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The Jaguars beat the Steelers for the same reason they can beat the Patriots: They’re pissed

The odds are against the Jaguars making it to the Super Bowl. Don’t ever tell them the odds.

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NFL: AFC Divisional Playoff-Jacksonville at Pittsburgh Steelers Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

The Jacksonville Jaguars are going to the AFC Championship to play the New England Patriots. Even after a season in which the Jags played objectively excellent football — a 10-6 record, plus-149 point differential, the eighth-best team by DVOA — that still feels weird to say.

The Jaguars have been a punchline for so long — still are a punchline, in fact — that it’s easy to assume this will all go wrong. There’s evidence that it should. NFL teams only move out of their stations with great effort. We tend to see the same teams in the playoffs every year. And especially when a good team has a mediocre quarterback, we assume that team is doomed. Hence, the Steelers were 7-point favorites.

The Jaguars beat them in a thriller Sunday. They won deservingly, in all the ways that make them a big problem for the Patriots next week. They were fast, tough, and opportunistic, embodying all of the potential that young teams have over veteran ones.

They looked Super Bowl capable, basically. Which is a long way from saying that’s where they’re going, and I say that because the Patriots have been another deviation better than everyone in the postseason this century. They should be comfortable favorites in Foxborough next week.

But the Jaguars showed Sunday why the AFC Championship should be fascinating at the very least.

The Jaguars defense has dominated the team’s story all season. For good reason — it was second in the NFL in yards allowed, points allowed, and sacks, and first in passing yards allowed. The Jags scored eight defensive touchdowns (including one against the Steelers), which is three more than any other team in the league. They have Jalen Ramsey, and Jalen Ramsey is fun and salty as hell.

Yet if the Jaguars had lost Sunday, it would have been, mostly, the defense’s fault. Not that there’s much you can do when Ben Roethlisberger is throwing passes like this ...

... and this ...

... on fourth downs. But, ostensibly, that should have been a disaster for a run-first Jacksonville offense poorly designed for a shootout.

Yet the Jaguars offense LIT IT UP against a good defense — ninth by DVOA. The total yardage wasn’t a lot — 378 yards to the Steelers’ 545 — but they committed zero turnovers for a second straight game and went 8 for 14 converting third downs. The Jags ran 61 plays, and only one went for a loss: Blake Bortles took a knee at the end of the first half for minus-1 yard.

Bortles himself was excellent. I know 14 of 26 doesn’t look like much, but he did it at 8.23 yards per attempt. Six of those passes were first-down throws on third down, and he picked up another with his legs. It wasn’t a mind-blowing performance, but if you had seen Bortles’ Tebow-ian game against the Bills you would have been shocked.

The Steelers threw everything at the Jaguars that they can reasonably expect to see against the Patriots. Roethlisberger had 469 yards and five touchdown passes. Le’Veon Bell had 155 total yards (67 rushing and 88 receiving) and two touchdowns. Antonio Brown did damage deep — seven catches for 132 yards and two touchdowns — while tight end Vance McDonald torched the Jaguars underneath — 10 catches for 112 yards.

The Steelers — one of the best, most-balanced teams in the NFL — played near-impeccable offensive football, and lost.

And while we’re making the academic argument that the Jaguars can make the Super Bowl, it’s worth pointing out that this was the second time the Steelers lost a thriller in the last few weeks, the last being the so-called “Game Of The Year” on Dec. 17 when they fell to the Pats because of the fickle nature of the catch rule. By transitive property, the Jaguars can absolutely hang with the Patriots, and even beat them, despite what Las Vegas will have to say about it.


Full disclosure: I want the Jaguars to make it to the Super Bowl very badly. They are rough-cut and energetic. The defense plays with an abandon that actually makes it fun to watch.

They are havoc wreakers and shit talkers that dragged a relatively pedestrian, but periodically explosive offense to the playoffs, along with an equally rough-cut and energetic fan base that would be perfectly out of its element in Minnesota in February.

The Jaguars probably won’t beat the Patriots. I wouldn’t take that bet, and anyone of sound mind wouldn’t take that bet unless they literally knew nothing about NFL football beyond the last few weeks. And even then — the Patriots just tore apart a Titans team that was essentially the Jaguars lite. The Jaguars will be playing on the road against a team that has game planned for this specific moment better than any team in history.

That said, I’m not sure that these Jaguars know the odds. They do know when the other side is talking trash, though. They made that clear after their win against the Steelers.

That’s defensive tackle Malik Jackson referring to Steelers safety Mike Mitchell, who guaranteed a victory this week. He wasn’t the only Steelers player to say something he probably now regrets before the game. So did the Titans’ Jurrell Casey, who coincidentally is also now back at home.

The Patriots would do well to keep quiet this week, and knowing Bill Belichick they will. The Pats may be the best-ever team at side-stepping off-field distractions, too, as evidenced by the fact that after an ESPN story about New England’s internal tensions the team — *gasp* — played one of its best games of the season.

The Jaguars, meanwhile, are ... umm ...

Yes, you’d have to be pretty ignorant of NFL history to think the Patriots aren’t headed to their eighth Super Bowl this century. That’s beside the point.

What matters is that these Jaguars don’t know any better, and, in fact, are going to find some reason — any reason — to enter this game just as pissed off as ever before. They beat the Steelers because they are full of cuss. If they beat the Patriots, that’s exactly how they’ll do it, too.


What the Jaguars must do to upset the Patriots