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The Pittsburgh Steelers make their 2018 debut in the early game Sunday against the Jaguars. It’s a second trip to Heinz Field for the Jags this season, and the visitors are looking to make it 2-0.
The Steelers are a seven-point favorite for Sunday, with the OddsShark computer projecting a 19.1-26.5 Steelers victory. The total is set at 41, with 55 percent of the action on the under.
In the first meeting in October, Ben Roethlisberger tossed five interceptions in Jacksonville’s 30-9 win. Antonio Brown was the only receiver to torch the Jaguars all season, finishing with 10 catches for 157 yards. But the Steelers struggled to hold onto the football, and Leonard Fournette rushed for 181 yards and two scores.
That game set the blueprint for the Jaguars, and they’ve followed it to one of their best seasons in franchise history. They’re in the Divisional Round for the first time since 2007, and haven’t been to an AFC Championship since 1999.
In their win over Buffalo, the Jaguars advanced despite poor quarterback play from Blake Bortles. Bortles ran for over 80 yards, but was inaccurate with his arm. The Bills crowded the box last week and forced Bortles to make plays, something that can’t be relied upon consistently.
The Steelers got away from the run game in their first meeting, and that could widely be viewed as a mistake. Le’Veon Bell had only 15 carries for 47 yards, while Jaguars back Fournette had 16 carries in the fourth quarter alone. Bell touched the ball more than any back in football this year, and should be counted on today against a Jaguars defense that is vulnerable up front. Shady McCoy took on the Jags with a bad ankle last week but still put up 75 yards on 19 carries.
The most important name heading into this contest is Antonio Brown. The league’s top wideout is dealing with a partially torn calf, and his status will be a game-time decision. Brown has played hurt this year, putting up 101 yards on eight catches against the Bengals with a toe injury.
I wish I could say this game comes down to Brown, but it comes down to Blake Bortles and Mike Tomlin. If Bortles doesn’t have it, the Jags are in trouble. Fournette didn’t impress last week against Buffalo, and can’t be counted on to win the game on his own. But Mike Tomlin took the ball away from Le’Veon Bell in their last meeting, and he simply can’t do the same thing this time around. The Steelers need to feed their best players, and keep their defense rested on the sidelines.
Seven points is a healthy amount for the playoffs, but there’s a chance the Steelers get ahead here and never look back. If the Steelers can go up two scores and force Bortles to win the game, the Jaguars have zero chance.
Heavy’s Pick: Steelers 22, Jaguars 6. Steelers Cover -7 Spread. Under on the Point Total.