When: Sunday, 1:05 p.m. ET
Where: Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, where the Steelers have lost just two playoff games in the last 12 years, but where they lost to the Jaguars in the 2007 wild-card round.
TV: CBS, with Ian Eagle, Dan Fouts and Evan Washburn.
Spread / total: Steelers -7.5 / 40.5
Referee: Brad Allen
Last time they met: The Jags intercepted Ben Roethlisberger five times in a 30-9 Week 5 blowout at Heinz Field.
Five things you need to know
1. Do the Jags have Pittsburgh’s number? Jacksonville beat the Steelers quite handily at Heinz Field earlier this year. In fact, it was so ugly that Roethlisberger seemed to be on the brink of retirement after the game. And while that was their only recent meeting, it should be noted that the Jags beat the Steelers in Pittsburgh in the 2007 playoffs.
Roethlisberger is a mere 4-4 against Jacksonville in his career, and you know that defense has a chance to give him fits. The Jags’ star-studded defense has held three of its last four opponents to 15 or fewer points, and they completely shut down the Buffalo Bills in a 10-3 wild-card round victory.
2. Blake Bortles vs. Ben Roethlisberger? C’mon! That’s the big difference, and the main reason why Pittsburgh is favored by about a touchdown. Roethlisberger is probably going to the Hall of Fame, while Bortles looked like a deer in headlights as a passer against Buffalo. He’s not much of a threat through the air, but it should be noted that the fourth-year former No. 3 overall pick made a huge difference with his legs.
Bortles had five double-digit-yardage runs Sunday, and he should have plenty of chances to keep scrambling for big yardage against a defense that is susceptible to big plays and missing top tackler Ryan Shazier. Meanwhile, Big Ben had a bit of a down year and his top receiver, Antonio Brown, is still fighting back from a calf injury.
3. The Jags officially have nothing to lose. They just won their first playoff game in a decade and this was their first winning season since 2007. The future is bright, but this team is arguably a year (and a quarterback) away. Nobody really expects them to win in Pittsburgh and most of their fans are probably thrilled with the one wild-card victory at home. Having nothing to lose against a team that faces plenty of pressure to dispose of an inferior opponent and could be looking past said opponent at the New England Patriots? That’s a tad dangerous.
4. Le’Veon could be the difference. While Roethlisberger could have trouble making plays consistently against a stupid-good pass defense, the Jags are somewhat beatable on the ground. Only six defenses surrendered more yards per rush than the Jaguars in 2017, and Bell is an All-Pro after ranking third in football with 1,291 rushing yards. They aren’t afraid to ride him all day, and that’s a strong possibility for Sunday.
5. For the Jags to pull off the upset… ride Leonard Fournette with the occasional Bortles scramble in order to shorten the game, limit the potential damage from Bell, hit the odd home-run against a defense that gave up a lot of big plays this year and once again intercept Roethlisberger two or three (or five) times. It won’t be easy, but if you do all or most of that, you’ll likely win.
Under-the-radar potential X factor: Brown is probably less than 100 percent, rookie field-stretcher JuJu Smith-Schuster lacks experience and the Jags will probably key on Bell. That could leave Steelers’ depth receiver Eli Rogers, who won’t have to deal with Pro Bowl corners Jalen Ramsey or A.J. Bouye very often in the slot. Rogers caught seven passes in his last playoff game a year ago, and Roethlisberger could lean heavily on him Sunday.
Prediction: I wouldn’t be surprised at all if the Jaguars found a way to win this one, but beating the Steelers twice on the road in one season is a hell of a task and that quarterback battle is quite lopsided. Roethlisberger won’t throw a handful of interceptions again, and Bell will likely carry that offense against a D that is beatable on the ground. Steelers 24, Jaguars 23