NFL Expert Picks Against the Spread: Jacksonville Jaguars at Pittsburgh Steelers
Just think how close we might have been to an all-Pennsylvania Super Bowl.
The Philadelphia Eagles were the clear team to beat in the NFC before star quarterback Carson Wentz went down with a season-ending torn ACL in Week 14. The following Sunday, the New England Patriots visited the Pittsburgh Steelers in the most important game of the regular season. The Steelers appeared to win that game late, only for a touchdown reception by Jesse James to be overturned on replay because the NFL simply doesn't know what a catch is these days (for the record, I thought it was one and I have no dog in this fight).
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Two plays later, Ben Roethlisberger threw one of the worst interceptions of his career in the end zone. Instead of overtime at a minimum and potential home-field advantage against the Patriots in a likely AFC title showdown, the Steelers were relegated to the No. 2 seed. Now the AFC is almost an afterthought because it's nearly impossible to beat Tom Brady in a postseason game at Foxboro.
And it's a trip to Gillette Stadium - I am absolutely presuming the Patriots beat the Tennessee Titans on Saturday night -- on the line Sunday when Jacksonville visits Pittsburgh in the divisional round. It's the second playoff meeting between the franchises. On Jan. 5, 2007, in the wild-card round, the Jaguars won at Heinz Field 31-29 on Josh Scobee 25-yard field goal with 37 seconds left. Jacksonville QB David Garrard was just 9-for-21 for 140 yards with a TD and two picks. More on lousy Jaguars QB play in a minute. Roethlisberger threw for 337 yards and two scores but was picked off three times. Those Jags became the first opponent to win twice in Pittsburgh in the same season in the Steelers' 75-season history.
At BetOnline , Pittsburgh is +225 to win the AFC and +550 for the Super Bowl. Jacksonville is +800 and +1600, respectively.
Jaguars at Steelers Betting Story Lines
This could be the final game in his team's uniform for the losing quarterback. Roethlisberger is obviously a first-ballot Hall of Famer and the Steelers are planning on him for 2018. However, Big Ben made noise after last season about retiring and also did earlier this year (more on that in a second). He has taken quite a beating in his career, and I actually think he's one guy who would walk away from $17 million next season. Roethlisberger has made plenty of money and his legacy is secure. He probably would like to be able to walk when he's 50. However, I think the only way he quits is if the Steelers do win him a third ring and he goes out on top.
Meanwhile, Jacksonville's Blake Bortles might not have a choice as to whether he's a member of his team next year. Bortles is due to make $19 million in 2018 if the Jaguars let him play out his fifth-year rookie option. They can simply decline that and walk away. For the first three games of December, the former No. 3 overall pick in the 2014 draft was the NFL's best signal-caller. Alas, Bortles returned to his turnover ways in the final two games of the season. In last week's truly unwatchable 10-3 win over Buffalo, Bortles was just 12-for-23 for 87 yards. He did have a touchdown pass, ran for a career-high 88 yards and didn't have a pick (Jags 8-0 in regular season when he didn't), but you aren't winning in Pittsburgh completing 52.2 percent of your throws for less than 100 yards. I don't think Bortles will sniff 88 yards rushing again, either. Jacksonville, incidentally, became only the third team in the past 30 years to score 10 or fewer points in a wild-card game and win.
I am no defensive coordinator, but I'm pretty confident the Steelers will put eight in the box to stop Leonard Fournette and dare Bortles to beat them. In fact, during the season the Jaguars faced more eight-plus-man boxes than any other team in the league (27.5 percent of total carries). The Jaguars had the No. 1 rushing attack in the NFL, but it tailed off late in the regular season. It looks better on the stat sheet last week with 155 yards on 34 carries, but take out Bortles' 88 yards and it's not good.
The biggest injury news here belongs to Steelers receiver Antonio Brown. He partially tore a calf muscle early in that Patriots loss and hasn't played since - yet still won the NFL receiving yardage title. Brown is back practicing in full and will play. Bortles got his No. 1 receiver, Marqise Lee, back against the Bills after missing two games with a high ankle sprain. Lee didn't have a catch, though, and didn't look 100 percent, but his quarterback also stinks.
Jaguars at Steelers Betting Odds and Trends
At 5Dimes , Pittsburgh is an 8.5-point favorite (+105) with a total of 41. On the moneyline, the Steelers are -325 and Jaguars +265. Some alternate lines: Steelers -7.5 (+105), -7 (-115), -6.5 (-140), -10.5 (+152), -2.5 (-275). The Jags are 9-8 against the spread (4-4 on road) and 8-9 "over/under" (3-5 on road). The Steelers are 7-9 ATS (3-5 at home) and 6-10 O/U (5-3 at home).
Jacksonville is 2-7 ATS in its past nine after allowing 15 points or fewer in the last game. The Jags are 1-5 ATS in their past six after scoring 15 or fewer in the last game. The Steelers are 7-1 ATS in their past eight home playoff games. They are 1-5 ATS in their past six overall this year. The under is 8-1 in Jacksonville's past nine vs. the AFC. It's 4-1-1 in Pittsburgh's previous six playoff games. The road team has covered four straight in the series.
Jaguars at Steelers Betting Prediction
In Week 5, the Jaguars stunned the Steelers 30-9 at Heinz Field thanks to five interceptions of Roethlisberger, two returned for third-quarter touchdowns and a 20-9 lead. Bortles stunk that day (8-for-14, 95 yards, INT), but Fournette was great with 28 carries for 181 yards and two scores (one from 90). Brown caught 10 passes for 157 yards. Roethlisberger afterward said maybe he wasn't good enough to play any longer - but he has played much better in the 10 games since with 22 TDs and seven picks. In the final seven weeks of the regular season, the Steelers are averaging an NFL-high 31.3 points per game.
Needless to say, Big Ben isn't throwing five picks again. Jacksonville isn't scoring two defensive touchdowns again, either, as good as that unit is. I simply have no faith in Bortles, especially in what looks to be a sloppy weather afternoon in Pittsburgh with temps in the low 40s and rain.
I recommend giving the 6.5-point alternate line and love the under.
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Read more articles by Alan Matthews
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