PITTSBURGH (13-3) -7 vs. Jacksonville (11-6)
The Jaguars are 9-0 in games that Blake Bortles does not throw an INT. They are 2-6 in games when Bortles throws a pick.
“Pittsburgh’s D averaged 1 interception per game this year, but I’m sure that Bortles can finish this game with a clean sheet. BAD IDEA”
When these teams met in Week 5, the Jaguars defense owned Ben Roethlisberger forcing him to throw 5 INTs (2 were returned for TDs) and sacking him twice. On the year, Big Ben threw 14 INTs total and was sacked 21 times (as a Giants fan I am super envious of these low totals). Can the number 1 defense in the league do it Big Ben again?
“I totally trust Ben Roethlisberger to not hold the ball too long in the pocket and make super risky decisions. BAD IDEA”
Blake Bortles has one played 4 years in the NFL, all with the Jacksonville Jaguars, yet he has thrown TDs passes to 10 different teams. His 12-career pick 6s put him 37th on the all-time list which is led by Favre (31), Marino (28), Peyton Manning (27). Not bad company.
“Surely, Bortles won’t throw any INTs this week. I’m taking under 2 on the Bortles TD passes + INTs prop. BAD IDEA”
It’s obvious that this game comes down to defense. Jacksonville’s D was one of the best in the league this year finishing top 2 in yards allowed per game, points allowed per game, sacks, interceptions and forced fumbles. The also led the league in first downs allowed per game. They’ll force Big Ben into a mistake a two at least.
But Pittsburgh’s defense was also very good this year. They led the league in sacks with 56 (Jax was 2nd with 55). Allowed only 306 yards per game which was 5th in the league (Jax was 2nd @ 286.1/game). And allowed only 19.2 points per game which was 7th in the league (Jax was 2nd @ 16.8).
Given that the temperature will likely be in 20’s by kick-off, you would expect a low-scoring defensive struggle. I actually think we’ll see the opposite. Watch out for DeDe Westbrook as Pittsburgh has been susceptible to big plays since Shazier went out. And if you are anywhere near Vegas, throw some dollars down on yes there will be a defense or special teams TD. That’s the safest bet this weekend.
PICK: Jacksonville +7
MINNESOTA (13-3) -4.5 vs. New Orleans (12-5)
If you read my notes on the Jags/Steelers game, you know that both teams have great defenses. You know whose defense was better than both this year, Minnesota. The Vikings led the league in yards allowed per game and points allowed per game. I knew they were good, but not that good
The last time the Vikings were in the playoffs, they played a home game vs. the Seahawks. The game was played outdoors at the University of Minnesota stadium since the current Vikings stadium was under construction. Minnesota in January is cold and this game was brutal. The temp was -6 and the wind chill was -25 and it was a 12 pm CT game. Minnesota dominated the game, but Seattle rallied in the 4th quarter to take a 10-9 lead. The Vikings drove and got in position for the game winning field goal as time expired. Unfortunately, Blair Walsh shanked the 27-yard field goal and the Vikings lost. Seattle went on to the Super Bowl where they lost to the Patriots when Russell Wilson threw a goal line interception to end the game (always nice to work that in).
Although they are two years removed and Blair Walsh was sent packing, don’t think the Vikings have forgotten this game. However, this year’s game is being played in the new Vikings stadium which is a dome taking away the Vikings cold weather advantage. Still, the Vikings and fans will be pumped up for this home game with the goal becoming the first team to play a Super Bowl on its home field (Super Bowl 52 is on February 4th at U.S. Bank Stadium). And it’s likely that, if they win this week, they will host the NFC Championship game as the Falcons will beat the Eagles.
The Saints played in Minnesota in Week 1, losing to the Vikings 29-19. The is a different Saints team than the one that started the season 0-2 with a backfield that included Adrian Peterson. Once Peterson was traded, Alvin Kamara emerged and dominated games along with Mark Ingram. But last week against Carolina, New Orleans struggled to run the ball. They will likely struggle this week as well as Minnesota was the 2nd best defense against the run.
This will clearly be the game of the weekend and the NFL slotted it late Sunday for good reason. Expect some big plays on both sides of the ball in an exciting game. It’ll come down to a late FG and this time Minnesota gets its redemption, but New Orleans will get the cover.
PICK: New Orleans +4.5
Also, I'm pretty certain that Drew Brees wears Mom jeans.