Editor’s note: NESN.com’s Mike Cole, Ricky Doyle and Andre Khatchaturian deliver their NFL picks every Thursday of the season, and here’s who they like in the Jacksonville Jaguars-Pittsburgh Steelers AFC divisional-round game, with the line from OddsShark.
Jacksonville Jaguars at (-7.5) Pittsburgh Steelers, Sunday, 1:05 p.m.
Thought about taking the Jaguars, but I’m not ready to live in a world where I put confidence in Blake Bortles on the road. That’s in part because he was much worse away from Jacksonville, with a passer rating roughly 30 points lower than at home. The Steelers shot themselves in the foot when these teams met earlier this year, too, inexplicably getting away from the run. Expect a heavy dose of Le’Veon Bell, as Pittsburgh should have success against a Jags defense that struggled at times to stop the run. Mix in a couple of injuries in the Jacksonville linebacking corps, and it’s hard to shy away from the Steelers.
Don’t put much stock into their Week 5 meeting, because the box score — namely, the 30-9 final score in favor of Jacksonville — is in no way indicative of how that game played out. One player’s performance worth taking into consideration, though: Bortles, who completed just 8 of 14 passes for 95 yards with an interception. His 48.2 quarterback rating ended up being his second-worst mark of the season. Add that his season-long issues on the road and last week’s game against the Buffalo Bills in which Bortles attempted just six passes more than five yards down the field — completing three — and it’s easy to envision a total stinker from the oft-criticized quarterback.
These two teams combined for 111 sacks this season, but they also protect their quarterbacks well, so the battle in the trenches could be irrelevant. If that’s the case, I’m going to take Ben Roethlisberger with protection over Bortles with protection. In fact, Big Ben is on fire lately, throwing for 16 touchdowns with just four picks over the last six games. Pittsburgh hasn’t scored fewer than 20 points in a game since Week 6. The Steelers have the better quarterback, more explosive offensive weapons and just as strong of a defense, and they’ll be more comfortable playing in the 19-degree weather than a team from Florida.
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