Pittsburgh Steelers

Eagles biggest Super Bowl underdog in nearly a decade

Eagles biggest Super Bowl underdog in nearly a decade

Two weeks is a loooooong wait, but if the opening line doesn't move between now and Feb. 4, the Eagles will be the biggest Super Bowl underdog in nearly a decade.

The Eagles open as 5½-point underdogs against the Patriots, according to Bovada. No team has been a bigger Super Bowl underdog since the Cardinals, who were 7-point dogs against the Steelers after the 2008 season.

The line could move, though. It already has, in a way. Last week, Bovada's pre-championship weekend odds pegged the Eagles at plus-7 if they were to face the Patriots in the Super Bowl.

If you got your money in on the Eagles last spring, you're loving life right now. The Birds were 50/1 to win the Super Bowl until the season began, and they were 40/1 as late as Week 3.

Super Bowl MVP
Courtesy of Odds Shark:

• Tom Brady: -150

• Nick Foles: 6/1

• Rob Gronkowski: 10/1

• Danny Amendola: 14/1

• Jay Ajayi: 16/1

• Dion Lewis: 16/1

• Brandin Cooks: 16/1

• Zach Ertz: 20/1

• Chris Hogan: 20/1

 Alshon Jeffery: 25/1

• James White: 25/1

• Rex Burkhead: 25/1

• Nelson Agholor: 33/1

• Torrey Smith: 33/1

 LeGarrette Blount: 33/1

Upset sets up improbable AFC Championship Game

usa-leonard-fournette-jaguars.jpg
USA Today Images

Upset sets up improbable AFC Championship Game

PITTSBURGH — The Jacksonville Jaguars, yes those Jacksonville Jaguars, are heading to the AFC championship game.

Rookie running back Leonard Fournette ran for 109 yards and three touchdowns, Blake Bortles added 214 yards passing and a vital fourth-quarter score as the relentless Jaguars stunned the Pittsburgh Steelers 45-42 on Sunday.

The third-seeded Jaguars (12-6) will face top-seeded New England next week in Foxborough, Massachusetts after jumping on Pittsburgh early, then holding on late. Jacksonville raced to a 21-point lead, fended off a Steelers rally and responded every time Pittsburgh (13-4) challenged.

"The guys played with confidence all day long," Bortles said. "Obviously, what they have on their side of the ball, it's a good team. We know they got a good offense. We knew we were going to have to be efficient, hold on to the ball for a little bit, so we did it."

Ben Roethlisberger threw for 469 yards and set a franchise record with five touchdown passes, but was also intercepted once and had a fumble returned for a score. All-Pro Antonio Brown caught seven passes for 132 yards and two touchdowns in his return from a left calf injury. Le'Veon Bell had 155 yards of total offense and two scores.

But Pittsburgh's vaunted "Killer Bs" couldn't keep pace with Jacksonville, one of four NFL franchises to never make the Super Bowl.

The Jaguars dominated the Steelers back in October, winning by three touchdowns in a performance so overwhelming Roethlisberger only half-jokingly wondered aloud whether he still had "it' after throwing a career-high five picks.

Roethlisberger and his teammates left little doubt they hoped for a rematch, one that came to fruition after Jacksonville outlasted Buffalo in an ugly wild-card victory; the Jaguars survived in spite of an 87-yard passing performance by Bortles.

Jacksonville cornerback A.J. Bouye cautioned Pittsburgh to be careful what it wished for, and the Jaguars hardly appeared intimidated by the 18-degree chill or trying to earn their first road playoff win in a decade.

Fournette's ever-churning legs set the tone early. He soared for a 1-yard touchdown run on fourth down on Jacksonville's first possession. He sprinted for an 18-yard score on the first play following a Roethlisberger pick and bulled over from 3 yards in the fourth quarter after the Steelers cut the lead to a touchdown.

Bortles has found himself a touchstone during Jacksonville's resurgence following a decade of losing, even allowing last week that he'll never be able to silence all of his critics no matter what.

Might be time to test that theory.

"I'm sure there will still be tons of people that are going to disapprove and talk negative or hate or do whatever they want," Bortles said. "But we get to keep playing and we get an opportunity to play in Foxborough next week for another week. Just honored to be able to do this especially with this group of guys.

"It's been an awesome year. Just want to keep it going."

While he wasn't flawless, he also wasn't afraid. Having the burly Fournette certainly helped, but Bortles also never hesitated -- the Steelers led the NFL with a franchise-record 55 sacks but never once got to Bortles. If he wasn't scrambling for extra yardage he was using play-action or deftly executed screen passes. His 45-yard completion in the fourth quarter set up Fournette's final score, and his 14-yard flip to Tommy Bohanon with 4:19 left vaulted the Jaguars to the NFL's final four for only third time in team history.

The Jaguars did it on a day the NFL's top-ranked defense hardly looked like it. Though Jacksonville forced a pair of first-half turnovers, including Roethlisberger's fumble that Telvin Smith returned 48 yards for a score and a 28-7 lead, Pittsburgh rolled up 545 yards.

Still, it's 2 yards the Steelers didn't get that helped send them into an offseason filled with questions.

Twice Pittsburgh had fourth-and-1 in Jacksonville territory. Twice it did something other than have the 6-foot-5 Roethlisberger sneak. The Steelers ran wide in the first quarter and Bell was stuffed for a 4-yard loss. The Jaguars responded immediately by going 75 yards in 11 plays, the final one a 4-yard sprint by T.J. Yeldon that put them up 21-0.

The Steelers were down a touchdown early in the fourth quarter and had fourth-and-inches at the Jacksonville 39. Roethlisberger checked the line of scrimmage, faked a handoff to Bell and instead threw incomplete to diving rookie JuJu Smith-Schuster.

Up next
The Jaguars travel to New England, where they were beaten in the 1996 AFC title game.

The Steelers, despite tying for the league's best record, head home.

Divisional round predictions as NFL playoffs heat up

Divisional round predictions as NFL playoffs heat up

Derrick Gunn makes his divisional round predictions.

Falcons at Eagles, Saturday, 4:35 p.m. on NBC
The defending NFC champion Falcons backed their way into the playoffs, and then last weekend made an impressive postseason showing on the road against the Rams. But this isn't the high-powered Falcons' offense that averaged 33 points per game in 2016. In 2017, with basically the same personnel, it struggled to average 22 points. But the difference this season, the Falcons' defense has played better. The team's front seven is on the small side, but fast. The secondary is aggressive and well versed in man-to-man coverage. 

The jury is split on Nick Foles and whether he can handle the postseason pressure or not. The Falcons' D is not stout against the run. The Eagles have the necessary stable of backfield horses and need to establish a ground game early and stick to it. Go north and south against the Falcons, not lateral, which plays to their defensive speed. Doug Pederson needs to shorten up the passing game to keep the heat off Foles. Jim Schwartz's guys up front have to get to Matt Ryan to make him as uncomfortable as possible and keep Ryan from finding Julio Jones.

When the Falcons have scored 20 or more points this season, they're 11-0 (including the playoff win over the Rams). When they've been held to 17 points or less, they're 0-6. The Linc will be rocking. The Eagles feel disrespected that they're the underdogs. This should be a knockdown drag-out brawl. When the dust settles, look for the Eagles to still be standing.

Pick: Eagles, 23-17

Titans at Patriots, Saturday, 8:15 p.m. on CBS
An impressive wild-card comeback win by the Titans at Kansas City. The Patriots are heavy favorites but don't underestimate the fight in the Titans. They beat Jacksonville twice this season and pulled off a shocker over the Chiefs. Titans RB DeMarco Murray will miss a third straight game because of an MCL tear, but Derrick Henry is capable of a heavy workload. Henry ran for 156 yards on 23 carries vs. K.C. Tennessee can run on the Patriots' 29th-ranked defense, but scoring is another matter. The Pats give up only 18.5 points per game. New England will be hard-pressed to find success trying to run against the Titans' fourth-ranked run defense, but that's OK because Tom Brady and his top-ranked offense live through the air. The Titans have been a great story, but the defending Super Bowl champs will write the final chapter to Tennessee's season.

Pick: Patriots

Jaguars at Steelers, Sunday, 1:05 p.m. on CBS
Back in Week 5 of the regular season, the Jaguars sent a message to the rest of the league that they were for real when they rolled over the Steelers — which included picking off five Ben Roethlisberger passes. After that embarrassment, the Steelers went on to win 10 of their final 11 games. I can't wait to see Antonio Brown back on the field, going against arguably the best cornerback tandem in the league in Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye. Jacksonville's rugged second-ranked defense will have to be at the top of its game to slow down the Steelers' offense. Blake Bortles is a limited quarterback and that will be the Jags' demise against the blitzing Steelers. The Jags' defense can only keep the Steelers' O from scoring for so long, and without getting much help from its offense, Jacksonville will have a long disappointing flight home.

Pick: Steelers

Saints at Vikings, Sunday, 4:40 p.m. on FOX
New Orleans has come a long way since its season-opening loss to the Vikings, but so has Minnesota. What's not to like about the Vikings' No. 1 defense (275.9 yards per game allowed; No. 2 vs. the run at 83.6 yards per game; and No. 1 in scoring defense at 15.8 points per game)? Drew Brees will need RBs Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram to loosen up the Vikings' defense in the run and pass game. Both RBs tallied over 1,500 yards of total offense this season. Vikings QB Case Keenum has had a phenomenal season — 67.6 completion percentage, 22 TDs, seven INTs. The Vikings' defensive front will apply the pressure, but Brees has been dropped only 21 times this season. So many scenarios could play out in this one, but the Vikings are tough to beat in their home (7-1 home record). They will successfully defend their turf.

Pick: Vikings