Sunday’s doubleheader promises to be filled with plenty of action. Saints vs.Vikings is set up to be the best game of the weekend and Ben and the Steelers are hoping for redemption against the 30-9 smacking they took week 5 by the very same Jacksonville team.
Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Jacksonville Jaguars:
The week five matchup between these two teams seems like light years ago, with Big Ben famously stating after the game ” Maybe I don’t have it anymore.” Since then he has played much better on his way to a 22-7 TD:INT ratio for the rest of the season. That game was really an eye opener for the Steelers, they learned that they couldn’t just show up and win and that they must stick with the run in games no matter what. People tend to overlook the fact that Blake Bortles threw for less than 100 yards in this game. There were two defensive touchdowns and a 90 yard Leonard Fournette touchdown run.
Ben told the media that this Jaguars team was the toughest defense he’s ever went up against, that’s how good this fucking defense is. The dude played Ray Lewis (murder???) twice a year and he still said this was the best defense he’s ever played. The defense alone gives the Jaguars a fighting chance to win any football game they play. Their offense happens to do them no favors, Leonard Fournette is noticeably not the same player he was against them in week five, he has dealt with nagging injuries all year and you can tell he isn’t 100%.
Speaking of noteworthy injuries, according to a source, Pittsburgh Steelers All-Pro wide receiver Antonio Brown’s injured calf is “not close to 100 percent.” If he is not himself or has to leave the game I worry about Ben’s ability to score on this defense. After the five interception game I’m sure he’s had many sleepless nights dreaming of Sacksonsville.
Here are the keys to the game in my opinion. The first being that the Steelers are a battle tested playoff team, they have experience all over the field and home field advantage. It’s supposed to have winds that will be around 10-15 mph, which will produce wind chill temperatures around 5-10 above zero. Before this year Blake Bortles had never seen snow, and last week in Jacksonville the wind was half that and he sailed duck after duck. The Jaguars are coming off of a 3-13 season, nobody expected them to win their division, they had just hoped to see some moderate improvement. Now they are 11-6 and have a shot at the AFC Championship game. They are a year or two away, but in all honesty they are a quarterback away. The last key to the game is how Big Ben is playing like a top-5 quarterback and Bortles can’t throw for over 100 yards.
While Jacksonville’s defense could win it for them with some electric turnovers I expect the Steelers to win a close one 24-17.
Steelers 24-17, must be a lock then.
Minnesota Vikings vs. New Orleans Saints
The Vikings defeated the Saints week one 29-19. The leading passer for Minnesota was Sam Bradford, and the leading rusher was Dalvin Cook. The Saints defense was still playing like the year before which was historically bad. Needless to say that game has zero influence over this one.
Every week it’s the same question “are we really doing this?” Every week Case Keenum continues to prove everybody wrong. He has helped lead this team to a 13-3 record on the season and had 22 TDs and 7 INTS. Now people are acting like all of the sudden since it’s the playoffs Keenum will “choke” like Darth Vadar is pissed off at him and that he will play like shit for no other reason then the lights being too bright or something. Keenum has a lot of playmakers around him and he just needs to “point guard” this offense, hand off the ball and spread it all over the field with no big turnovers. Which he has done to perfection all year. There is a reason Pat Shurmur is a favorite to become a head coach this offseason.
The Saints offense is dynamic, while Drew Brees has had career lows in most categories, it isn’t because his play has dramatically regressed. It’s because finally the Saints have a run game. They haven’t relied on him to throw for 350 yards every game for a chance to win. This teams identity for most of the year has been a run first team, having Drew Brees and Micheal Thomas in their back pocket is what makes them even more terrifying. Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram are the first running back duo in NFL history to each have 1,500 yards from the line of scrimmage. They are what makes this team go from good to great, it is seemingly impossible to tackle Kamara in the open field and Ingram always ends up getting positive yardage on every play.
The Vikings defense has played great all year, they aren’t flashy but they finished the year ranking number one in points and in yards. They have a top five corner in Xavier Rhodes and a fantastic do it all safety with Harrison Smith. This unit doesn’t give up the big play often but this game will test them. While the Saints defense hasn’t played that well they are a much improved unit with a few really good players. Marshon Lattimore also happens to be a top five corner and Cam Jordan is playing extremely well. My biggest concern is the Cam Newton threw all over this team with no receiving core basically, the Vikings have a much better group of pass catchers.
I expect this game to be really close and come down to the final minutes. The fact that the Vikings have home field advantage and a defense to truly lean on I have them winning 28-24.