Let’s Do This Again

AFC Divisional Playoffs

(3) Jacksonville Jaguars at (2) Pittsburgh Steelers

Jaguars: It was an ugly win on Sunday in Jacksonville, but it was just that, a win! The defense proved once again why they are the best defense in the league because if they didn’t play the way they did on Sunday against the Buffalo Bills, they’re at home right now on vacation waiting for the off-season to begin. As a former defensive player, I can really appreciate a great defense when I see one and that’s exactly what they have. You name it, they can do it. They have a very active front four in Campbell, Jackson, Dareus and, Ngakoue, their linebacking core is able to make tackles in open space along with playing sideline to sideline and the secondary is lockdown and without question, they have the best tandem of corners in the NFL right now in Bouye and Ramsey. This entire team is old school and I enjoy that about them. They want to be physical, they want to dominate the line of scrimmage and run the football and they’ve done just that this year and they’ve been consistent with it. Blake Bortles didn’t look his best on Sunday against Buffalo and he actually finished the game with more rushing yards than he did passing yards. I know he’s been up and down throughout his career, but this maybe the best that I have seen him look this season. When he has the time to throw the football, he can make some nice passes down the field. With a win on Sunday, they will advance to their first AFC title game since 1999.

Steelers: It’s simply not the AFC Playoffs without the black and yellow and they’re back here as AFC North division champs and they have a first round bye for the first time since 2008 when they were the two seed in the AFC behind the Tennessee Titans and they eventually went on to beat the Arizona Cardinals in Super Bowl 43. The Steelers have what it takes to get back to the big game. Ben is older, but is still more than capable of getting the job done, Le’Veon Bell is the best running back in the league and he’s been healthy, Antonio Brown is still the best wide receiver in the NFL today and he put together a monster year and they have so many other weapons on the offensive side of the ball that can make things happen. Martavis Bryant is another receiver that can stretch the field, Jesse James has become a nice target over the middle and we can’t forget about Juju Smith-Schuster! He just fits in perfectly within this offense and he’s become their new Hines Ward in a way. When Hines was still playing, he could do it all for the Steelers, make the big catches over the middle to convert and move the chains, he moved well to get open and when he had the ball in his hands, he was excellent in space and he could block and that’s everything Juju brings to the table. Their defense is still one of the best in the league. Ever since Ryan Shazier was put on injured reserve, the Steelers have truly missed his presence and it’s tough to replace a leader and productive football player like number 50. The Steelers will host Jacksonville on Sunday afternoon and they will look to advance to the AFC title game for the second straight season and fourth time under Mike Tomlin.

Jaguars Player To Watch: Keelan Cole– The Jaguars receiving core has been decimated with injuries throughout the year. Allen Robinson tore his ACL in the season opener and you wondered who’d step it up. Westbrook has been a nice target for Bortles and so has Keelan Cole. He’s a six-foot-one receiver that can line up wide on the perimeter, in the slot and has the ability to run the deep crossing pattern over the middle of the years for some big yards. A receiver didn’t really step up last week to make some catches in the Wild Card round, so someone needs to do it today.

Steelers Player To Watch: Vince Williams– When Shazier went down, it was time for the next man to step up and that’s been Vince Williams. It will be up to Williams and the middle of the Steelers defense to make sure Fournette is less effective in the rematch. I’ll have my eye on the middle of the Steelers defense all game.

Final Analysis: This has been the one match up that really caught my eye when I saw the bracket on Sunday night. Let’s look back at their previous meeting in October because this was a very significant game for both teams. Jacksonville dominated a very productive offense and held Le’Veon Bell to a total of 93 total scrimmage yards and the Jaguars intercepted Ben Roethlisberger five times, returning two of them for touchdowns. This was the Steelers last loss in their next nine games and I remember Ben stating to the media maybe he didn’t have it anymore and he was contemplating retirement. That’s when you know when a team really destroyed your confidence if you’re making comments like that. The Jags will come out and load up the box to take Bell away and the Steelers will be expecting that. I’d get Le’Veon involved in other capacities to make sure he’s getting the ball whether he gets it tossed to him or he’s used more as a receiver. For Jacksonville, Bortles needs to be better in this game and connect on his passes. He can’t expect to play the way he did last week and come away with a win to advance to the next round.

Prediction: Steelers 24 Jaguars 20