NFL 2018 Season - Week 16
 

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Opposite Directions
by Dennis Ranahan

Blake Bortles versus Ben Roethlisberger.

Well, if you put it like that, you’d have to like the Pittsburgh Steelers with Big Ben at quarterback. Right?

In truth, if you mention Bortles against a number of his opponents; Bortles versus Andrew Luck, Bortles versus Tom Brady, Bortles versus Carson Wentz or Bortles versus Patrick Mahomes, the edge seems to go to the Jacksonville Jaguars opponent. But, in truth, fortunately, Bortles is not the only player on the field determining the Jaguars fate.

As important as a quarterback is, and almost all of them who have won the Super Bowl are considered among the best in the league when they won it all, Jacksonville is led by their defense. Last year, it was the best in the American Football Conference and almost led Jacksonville to the Super Bowl before they dropped a hard fought AFC Championship Game on the road to the playoff savvy New England Patriots.

This year, the Jaguars opened the season with a win on the road over Eli Manning and the New York Giants and opened their home schedule with a victory over the defending AFC Champion Patriots.

Then, while the chamber of commerce was planning their Super Bowl parade route, the Jaguars defense became average and their offense went south. After their quick two wins to start the season, the Jaguars have lost six of their last seven games and five in a row.

What happened?

First, a defense seldom is able to win alone, although that wasn’t proven by the 1990 New York Giants or 2000 Baltimore Ravens. Second, the Jaguars defense has allowed 133 points during their five game losing streak, and for you math majors you may quickly realize that is an average of about 27 points per game.

If you are going to allow 27 points per game, two things are true; you don’t have a very good defense and you’d better have a real good offense if you expect to win.

Now, if the Jaguars don’t have a good defense, they don’t have a chance. But, and I suggest this is true, what if expectations caught up to the Jaguars talent after their win over New England in second week action and their stumbling and bumbling since has been headed towards them getting back their groove?

What signs do we have to support this theory?

Last week, at Lucas Oil Stadium, the Jaguars trailed Andrew Luck and his Indianapolis Colts 29-16 at halftime. Then, the Jaguars defense asserted itself and held Luck scoreless in the second half while Bortles attempted to overcome the 13 point deficit.

Late in the game, Bortles completed a pass that put the Jaguars in field goal range but his receiver fumbled the ball as he was tackled. An opportunity for a late winning touchdown or kick to force overtime was lost with that fumble.

Now what?

Even in defeat, I think the Jaguars found themselves in that stout second half work. And now, that rebound to allow them to reenter the race to the playoffs is likely to commence in a home underdog role against the highly regarded Steelers.

Pittsburgh has taken a dramatically different season path than Jacksonville. They didn’t win either of their first two games, but have been on a terror since to build a comfortable lead in the AFC North Division race, two games in the loss column ahead of their closest competition, the Cincinnati Bengals.

The Steelers are also coming off their most recent win, a 52-21 trouncing of the Carolina Panthers.

So, do you see this? Who comes in on top of the world and expects another win … and which team is poised for a big effort with their hopes for a late playoff run on the line?

Bortles versus Roethlisberger. Yes. But in a similar home underdog role early in the season, Bortles versus Brady went to the Jaguars.

This one will too.

Qoxhi Picks: Jacksonville Jaguars (+5½) over Pittsburgh Steelers