The road to the AFC title game winds through Pittsburgh, where the North-champion Steelers welcome the Jacksonville Jaguars, kings of the South (Sunday, January 14, 1:05 PM ET, CBS) in a rematch of a pivotal contest the Jags won in Week 5. It will be a frigid affair, with temperatures expected to be 19° F. at kickoff. Below, you will find complete wagering advice for the game, including where to find the best odds and how to bet the moneyline, the spread, and the game total.
Team Injury Reports
Jaguars vs Steelers Team Stats
October 8 was quite the catalyst for these two franchises, a tilt that would set their courses so dramatically.
After an uneven 2-2 start, the Jaguars came into Heinz field and laid a 30-9 whooping on the 3-1 Steelers.
Their defense, thought of as unproven despite impressive outings to start the year, was an absolute force. The Jags sacked Ben Roethlisberger twice, intercepted him five times (FIVE TIMES!) and returned a pair of those for touchdowns.
It had Roethlisberger joking (sort of?) about retiring after playing the worst game of his career.
The Jags’ rookie running back, Leonard Fournette, proved ready for primetime, rushing for 181 yards and a pair of scores, while taking on all comers. A signature win finally had people believing this was a different squad from years past, the type that teams like the Steelers had used as floor mats for much of the last decade.
The Jaguars would go 7-3 the rest of the season, culminating with their first playoff win in a decade last weekend over the Bills (10-3).
The Week 5 beating also did wonders for the Steelers, particularly their triplet of stars on offense, who bore the brunt of the criticism. Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown really took off after that bludgeoning.
Missing training camp definitely affected Bell’s performance early, but from Week 6 on, he returned to the bell-cow we’ve grown accustomed to. In his final 10 games (he sat out the finale), he piled up eight TDs and only failed to crack 100 yards from scrimmage once.
Roethlisberger also put together impressive stat lines, and threw just seven more picks the rest of the year to go with 28 TDs. He was helped along by another all-world campaign from Brown. The All-Pro receiver was so good that, even after a calf injury sidelined him for the final 2.5 games this season, he still finished atop the leaderboard in receiving yards (1,533) and cracked 100 receptions for the fifth straight year. His name would be in the MVP conversation but for the injury.
Elite play from the “Killer Bs” helped the Steelers reel off 10 wins in their final 11.
And now we have come full circle, with a rematch that sees both sides with something to prove.
Despite featuring a soul-crushing defense, Jacksonville’s ceiling is capped by quarterback Blake Bortles. Bortles somehow managed the feat of recording more rushing yards (88) than passing yards (87) against the Bills. Some passes he missed were junior varsity backup-level bad. It might be one of the worst all-time playoff performances you will ever see in victory.
And yet, any semblance of competent quarterback play Sunday (read: 55% completions, no backbreaking turnovers, and leading the offense to 20 points) and this Jags team could realistically be playing in the AFC title game.
In order to find that semblance, Bortles will have to connect better with his young receivers. Keelan Cole and Dede Westbrook, who have been forced into prominent roles due to injuries, are feisty and capable of big plays. Westbrook had a respectable five catches and 48 yards on eight targets against the Bills, but Cole was shutout (zero catches) as Bortles looked his way just once.
Another Herculean effort from Fournette would certainly come in handy, as well, but nagging injuries throughout his rookie year have sapped him of some of his bowling ball-ability. Since Week 14, he’s only had one standout performance, going for 100+ yards against the Seahawks. He’s been held under 70 yards in the other five games – including the Wild Card game against the Bills.
The Jaguars will be facing another decent defense, as well. While Pittsburgh’s D has undoubtedly played worse since losing Ryan Shazier and is vulnerable against the run, they actually finished the year third in defensive DVOA and led the NFL in sacks. Their recipe is simple: stack the box, stuff Fournette, and dare Blake Bortles to beat them with his arm.
As for Pittsburgh’s offense, a lot depends on how Brown’s calf holds up. Speed and shiftiness are two of his trademarks, and he’s going to need both, facing the best cover-corner tandem in football in Jalen Ramsey and AJ Bouye.
Of course, the Steelers have other receiving weapons, including ultra-talented rookie Juju Smith-Schuster and sleeping giant Martavis Bryant, not to mention Bell, who is Ben’s safety valve in the pass game. So Roethlisberger will have options if Brown is locked-up.
Bell’s biggest contributions need to come on the ground, though. Establishing the run will help Roethlisberger avoid those third-and-longs where the Jags’ myriad sack artists are at their best. Marcell Dareus showed last week there is still some Pro Bowl talent in the tank, and he’ll be a huge factor trying to contain Bell’s unorthodox and patient running style.
Jacksonville would be wise to employ a similar defense on Bell as the Falcons used last week against the Rams’ Todd Gurley: let him have one or the other, running or receiving, just don’t let him have both.
Jaguars vs Steelers Betting Opportunities
Betting the Moneyline
BEST JAGUARS MONEYLINE: +275
BEST STEELERS MONEYLINE: -310
EXPERT MONEYLINE ADVICE: Steelers (-310)
Who are you going to trust: the battle-tested quarterback who’s seen and been in every postseason situation you can imagine, or the pivot who turns a five-yard out pass into an adventure? The Jags have the edge on D, but the Steelers’ offensive talent (even with Brown less than 100%) wins out.
Betting Against the Spread
BEST JAGUARS SPREAD: +7.5 (-115)
Bovada offers that enticing extra half-point.
BEST STEELERS SPREAD: -7 (-110)
EXPERT AGAINST-THE-SPREAD ADVICE: Jaguars +7.5 (-115)
I have the utmost confident in the Steelers winning, but taking those points is too tempting. I’m betting that the Jags’ defense keeps the Heinz Field crowd uncomfortable all game and plays the Steelers tight for 60 minutes. What might kill this bet? The quietly-devastating graveyard this place is for place kickers. Major advantage to Chris Boswell and the Steelers. A couple of Jacksonville missed FGs in this one could be my undoing. There’s also a Blake the Snake bite that could sting me. Still, +7.5 is too good to pass up with a defense this stingy.
Betting the Game Total
BEST OVER ODDS: 41 (-110)
BEST UNDER ODDS: 41 (-110)
EXPERT TOTALS ADVICE: Under 41 (-110)
Why is this one going to stay under? A lot of reasons: two smash-mouth defenses wailing on offenses; cold weather; grind-it-out running backs; tough kicking conditions. I have a hard time believing both teams will crack 20 points. The Steelers win a close, low-scoring affair, leaving them one win away from going to the Super Bowl.