The Divisional round of the NFL Playoffs is in the books, and both championship game matchups are set. In the NFC, the Vikings and Eagles will square off for the title, and in the AFC, it will be New England and Jacksonville. The latter matchup comes as somewhat of a surprise. Most people thought there were only two legitimate AFC contenders (New England and Pittsburg), as opposed to the NFC, where any of the six teams seemed capable of making a run.
The Jacksonville Jaguars came into this week’s matchup with the Pittsburg Steelers as seven point underdogs. Even though they had already routed the Steelers 30-9 in week 5, many people considered that game to be a fluke. Ben Roethlisberger threw five interceptions, a highly uncharacteristic performance for him. Two of those interceptions were also returned for touchdowns. Add that to the fact that the Steelers had won 11 of their last 12 games since then, and you can understand why people expected this to be a much different Steelers team this time around.
But the Jags had other plans. To the amazement of almost everyone, they quickly jumped out to a 21-0 lead. A Roethlisberger fumble and a Telvin Smith scoop-and-score made the score 28-7 right before halftime. Roethlisberger then hit Martavis Bryant for a 36-yard touchdown with 25 seconds to go in the half. The teams would trade blows in the second half, but the cushion that Jacksonville had given itself early on proved too much for the Steelers to overcome.
The Jaguars defense was what made them successful this season, but today, their offense showed up in a big way. Leonard Fournette rushed for 109 yards and three touchdowns for his second excellent performance against the Steelers this season. Blake Bortles wasn’t terrific, but he minimalized mistakes and made plays when he needed to, which is all a quarterback needs to do when they have a running game and defense like Jacksonville’s.
Everyone was anticipating a Patriots-Steelers AFC title game, a rematch of last year. It seemed as if the Steelers themselves were also expecting this. Earlier this week, Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell took to Twitter to express his excitement over the upcoming rematch with Jacksonville, and what he viewed as an inevitable rematch with New England the following week.
I love round 2’s…we’ll have two round 2’s in back to back weeks…
— Le'Veon Bell (@L_Bell26) January 14, 2018
The Jaguars saw this as Bell and the Steelers overlooking them, and they may have been right. I can tell you one thing though, the Patriots better not make the same mistake. If they do, they’ll be watching this team carry their momentum all the way to the Super Bowl. That may seem ridiculous given what we’re used to seeing this team do. The Jags have been synonymous with loosing for the better part of the last decade. Some people still can’t call them Super Bowl contenders with a straight face, but they’d better start.
Now, all of the sudden, a team that before this season hadn’t made the playoffs in 10 years and hadn’t played in a conference championship in almost 20, has the Lombardi Trophy in their sights. They’ve had to hear all season that they were “pretenders” or “too inconsistent” or “still one or two years away from really breaking through.” But after seeing what they’ve been able to do the last two weeks, we’re being forced to acknowledge what they’ve known for a long time. That on their best day, they’re capable of beating anybody. That includes Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots, and whoever comes out of the NFC.