JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS ($3.80) v PITTSBURGH STEELERS ($1.29)
The Jaguars progressed to the Divisional Round courtesy of a 10-3 win over the Buffalo Bills; they travel to Heinz Field in Pittsburgh to take on the Steelers.
I know the Jaguars have been dominant in defence, but I am concerned they were not as dominant towards the end of the regular season. Discuss.
The Jaguars were the #1 ranked defence (across many statistical categories) in the NFL this season and relied heavily on their defensive unit in the regular season to get them into the Playoffs and in their Wild Card Round match-up against the Bills.
They are an incredibly talented unit who are well aware that the success of Jacksonville in this game will rest of their ability to create solid field position for Blake Bortles to score. We do not have any concerns about whether they will perform in this match. They are equal to the challenge against the Pittsburgh offence and the winner of that match-up will likely progress to the Conference Championships.
3 things you need to know about this game:
- The weather will have a massive impact.
Heinz Field is an open stadium and the conditions will be incredibly cold. Whilst the Steelers are acclimatised to playing in cold conditions, the Jaguars have only played one game in comparable weather this season.
Jacksonville lost 15-10 to the Texans in Nashville in below freezing temperatures. For those Punters unfamiliar with American geography, Jacksonville is located in Florida where it is considerably warmer.
The Jaguars are 1-8 in regular and post season games in which the temperature is -3 or lower. The Steelers are 7-1 in home postseason games in this temperature (Post Gazette). The predicted temperature at game time is around -9. Statistically this suggests that the Steelers will win this match.
- Blake Bortles is the key for the Jaguars
There was a school of thought in the regular season that Jacksonville are a good quarterback away from being a serious playoff contender and although Bortles may not be the behind the ball next season, he is one of the keys in this match. His decision making under pressure from the Pittsburgh defence in frigid conditions will be a huge difference between the Jaguars winning and losing this match.
Against the Bills, Bortles was very conservative, even to the extent of running for more yards (88) than he passed (87). If the Jaguars are going to win this game they need to make Bortles comfortable in the pocket and get him to make some big plays.
- The Jaguars will need to pass the ball.
As CBS Sports highlighted before this game ‘one of the worst kept secrets in the NFL is that the Jaguars are not actually a great running team, even though they led the NFL in rushing yards. The Jaguars led the NFL in rushing yards because they ran the ball more than any other team’.
This ties back to Blake Bortles and trusting him to throw the ball against the Steelers. Whilst they were conservative offensively against the Bills, they will not be able to score 10 points against Pittsburgh and win this match. They need to take calculated risks on first downs (where Bortles is statistically proven to be better) and let him air it out when he is under less pressure.
FINAL SAY: These two teams met in early October at Heinz Field where Ben Roethlisberger was embarrassed by the Jaguars in a 30-9 loss that included 5 INTs from the Steelers QB. Post-game ‘Big Ben’ was incredibly introspective, questioning whether he still had what it took to play at the top level.
Since then the ship has stabilised and we think that on the basis both teams have strong defences, we look to the offence and favour Pittsburgh at home to progress to the Conference Championships.
BEST BETS: Total Points Under 41.5 ($1.89), Pittsburgh Steelers/Pittsburgh Steelers ($1.67),