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Jaguars vs. Steelers: AFC Divisional Round Preview

For months, football fans and analysts alike have confidently pointed to the AFC title game as a predetermined showdown between the Steelers and Patriots.

In this scenario, the Titans — facing New England on Saturday — and the Jaguars — playing Pittsburgh on Sunday — are nothing more than gridiron afterthoughts. Milquetoast names on a dance card and not worthy of the high-society invite.

Unfair?

Absolutely. At least when it comes to the Jacksonville Jaguars, who roll into Heinz Field with one of the century’s beastliest defenses. Second in points allowed and better than anyone against the pass, this unit has the potential to make things challenging for the Steelers.

Pittsburgh counters with a juicy, third-ranked air attack that returns a healthy Antonio Brown to the lineup for the first time since before Christmas.

Too much has been made about Ben Roethlisberger’s five-pick meltdown in Week 5, when Jacksonville rode into Pittsburgh and dropped a 30-9 death-hammer. That game is ancient history — “We’ve evolved since then,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said — and he’s right. Still, this Jaguars defense has the personnel to give Pittsburgh’s offense fits behind a star-studded cast headlined by havoc-wreaking MVP candidate Calais Campbell and a pair of star cornerbacks in Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye.

We can’t take another step without mentioning Blake Bortles, the Jaguars passer who looked downright hideous throwing the ball in a white-knuckle 10-3 playoff win over the Bills last weekend — an ugly/beautiful game shipped to us from 1937.

In that grind-it-out tilt, Bortles became just the third starting signal-caller to win a playoff contest with more rushing (88) than passing yards (87), joining Michael Vick and Bob Griese along the way.

Bortles made plays with his feet against Buffalo, but killed the team through the air. He must clean up his act and hope for a monster performance from rookie running back Leonard Fournette, who thrashed the Steelers for 181 yards and two scores back in October.

Fournette, though, has been held to under 70 yards in five of his last six appearances, leading to losses in three of those outings. The ground game must buzz to life for any shot to upset a talented, driven Steelers team playing to honor their injured teammate, Ryan Shazier.

2017 SEASON: DIVISIONAL ROUND
▹ Top 25 free agents of 2018
▹ Which playoff QB do you trust most?
▹ Rank: Nagy perfect fit for Bears
▹ Nine guys defined by Wild Card Weekend
▹ Brees ready for Super Bowl run
▹ Top 10 games of 2017
Pittsburgh was caught by surprise in Week 5. That won’t happen again on Sunday.

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