JEFF: AFC Wild Card Preview Jacksonville at Pittsburgh
By Jeff Falconio
This is one of those games where it seems so obvious that Team A should completely dominate Team B. Jacksonville, winners of six of their last eight, comes into this game riding high. Pittsburgh is 3-4 in the last seven weeks and on a sharp downhill slide. The Jaguars came into Pittsburgh on December 16 and beat the Steelers at their own game using an unstoppable running game and a bone-crunching defense. Jacksonville is healthy, Pittsburgh is not. Should be an easy win for the Jags, right?
Despite losing three of the last four games, Pittsburgh still has a core of tremendous players including the number one total defense in the league. That's a good thing because the Steelers are hurting offensively. Ben Roethlisberger is banged up and the Steelers will be without running back Willie Parker, who was lost for the season with a leg injury in December. Najeh Davenport brings power to the Pittsburgh backfield but he's not the home run hitter that Parker is. For Pittsburgh to win, the Steelers must grind it out offensively while turning the heat up on Jaguars quarterback David Garrard.
That's no easy task because Garrard has become one of the more efficient quarterbacks in the game, having thrown only three interceptions all year. Jacksonville has become a mirror image of Pittsburgh, relying on the two-headed backfield of Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew to complement a smothering defense. This is the biggest test yet for first-year starter Garrard and the Steelers will do everything they can to force the steady QB into making mistakes. I would expect the typical low-scoring battle between old AFC Central foes, but with a wave of confidence and a clean bill of health the Jags get the edge here.