Final Game Preview: Jaguars at Steelers

Final Preview for the Jacksonville Jaguars at Pittsburgh Steelers, AFC Wild Card Playoff Game

Jacksonville Jaguars vs. Pittsburgh Steelers

Saturday, January 5, 2008, 8:00 p.m.

Heinz Field, Pittsburgh, PA

Kickoff Temperature: 40 degrees, 40% chance of precipitation

Line: Jaguars by 2.5

Records: Jacksonville- 11-5, second place in the AFC South, Pittsburgh 10-6, AFC North Champions

Series Notes: Jaguars lead the all-time series 11-8. Jaguars have won three in a row including a 29-22 thriller last month at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh.

Five most important things for the Jaguars:

    1. Play smart football. The Jaguars have the superior team and the only way they should be able to lose would be by turning the ball over or committing idiotic penalties. If the Jaguars hold onto the ball, they will likely advance for another week.

    2. Embrace the atmosphere. The Jaguars are entering a situation which not many current players on the roster are familiar with, they're playoff favorites. Jacksonville is expected to win this game, and if they treat it like it's just another big game they'll come out fine. This team has played some it's best ball in the face of adversity, and the 65,000 or so fans at the "ketchup bottle" will certainly be adverse to the Jaguars. Embrace it and send the lesser team home for the offseason.

    3. Affect Ben Roethlisberger. Ben is certainly one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL and him playing well gives the Steelers pretty much the only chance they have to win this game. The Jaguars sacked him five times in the last meeting between these two teams and they came out victorious. Roethlisberger has a bad shoulder and ankle and the Jaguars defense must do their best to make him extra sore.

    4. Win special teams. On paper, the Jaguars return units are more explosive than the Steelers. Pittsburgh has a slight advantage at kicker, and in the last meeting they had a major advantage at punter. The Jaguars special teams can't have any more slip-ups if they are going to get a shot at the defending champs, or the undefeated dynasty.

    5. Delivery an early punch. If the Jaguars can get an early lead on Pittsburgh, especially by running the football, it could go a long way in how this game plays out. The Pittsburgh defense was flattened in the last match-up and if the Jaguars show that they can do the same thing early, Pittsburgh could fold up and pack it in.

What to look for:
    1. Look for a lot of four and five wide by Pittsburgh. The Steelers will likely try to attack the Jaguars weak link, which is their pass defense. Expect to see Roethlisberger air it out early and often.

    2. Look for the Jaguars to throw the ball early on. The Pittsburgh coaching staff knows how easily the Jaguars manhandled them at the line of scrimmage just three weeks ago, and they will load up the box with defenders to stop it, especially early on. David Garrard and the Jaguars can take advantage of this and move the ball through the air to loosen up the defense.

    3. Look for Garrard on the move. Jacksonville's quarterback has stayed in the pocket for most of the season and has looked very good doing so. It's time to take advantage of Garrard's greatest attribute, his athleticism. Look for David to be on the move and extend drives by running with the football.

    4. Look for Heath Miller to have a big day. Jacksonville did a very good job on Miller when the two teams last squared off, as the Pittsburgh tight end caught just two passes for 24 yards (including a touchdown). This time around Miller will have more of an impact.

    5. Look for a big special teams play. The Steelers special teams was the dominant unit in the last match-up, mainly due to Adam Podlesh's nightmare afternoon. Look for a big return, blocked kick, or even an unexpected onside kick which could decide the outcome.

Prediction: Although the Steelers defensive statistics say they're number one in the NFL, I'm not buying. They've had big problems tackling and covering, and without defensive end Aaron Smith, they're just a different team. Offensively, Ben Roethlisberger is a great quarterback and not a game manager, and his 5-1 career playoff record should not be taken lightly. That being said, Jacksonville is better on both sides of the ball and if they don't turn the ball over, they should win.

Final score: Jaguars 29, Steelers 21.


Charlie Bernstein is the Editor-in-Chief of JagNation.com, and a regular syndicated contributor to FoxSports.com, Sirius NFL Radio, MySpace Sports and Sportsillustrated.com. Charlie is also a member of the Pro Football Writers Association, and is a columnist for the New Smyrna Observer. Feel free to contact him -HERE- with questions or comments.



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