In what could be a preview of an AFC Wild Card matchup, the Pittsburgh Steelers are hosting the Jacksonville Jaguars at Acrisure Stadium on Sunday.
The Jaguars are the runaway favorites to win the AFC South for the second straight year, while the Steelers have been just pesky enough to remain in playoff position a third of the way through the season. The winner will have a right to feel like a legit contender in the AFC, but the loser will have real questions about their path forward.
KEY TO VICTORY: Make Trevor Lawrence get rid of the ball — then tackle.
Trevor Lawrence will be playing with a knee brace for the second straight game, and has acknowledged that he will have reduced mobility and will be trying to get rid of the ball quickly. If the Steelers can force Lawrence to get rid of the ball quickly, they can minimize the big-play ability of Christian Kirk and Calvin Ridley in the deep passing game.
But it will put an emphasis on the tackling ability of a secondary that has struggled in that area this season.
OVERLOOKED MATCHUP: Jaguars vs. the Weather
The Jaguars have played three of their first six games at home at EverBank Stadium in Jacksonville. The other three have all been played in climate-controlled environments — two in London and one at the New Orleans Saints. The temperatures for those three home games in Jacksonville were 87 degrees, 84 degrees and 68 degrees.
It’s raining and forecast to be 59 degrees at kickoff and dropping throughout the day. The center section of the turf at Acrisure Stadium has been replaced, but outside the numbers has not been. Footing will be an issue. Ball security will be an issue. The Steelers have more experience as a team in these conditions.
BOLD PREDICTION: Screen game picks up
When George Pickens called the Jaguars a “hope” defense, he wasn’t really wrong. They can’t hope to defend the Steelers receivers 1 on 1. They have to get pressure on Kenny Pickett to make things work. The Steelers will take their fair share of 1 on 1 shots on the outside to let Pickens back up his talking, but especially considering it’s a slick track, the screen game could also be a great way to neutralize an aggressive pass rush. Jaylen Warren could have a big day receiving.
The Steelers should be able to move the ball against the Jaguars defense, but the conditions could make things tough for both sides. The Steelers defense will give up yards, especially to Travis Etienne, but should feel good about being able to get the ball out against a small back and a less-mobile Trevor Lawrence, playing through a wonky knee.
That feels like the recipe for a low-scoring game that the Steelers can win, but I’ll predict that Lawrence and Etienne will make one more big play.
Jaguars 20, Steelers 17
Last week: Rams 28-17 (L)
PICK IT Betway Sportsbook Promo
Jaguars -2.5 (-110)
Under 41 (-110)
Jaylen Warren over 2.5 receptions (-174)
Last week: 1-2 (W Steelers +3.5; L Over 44, Cooper Kupp anytime TD)
Betway sportsbook promo: First-bet reset up to $250 back in bonus bets if your first bet loses.