Steelers >Jaguars: JRT Prediction 23 to 21
Vikings > Saints: JRT Prediction 32 to 29
Ok, It's 10 minutes until more football. Time to get some quick predictions down.
I was more scared of the Pats playing the Jags because they have the scarier defense. I'm not going to name names, because I can't spell them correctly off the top of my head. But on the offensive side of the ball, can a healthy Leonard Fournette beat an injured duo of Bell and Brown? This is a tough to predict game because two of the Steelers' killer B's haven't played much at all in the last 3 weeks. I'm a big believer of playing hard into the playoffs. It's the same reason I get nervous in baseball when a team would have to sit a week before playing their next opponent. People get soft and it is hard to just turn the switch on without re-injuring yourself. Yes, as a wrestler, my coach totally let me shelf practice for a whole week to hit the elliptical and baby my injury.. BECAUSE I WAS CAPTAIN and had earned that respect to turn it on when the whistle blew. 8 Seasons should be enough for Antonio Brown to know when to hold it and when to fold it. Like I predicted yesterday, that Hogan wasn't going to be a big burner, he wasn't scoring a TD on his sole catch. But Brown is in a different tier of skill than Hogan. Brown received for over 1,500 yards with 9 TDs. Brown is 90 yards away from reaching 10K in his career, and I think that is a fitting goal for him. If Brown can be safe and play smart, 6 catches for 90 with 1 TD is more than enough for him today. We don't need a 200 yard or 140 yard game from him. Why? Because you got Bell and a rookie named JuJu. Bell, in his 5th Season has rushed for over 1200 yards with a career high 9 TDs and a very healthy 655 yards receiving. Brown is a superstar version of the Pats Lewis, and Lewis yesterday had a very, as to be expected day... 62 yards rushing on 15 attempts and 9 catches for 79 yards. Sure White took the rock into the endzone, but it was Lewis who was most deserving of the praise. Bell is better and the Steelers do better when they give him more attempts. He's a patient runner and can find holes and is tough to take down. At the age of 25, his legs should be fresh and with the memory of Shazier driving everybody to be the best version of themselves, I see the Steelers coming away with a W.
Lets talk about the Jags quickly. They lead the league in Rush Yards with 141.4 per game. The Steelers in comparison are 20th with 104.2 rushing yards per game. While Bell has had a better year, Fournette is a much more explosive and quicker RB capable of speeds in excess of 22mph. Plus the Jags are 2nd in the League with only 16.8 points allowed per game and 5th in the League scoring 26.1 points per game. However, Jag's QB Bortles has had trouble scoring as of late, I think only throwing for 1 TD in his past 2 games! This can't and won't be a game only decided on field goals. The Jags have less weapons but a better D. The Jags can't rely on Chris Ivory to magically discover talent. Plus both Marqise Lee and Keelan Cole COMBINE to about the same statistics as Antonio Brown. Plus the Steelers have Juju and Bryant. So that leaves me wondering, can Blake Bortles pull off a Nick Foles win? Is he just going to do check downs and screens and let his players try their best to obtain positive yards after the catch? or is he going to be a little more ballsy and make some attempts down field. Try to catch the Steelers off guard. Because we all know the Steelers are going to stack the box with black and yellow. Fournette will have to run stretch plays or jet sweeps or something creative because the steelers aren't terrible at stopping the run. Plus, it is 10 degrees F. COLD makes the ball hard. So if Big Ben has to put some extra English on it.. see what I did there.. will they be too hard to catch? If your fingers get numb, do his touch passes get sloppy. We saw Brady yesterday make some great touch throws, but we also saw White, Lewis and Cooks make some unexpected drops on catchable balls. How healthy will Brown's legs be? Will he warm up properly so as to not stiffen up and play timid?
These can't be answered by me, all we can do is watch.
Part of me wants the Steelers to win the whole thing. Even the superbowl, because the Shazier storyline is just too good and too sad not to be repeated on ESPN forever. We have to remember what these players sacrifice to play football. The ability to play with their kids. Health. Just for $$ and adrenaline and pride. The Sox won the WS after the Boston Bombing. Not to say that these storylines are rigged. If it were rigged, the Pats wouldn't have won after deflategate. But I do admit to there being extra energy in the cosmos that can be channeled by the Steelers. They are home, they are used to this cold and they are hungry. The Jags are as hungry as the Titans where... and we see where that got them. But the Jags are a better team than the Titans, and they have a great RB. The Titans didn't have a great RB. So I think this games breaks down to who can run the ball effectively and can the Jags intercept Ben a couple of times. Not like the 5 they pulled off last time.. but 1 or 2 INTs at crucial spots can turn this game. Big Ben isn't a great field manager as Brady or Alex Smith. But Ben can elude and extend plays. He's up there with Rodgers with the ability to get fans to say.. "How the heck did he avoid that sack and get the ball down the field.. on target?!"
Bortles is springy.. but he isn't polished. Will he get lucky? Will the Jags have their D overcome their lacking O? Let's find out. If the Jags win, there will be a slight sigh of relief for me, because I don't want to hear about the rematch story lines with the PATs. It'll probably be more exciting if the Steelers win because of the rivalry dynamics with the Ticket to the Superbowl on the line. Can Big Ben finally buck retirement if he loses talk and bring another ring to Pittsburg? Plus we could have an all PA Superbowl.. that would be fun. Plus, the Steelers have this rare window of talent. Can Big Ben really hang things up when they are so close to victory? Yes, Brady's bunch has been a big Ben spoiler, but any year could be the year. Brady is 40. Ben is 35. Bortles is 25. Will this new generation start to make their legacy? Or will Ben or Brady continue to push the narrative.. like Peyton Manning did.. that an old experienced, old, future HOF QB with a good Defense and some offensive tools prove that they can beat anyone young? Basically, what I'm asking for.. is.. when is the next Brady going to immerge. They have to beat Brady and/or Ben in order to become Brady. I'm rambling, but you get the point.
Ok.. Vikings v. Saints. Saints have had some crazy games and their Defense has emerged as playoff worthy. Why? because they are in the playoffs. But the Vikings are more physical and will that show today? If the Vikings can limit Brees arm, they will win. Otherwise, if this becomes a shootout.. Drew will find Thomas for a game winning TD.