IT’S a big rematch on Sunday in the NFL play-offs as the Jaguars return to Pittsburgh while the Saints get another taste of the venue for this year's Super Bowl as they travel to Minnesota to play the Vikings in the conclusion of the Divisional Round.
Jacksonville crushed the Steelers 30-9 in their first meeting this season and while the Jags defence has remained as formidable as it was then, Pittsburgh's varied and potent attack has hardly misfired since that beatdown at Heinz Field.
The Vikings were comfortable 29-19 winners over New Orleans on the opening weekend of the season as the Saints opened up 0-2 but they clicked into gear and it's a vastly improved outfit that'll be trying to stop Minnesota becoming the first team to play in a home Super Bowl.
Minnesota (5.0, Unibet) and Pittsburgh (6.0, Unibet) are the leading contenders behind the Patriots in the Super Bowl betting, while it's 7.25 (Unibet) for the Steelers & Vikings to be contesting the big game in February.
Jaguars @ Steelers (6.05pm)
An incredible stat from the NFL says none of the six teams who lost a regular season game by 20 points exacted revenge in a play-off meeting so it'd be a first if 1.32 favourites Pittsburgh even the score with the 3.60 Jags for that previous drubbing.
Ben Roethlisberger threw five interceptions, two of which were run back for touchdowns, in Pittsburgh's worst outing of the season, but they've been hot ever since, winning 10 out of 11 games with that one defeat being that controversial one against the Pats.
Antonio Brown looks set to be fit meaning they'll have him, Roethlisberger and Le'Veon Bell all healthy – a rarity in their recent play-off history. Bell and Brown clocked up 3479 yards and 21 TDs while Big Ben threw for 4251 yards and they'll need all three on top form against one of the the best defences in the league.
The Jacksonville ‘D' scored six points themselves against Pittsburgh, allowed just three against Buffalo last week and averaged just 16.8 a game in the regular season – they'll also need to be at their best to make up for the shortcomings of Blake Bortles.
The much-maligned QB scrambled brilliantly and made 88 tough rushing yards to help win the game for the Jags last week, but he only threw for 87 yards as he failed in his primary job function as a passer. It's such a tough ask to again do the job with his legs, on the road in Pittsburgh, against a team who'll be primed to stop him taking off and force him to throw.
- Roethlisberger to throw more TD passes than Bortles
- (1.7, Unibet)
Saints @ Vikings (9.40pm)
Arguably the game of the weekend brings the curtain down on the Divisional Round as the impressive Saints (2.90, Unibet) visit the powerful Vikings as Minnesota (1.43, Unibet) chase that elusive home Super Bowl experience.
The Vikings lost just once inside their own building this season but face a very different Saints team to the one they brushed aside on opening night – mainly through the emergence of a surprisingly stout defence and a two-headed running back monster in Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram.
Even when the Panthers focused on shutting down the duo last week, Drew Brees was on hand with his best performance of the season to win the game in the style of the Brees of old – one which hasn't really been needed this season but will certainly have to show up on Sunday.
Minnesota's defence is the best around in points and yards allowed and ranks second against the pass and the run, while they've only allowed five touchdowns at home this season. That defence means QB Case Keenum may not have to keep up his fine form of the season in his first play-off game, but instead focus on ball security and short passes to his impressive receiving duo Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs.
Sean Payton will have to be at his creative best to conquer what is probably the toughest match in the play-offs in Mike Zimmer's defence, but he has his best team since the 2009 Super Bowl winners, an experienced QB and varied attack to take on the best-balanced side in the league, this game could be one of the all-time greats!
- Vikings -3.5pts
- (1.72, Unibet)