Jacksonville Jaguars @ Pittsburgh Steelers
Sunday January 14, 18:00 GMT
TV - Live on Sky Sports Action and Main Event
Jaguars hopes depend on flaky Blake
The Jacksonville Jaguars are trying to follow the 2015 Broncos in bucking the pass-heavy trend in the NFL by winning a championship with defence. With adequate-to-good quarterback play, the visitors to Heinz Field this week could be favourites against the Steelers.
Instead, last week, hosting a Bills team fortunate to make the postseason, the Florida team came close to an all-time embarrassing defeat because quarterback Blake Bortles could not make a throw. He finished with more yards running than passing, a damning stat that cannot be repeated if they're to challenge Pittsburgh this week.
Bortles has had stretches of capable play, including this season, but from one week to the next it's not clear which Bortles will show up. If he's anything like last week, the Jags will need their defence to win the game for them.
That defence is of a championship standard. They humbled Ben Roethlisberger in week five, leaving him with one of his worst stat-lines of his career and causing him to publicly doubt his abilities.
Second year cornerback Jalen Ramsey leads the tightest secondary in the league, and free agent signing Calais Campbell is the stand-out performer along a defensive line full of studs. If Bortles doesn't throw the game away, this core of elite defenders can keep the game alive at least.
Steelers offence could spark championship run
The Steelers offence they're to face is peppered with stars. Jacksonville only had to worry about a hobbled LeSean McCoy last week, and still could've lost the game because of their offensive struggles.
Le'Veon Bell leads the running game, and Ben Roethlisberger at QB is still a capable performer despite week five.
Their real strength is in the passing game, where rookie Juju Smith-Schuster has emerged as another leading receiver for a franchise who have an enviable knack for uncovering lethal outside targets for their QB. Martavis Bryant's behaviour this year hasn't cost him too much playing time, and in Antonio Brown they have, possibly, the best receiver in the game.
One source of hope for Jags fans - and those teams the Steelers could play in the coming weeks - is Brown's late-season injury. He is set to return this week, and reports of his health are positive, but doubts must linger as to his game readiness.
Without him, the Steelers lose the best receiver in franchise history. In the last five seasons he's gone for more than 1,200 yards each time, and averages over ten touchdowns per year.
Brown has spent his career playing with Roethlisberger, and his career numbers show the value of stability at the quarterback position, as could the game on Sunday evening.
The Jags defence could be an all-time great unit, and this is the kind of game where they show it. I would look at the Jags +7 on the Handicap market at 1.9110/11, but I think the better value selection is Jacksonville on the Moneyline market at 3.9 because Pittsburgh have a tendency to lose games they ought to win and, if the Jags defence can get after Roethlisberger, they can put Jacksonville in a position to win this game - as long as Bortles doesn't throw the game away.
I'd also look at the Under on the First Quarter Total Points market, where the line is 7.5 at 4/5 on the Sportsbook. Jacksonville will not come out aggressively here, and their defence will keep the Steelers in check early, so I'd expect less than a touchdown to be scored in the first 15 minutes of the game.
Finally, for Touchdown Scorer Markets , I'd look at Juju Smith-Schuster on the First Touchdown Scorer market at 10/1 because I'd expect him to line up in the slot and the Jags may not have the cover there that they do outside. Jacksonville D/ST is worth an Anytime punt at 4/1 because they'll likely have to score to make the Jags competitive, and they know it.