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Week 18 Picks: Wild Card Weekend, Part II

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Steelers vs. Jaguars
Smashmouth Lovers' Surpreme

Just three weeks ago, Pittsburgh became the latest team to suffer back-to-back losses after playing "finesse" team, New England. Jacksonville beat the Steelers, 29-22, on Dec. 16 and return to Heinze Field tonight.

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Jacksonville Jaguars (11-5) @ Pittsburgh Steelers (10-6)
Heinz Field, Pittsburgh, Pa.
January 5, 8:00 p.m.

That game went down to the wire, but Jacksonville had the statistical edge. Jaguar quarterback David Garrard, who threw just 3 interceptions all season, threw one against Pittsburgh, but he also tossed three touchdowns on 17 of 33 passing for 197 yards. That might not look like much, except that Ben Roethlisberger was just 15 of 33 for 146 yards and 3 touchdowns.

(Click "Read More" to read the rest, vote in the poll and make your prediction.)

More impressive was that Jacksonville ran for well over 200 yards against the No. 1 rushing defense and top overall defense in the league. Fred Taylor rushed for 147 yards on 25 carries (5.9 avg.) and Maurice Jones-Drew added 69 yards on 12 carries (5.8 avg.), and that was all she wrote. Meanwhile, Willie Parker was Pittsburgh's leading rusher, with 100 yards even on 14 carries, but the Steelers next leading runner was Roethlisberger and only because he scrambled for 11 yards on one play. Hmm .. That sounds somewhat familiar.

Still, it was a 7-point game undecided until the final minute.

Pittsburgh is Parker-less now, but Najeh Davenport has looked good behind an excellent offensive line. The main question for the Steelers is whether Bledsoe -- Whoops! I always do that! -- Roethlisberger, who has been of questionable health of late (but not listed on the injury report), can limit mistakes and avoid getting sacked.

Pittsburgh sports a 7-1 home record this season, the one blemish being the loss to Jacksonville. A knock against New England is that several teams played them closer in the second half of the season, but the same can be said for Pittsburgh, who at one time with neck-and-neck with New England for the league lead in scoring but won three straight by just three points before losing to New England and Jacksonville, finishing the season by beating up on St. Louis and mailing it in against Baltimore.

Jacksonville played a tougher schedule down the stretch and lost just twice in their last eight, by 3 points in the RCA Dome (that's as good as a 10-point win anywhere else), and their mail-in game last week against Houston.

Both teams are in the top 10 in points scored and points allowed. Jacksonville averages 25.7 points per game (6th) while Pittsburgh was three places behind with 24.6 ppg. The Steelers were second in points allowed with 16.8, while Jacksonville was 10th with 19.0.

There's little doubt Jacksonville will run the ball as much as possible while the score is close or while they're leading. Garrard will pick his spots, but his job is to manage the offense and limit mistakes. Pittsburgh will have to do a much better job stopping the Jags running attack than they did three weeks ago.

Meanwhile, the Steelers may be more dependent on Roethlisberger, and that's usually not the best situation for them. He's proven capable to do the job, but equally capable of coming apart at the seams. Jacksonville is solid against the pass, but they lack shutdown ability. The loss of Parker could be overwhelming for Pittsburgh. Or not.

This should be a beauty. Or not.

Prediction: Jaguars, 24-20.

Poll

Who will win the Jacksonville @ Pittsburgh wild card game?

This poll is closed

  • 33%
    Jacksonville Jaguars
    (3 votes)
  • 66%
    Pittsburgh Steelers
    (6 votes)
9 votes total Vote Now