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Jacksonville Jaguars vs. Pittsburgh Steelers Point Spread - Pick

Jacksonville Jaguars (11-6 SU, 9-8 ATS) vs. Pittsburgh Steelers (13-3 SU, 7-9 ATS)
AFC Divisional Playoff
Date/Time: Sunday, January 14, 2018 at 1:05PM EST
Where: Heinz Field, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
TV: CBS

By Loot, NFL Football Handicapper, Lootmeister.com

Point Spread: JAC +7.5/NE -7.5
Over/Under Total: 41

The Jacksonville Jaguars take on the Pittsburgh Steelers in an AFC Divisional Playoff matchup at Heinz Field on Sunday. The Steelers are the second-seed in the AFC, as they sat back last week during the Wild Card and awaited their next incoming opponent. With the Jaguars beating the Bills 10-3 in a defensive battle, they earned the right to face the Steelers in the Divisional Playoff. Can the Jaguars get a little more life on offense and have their "D" slow the Steelers assault? Or will the Steelers make mincemeat of the Jags en route to the conference title game? Let's break down this Jaguars-Steelers playoff game.

This is Jacksonville's second trip to Heinz Field this season, with the Jaguars beating the Steelers, 30-9, in week five action. We've seen a lot of changes from both teams over the course of the season, making one wonder how much that week five matchup even matters. But it's a nice piece of news for Jacksonville backers this week, with the Jags having at least shown they can perform well in this venue. They likely will not be able to rely on Ben Roethlisberger throwing five picks, RB Leonard Fournette running wild up and down the field again, or two touchdowns by the defense. Pittsburgh has worked a lot of things out since that meeting and this game should look a lot different.

One thing is that Jacksonville might be getting worse, while the Steelers got better over the course of the season. Jacksonville relied on a stout defense that excels in making big and game-changing plays, but the offense doesn't look to be thriving at a time when that would come in handy. In fact, it's a part of their play that is regressing. It's part of being a good team for the first time in a long time. It's not going to be just an upward trajectory the whole time, as there are going to be knocks and pings along the way. Their defense is certainly for real—a super-stocked group that is consistent in delivering what it does best. Against this version of the Steelers, though, they are going to need to create a lot better results on offense.

Last week, Blake Bortles was able to connect with TE Ben Koyack for a score, but otherwise, the offense was pretty impotent. Bortles was only 12-for-23 for 87 yards. He made up for it some with some nice scampers among his 88 yards running. Leonard Fournette had a huge game against the Steelers earlier in the season, but he was subdued against Buffalo with 57 rushing yards on 21 carries. Aerially, they need more and with some guys top step up like Keelan Cole, Allen Hurns, Dede Westbrook, TE Marcedes Lewis, and even Fournette, Bortles does have targets and he needs to make the most of them this weekend. This aerial game of the Jaguars has shown a wide range of form this season.

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The Jacksonville defense has already reared its head in this postseason, carrying the Jaguars to this divisional playoff spot after holding the Bills to a lone second-quarter field goal in their wild card matchup. They were ranked second in total yards and points allowed this season and with their extreme playmaking dimension, a case can be made that the Jaguars are the top "D" in the NFL this season. Against Buffalo, their pass-rush manifested with Myles Jack and Malik Jackson registering sacks. A playmaking secondary that is as stout as they come also made life easier for the Jaguars, with Jalen Ramsey and Aaron Colvin picking off Tyrod Taylor. With AJ Bouye, Tashaun Gipson, and Barry Church, the pass-defense is in good hands. And a line with Jackson, Calais Campbell, Yannick Ngakoue, and Marcell Dareus fills out a defense that offers a lot of firepower.

The Steelers look poised to make some nice things happen this postseason. After some early kinks, they have won 10 of 11 games heading into this spot since losing to the Jags in week five. Their only loss in that stretch was a quirky three-point loss to the Patriots in week 15. Their defense has been good most of the season, often carrying the team when the offense wasn't up-to-snuff. And until recently, that was fairly often. A week 17 game where they rested a ton of people and the off-week in the Wild Card round hopefully let them rest some weary bodies. After missing a few weeks, Antonio Brown, who still led the NFL in receiving, is expected back. One should expect a high-energy effort from the Steelers this week.

Ben Roethlisberger leads the Pittsburgh offense and after some bumpy weeks, they look to have dialed in a more-reliable framework for success. Obviously, Le'Veon Bell and Brown are the top go-to guys. It can be easily argued that Brown in the top receiver in the NFL, with a similar case able to be made for Bell, who had 1291 rushing yards and caught 85 balls, as well. The growth of JuJu Smith-Schuster, who cemented himself as the top choice other than Brown, has been huge with the rookie really coming on strong lately. Martavis Bryant has been adding more in recent weeks. Add with productive tight ends Jesse James and Vance McDonald we see an offense with more viable pieces at its avail than what we saw earlier in the season.

The Pittsburgh defense was solid over the course of the 2017 regular season, ranked 5th in total yards while allowing an average of fewer than 20 points a game. Their secondary was really good and they defended the run well. Some injuries appeared to slow this side of the ball late in the season. Guys returned and they should still be very effective. It's just that the loss of Ryan Shazier could end up resonating more than most would have thought. They don't look as good without him and we saw opponents' point-totals soar a little over the last 5-6 games of the season. But while Jacksonville got a lot of attention this season for their playmaking ability, this Steelers' "D" can do a lot of that, as well. Their pass-rush was immense, with Cameron Heyward registering 12 sacks, with big help from guys like TJ Watt, Vince Williams, and Bud Dupree. And with Sean Davis, Mike Hilton, Joe Haden, Mike Mitchell, and Artie Burns, the pass-defense can also be really stout and make a lot of plays—bad news for a slumping Jacksonville aerial attack.

When pondering this game, the mind is able to entertain a lot of different outcomes, all of which seem feasible to different degrees. A case can be made for a lot of different results in this matchup. For potential Pittsburgh backers, there has to be some comfort from the notion that a Jaguars' team that is struggling on offense can't really be expected to hang in there with the Steelers in this setting. And they haven't shown themselves to be able to cope with the cold weather, as it will be pretty chilly in the Steel City this weekend. I still see this Steelers' defense being a bit more-exploitable than at their peak this season. For some reason, I picture this being a big struggle in what should be a real war. And having better than a touchdown might end up feeling really good. I'm taking the visiting Jags.

Loot's Prediction to Cover the Point Spread: I'm betting on the Jacksonville Jaguars plus 7.5 points. Tired of your credit card not working for sportsbook deposit? End that problem today and bet the Jaguars vs. Steelers playoff game from the comfort of home by signing up at Bovada Sportsbook where your credit card WILL work and where you'll receive a generous 50% sign-up bonus!

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