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Jaguars are popular playoff underdogs

Dave Goldberg
Associated Press
Vail, CO Colorado
Keith Srakocic/APJacksonville Jaguars running back Fred Taylor runs past Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Larry Foote, left, for what proved to be the game-winning touchdown in Pittsburgh, Dec. 16.
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When Jacksonville went to Pittsburgh on Dec. 16, the Jaguars rushed for 224 yards and beat the Steelers 29-22 in the snow.

So it’s no surprise bettors are jumping on Jacksonville, which was a 1-point underdog in the opening line and now is a 2-point favorite for Saturday night’s game ” the Jags are a southern team built for the North.

The Jaguars’ biggest worry seems to be the turf at Heinz Field, exposed nationally on a rainy Monday night in November.

“I prefer grass, but these cold-weather teams, late in the season, they allow high schools to play on their field and they allow colleges to play on their field,” says Fred Taylor, who rushed for 147 yards and the winning touchdown in that first meeting. “It just goes completely bad. So I think a million-dollar investment won’t hurt their pockets.”

Maybe Taylor’s ire is an edge for Pittsburgh, which is used to its turf/mud.

The Steelers need any advantage they can get. They are without running back Willie Parker, who broke his leg in St. Louis a couple of weeks ago, and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger sat out the season finale with an ankle injury.

The one thing Pittsburgh does have is experience, notably its Super Bowl victory two years ago.

Still …

JAGUARS, 21-17

Washington (plus 31/2) at Seattle (Saturday)

The Redskins have momentum, the Seahawks have experience ” they were the losers to the Steelers in that Super Bowl two years ago and took the Bears to overtime in Chicago in the second round last season.

The other advantages for Seattle are QWest Field, where they were 7-1 this season and beat Washington 20-10 in a playoff game two years ago; and that the Redskins, who had to play hard Sunday to get in the playoffs, now must go cross-country on a short week. The Seahawks coasted in their loss at Atlanta.

But Washington won four straight to make the playoffs, fueled by the emotion from the death of Sean Taylor and orchestrated by 36-year-old Todd Collins, who went 10 years between starts, but now is like a coach on the field. The bettors seem to think so: the spread was five points to start.

On momentum …

REDSKINS, 20-17

New York Giants (plus 3) at Tampa Bay

Like the Redskins, the Giants have momentum from the 38-35 loss to New England, although three starters got hurt in that Herculean effort to keep the Patriots from an unbeaten season.

Jeff Garcia has two consecutive playoff wins over New York, last year with Philadelphia and in 2003 with San Francisco. That’s because his short drops and quick release can negate the Giants’ league-leading pass rush.

But there are questions about the Bucs that start with the weakness of the NFC South, which didn’t have one Pro Bowl player. They were 7-1 on the road and were playing hard late while the Bucs were resting.

GIANTS, 24-20

Tennessee (plus 9) at San Diego

If the Chargers don’t win this one, then firing Marty Schottenheimer for not winning in the postseason will have been futile.

These teams don’t like each other. Three players were fined for late hits and other transgressions in San Diego’s 23-17 overtime win in Nashville last month, a game in which the Titans blew a 17-3 fourth-quarter lead.

This doesn’t figure to be that close whether it’s Vince Young or Kerry Collins at QB for Tennessee. Young, who tweaked a muscle against Indianapolis, has no playoff experience; Collins has plenty, but lacks the mobility to avoid Shawne Merriman and the other San Diego pass rushers.

The Titans are happy to be here. The Chargers need a win.

CHARGERS, 27-13

“””

LAST WEEK: 9-7 (spread); 12-4 (straight up)

SEASON: 127-121-8 (spread); 170-86 (straight up)


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