NFL Playoff Predictions – Dogs or Chalk?

Jacksonville Jaguars vs. Pittsburgh Steelers – Heinz Field (Pittsburgh, PA) – Sunday 1/14, 1:00 PM (EDT), CBS.  Against the Spread: Jacksonville (9-8); Pittsburgh (7-9) Open: Pittsburgh (-7.5), O/U (41.5) Current: Pittsburgh (-7.5) O/U (41)

by Sean Zerillo

These two teams met back in Week 5 with Jackonsville coming into Pittsburgh as 7 or 7.5 point underdogs (closed at 7) and leaving with a 30-9 victory. The line has fluctuated back and forth between the key number and the extra half point hook here.

Jacksonville forced 5 interceptions on 55 passing attempts, with 7 QB hits, 7 tackles for a loss, 2 sacks and 12 passes defended in the first game. Leonard Fournette also had the best game of his rookie season, rushing for 181 yards on 28 attempts with two touchdowns, including a highlight reel 90 yard jaunt.

These teams feature excellent passing defenses and pass rushes, but also very good offensive lines. They rank #1 (PIT) and #2 (JAX) in adjusted sack rate on defense, while Jacksonville ranks #1 in overall defense per DVOA and #1 overall in passing defense. The Jaguars have struggled against the run, however, ranking at #26. Pittsburgh ranks #9 in overall defensive efficiency – #8 against the pass and #18 against the run. The Steelers offensive line ranks #1 in adjusted sack rate, while Jackonsville’s ranks #5; so each should be able to play the pass rush to a draw.

Like he did last week against Buffalo, Blake Bortles struggled to throw the ball in the first matchup – completing just 8 of 14 passes for 94 yards and an interception. With the clear defensive weaknesses for both teams coming against the run, I’m expecting 60+ combined touches for Le’Veon Bell and Leonard Fournette in this matchup (they combined for 54 in the first game), and a lot of running clock.

For that reason, I expect this game to go UNDER the total of 41 points. I’m expecting a hard fought defensive battle with both teams trying to pound one another into submission and shorten the game by holding the ball and maintainign possession.

Additionally, I like Jacksonville to keep the game close, and within one score here. They are perfectly capable of pulling the upset again, as their defense keeps them in every single game. The weather is of note here – as Jacksonville has not played in cold weather all season, and the weather Sunday will be below 20 degrees Fahrenheit.

Therefore, I’d play the Under 41 if you’re only going to play one of these – as Florida teams sometimes struggle when coming north to cold weather. But physical defenses typically travel well too. I love the under, and I like the Jags with the hook at +7.5


  • Under 41
  • Jacksonville (+7.5) 

Leans in the Other Divisional Playoff Games (non-official picks)

  • Eagles +3; Eagles/Falcons UNDER 41
    • I expect the Eagles defense and running game to carry them through to the conference championship (where they will lose). Home dogs are typically the right side in the playoffs.
  • Minnesota -4
    • The Vikings are 12-4 ATS at their new stadium. Their defense set an NFL record for holding opposing offenses under 40% on third downs every single game in 2017. Give me the best defense in the NFL, in one of the toughest environments to play.
  • New England -13.5
    • All the turmoil talk around New England this week leads me to the conclusion that the Pats are going to come out and flatten this Tennessee team which had a negative point differential and should just feel lucky to be here. That being said, Marcus Mariota looked as healthy as he has been all year last week – and Derek Henry might be bigger than every Patriots defensive player.

 (ATS: 8-3; ML: 1-0; Totals 1-0) (Favorite 6-2; Underdog 3-1; Over 0-0; Under 1-0) 

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