Will this be Ben's revenge?
Three months ago, in a stunning 30-9 loss at home to Jacksonville, Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger had two of his 55 passes intercepted and run back for touchdowns. He had five picks on that day, and afterward would say, "Maybe I don't have it anymore."
Roethlisberger rebounded in a big way, however, and got his team all the way to the No. 2 seed in the AFC. Sunday, he gets his chance to avenge that humiliating loss to the Jaguars.
"Ben is the most talented guy I've ever been around," receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey told reporters last week. "I'm not talking quarterback. I'm talking about talent. He can do a lot of different things. He believes in his ability and he's going to show people on Sunday that he believes in himself."
The Steelers went 9-1 down the stretch, with Roethlisberger throwing multiple touchdown passes in seven consecutive games. The revenge angle is undeniable, even if Roethlisberger isn't talking about it.
"I'm sure just as any competitor would, when you go and have a bad outing or a difficult, tough outing against a team, you want that revenge," Jacksonville quarterback Blake Bortles said. "You want to go prove that it was a fluke or whatever it might be. I'm sure that's probably what he's thinking."
It could be the best on the best when Steelers receiver Antonio Brown, the NFL's only unanimous All-Pro, lines up against Jacksonville's stellar secondary, which led the league in pass defense at 169.9 yards per game.
At the corners for the Jaguars are the exceptional Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye, two of the best in the NFL, and they both figure to see their share of the sure-handed Pittsburgh star.
"Great opportunity to see what I can do," Ramsey said of Brown. "He's an elite player, you know highly regarded by everybody honestly around the nation, maybe internationally. So yes, it's going to be a challenge. We're going to have to be on our Ps and Qs and try to execute the game plan the best we can."
That's if Brown is able to play.
Brown, who has been nursing a calf injury for four weeks, was sent home Friday because of an illness. Brown hasn't played since he left a Dec. 17 game against the New England Patriots in the second quarter because of a contusion in his lower left leg. He had returned to practice Monday and was a full participant through Thursday.
"I didn't want him to get any of the guys who weren't sick, sick," coach Mike Tomlin said. "We'll bring him back in the building [Saturday] and continue with his game readiness. We don't have a lot of reservations about him from a physical health standpoint.
"We do need to get him well from an illness standpoint."
1-8 — Jacksonville's record when the temperature is 32 degrees or below.
3 — Quarterbacks in NFL history who had more rushing than passing yards in a playoff victory. Jacksonville's Bortles is one, with 88 rushing and 87 passing last weekend. The other quarterbacks on the list are Michael Vick and Otto Graham.
5 — Times the Jaguars intercepted Roethlisberger in the teams' last meeting.
12 — Sacks by Pittsburgh's Cam Heyward, the most by a Steelers defensive lineman since Keith Willis had 12 in 1986.
61 — Postseason games for the Steelers, tied for the most with the Dallas Cowboys.
181 — Yards rushing by Jacksonville rookie Leonard Fournette in the Jaguars' win at Pittsburgh in October.
By the numbers
How the teams compare statistically. All stats are per-game averages, except for sacks and turnover differential, which are for the season (league rank in parentheses):
Jacksonville: 26.1 (5) Pittsburgh: 25.9 (8)
Jacksonville: 16.8 (2) Pittsburgh: 19.2 (7)
Jacksonville: 224.6 (17) Pittsburgh: 273.8 (3)
Jacksonville: 141.4 (1) Pittsburgh: 104.2 (20)
Jacksonville: 169.9 (1) Pittsburgh: 201.1 (5)
Jacksonville: 116.2 (21) Pittsburgh: 105.8 (10)
Jacksonville: 55 (2) Pittsburgh: 56 (1)
Jacksonville: 58.5 (18) Pittsburgh: 56.0 (13)
Jacksonville: +10 (T5) Pittsburgh: +2 (14)
It's dicey to pick against Pittsburgh at home in these marquee games, but the Jaguars are in position to pull off an upset. If Brown isn't at full speed, the Steelers offense is compromised. The Steelers will do everything they can to force Bortles to beat them, but he has improved.
STEELERS 23, JAGUARS 21