight-up but 0-4 ATS.
- Pittsburgh has played just two games with a total lower than 41.5 this year. Both games went over.
Despite the history of these franchises being very different, Jacksonville actually leads the all time series 13-11, and won the only playoff game between the squads, 31-29 in 2008. That said, the Steelers are 16-9 all-time in the Divisional Round, including trips in each of the last two years, while Jacksonville is 2-2 and last reached this point in 2007.
The Jags won in Pittsburgh as a 7.5-point underdog in Week 5, picking off Ben Roethlisberger five times and taking two of those picks back to the house. The Jaguars out-rushed Pittsburgh 231-70 with rookie Leonard Fournette getting 28 carries for 181 yards and two scores (though that included a 90-yard TD run late in the fourth quarter when the outcome was already decided). Doug Marrone didn’t give his own interception-prone QB a chance to blow the game, as Blake Bortles went just 8/14 passing for 95 yards, no touchdowns, and one pick.
The biggest problem the Jaguars have is the radically inconsistent Bortles. Over his last four games he has thrown for 87, 158 , 382, and 326 yards, while completing 52-percent, 44-percent, 64-percent, and 72-percent of his passes. His TD-to-INT ratio in those games is 1:0, 0:2, 2:3, and 3:0.
His up-and-down play is why Jacksonville’s game-plan is frequently run heavy. The Jags led the NFL in rushing attempts and yards this year, which is good news against a Steelers defense that ranked 26th in the NFL in yards per carry, allowing 4.4 YPC, and gave up 14 rushing touchdowns. Marrone kept his QB under wraps in the Wild Card Round, as Bortles threw just 23 passes for 87 yards, while running it 10 times for 88 yards. Fournette got 24 touches and managed 78 yards.
Third down could be a big factor this weekend. While the Jags rank 20th in the NFL, moving the sticks on just over 37-percent of their opportunities, Pittsburgh is second in the league at 44-percent. But where Jacksonville’s offense falters, the defense (as usual) picks up the slack; it ranked second in the NFL on third down, allowing opponents to convert just 32.2-percent of the time (vs 36.2-percent for Pittsburgh).
The Steelers have lost just once since their Week 5 setback against Jacksonville, and that was against New England in a controversial game that came down to the final minute. Their only other loss this season was an anomalous OT game in Chicago. Their best wins were over Minnesota and Kansas City and they went 2-2 against teams that made the playoffs. Jacksonville was just 1-3, beating the Steelers and losing to the Rams and Titans (twice).
Pittsburgh’s success throughout the year has been primarily based on offense, especially since Ryan Shazier went down. They score over 25 points per game and boast the third-best passing attack in the NFL. Wide receiver Antonio Brown, who suffered a calf injury late in the year but is expected to be healthy for the playoffs, led the NFL in receiving yards, and managed a league-high 27 plays of 20 yards or more. Rookie JuJu Smith-Schuster emerged during the season, grabbing 75 yards or more in each of his last three games, and making 12 grabs of 20 yards or more during the campaign.
Not to be out done by the passing game, Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell was third in the NFL in rushing, and added 45 catches in 13 games. In two playoff wins last season, Bell rushed for 337 yards on 59 carries. In the AFC title game loss to New England, Bell rushed only six times and did not catch a pass.
Expect a healthy dose of Bell this weekend. The Jaguars defense ranked second in the league in scoring, total yards, and against the pass, but was only 21st stopping the run. Jacksonville’s 33 takeaways were second-most in the NFL.
As for kicking, the Jaguars have been better than Pittsburgh on field goals this year, and both are solid punting. Jacksonville is the better return team.
Aside from Jacksonville winning at Pittsburgh convincingly in the first meeting, there is little reason to believe in the Jaguars. While their defense is good, stopping the run is not their strength, and Bell is ready to roll. It is impossible to trust Bortles, and Pittsburgh will be loading the box to contain Fournette.
If the Steelers run, run and run some more, it may take time off the clock, but eventually the Jaguars defense will tire and give up big plays. The Jags should be able to score, particularly if the game is lopsided late. A pick-six for one or both teams seems reasonably likely, too, and that can add to the total quickly.
Pick: Steelers (-7.5) and OVER (41.5)