The Pittsburgh Steelers are 9-0 and will be looking to become the NFL version of the perfect 10 this week when they travel to Northern Florida to play the lowly Jacksonville Jaguars, who are a not-so-perfect 1-8. But don't get head coach Mike Tomlin thinking this will be a cakewalk to a 10th win. At least that's what we all heard this week as he claimed, "We are not a Big Ten team playing a MAC team this week" and "We've got a ridiculous level of respect for them."
We'll see if the Steelers stay in their groove yet again or if the Jags turn this into a trap game. It's all about focus, right? Unlike most of the NFL fans out there, I can't wait for this one.
Pittsburgh at Jacksonville
Kickoff: Sunday, Nov. 22 at 1 p.m. ET
Spread: Steelers -10
Three Things to Watch
1. Big Ben vs. somebody named Jake Luton
Let me get this right, Ben Roethlisberger sits out all week from every practice due to COVID-19 protocols and he is still is able to come in and throw for 333 yards and four touchdowns vs. the Bengals? Can you imagine what he's going to do to poor Jacksonville having actually practiced all week this time? Also note that this will be one of the oldest quarterbacks in the league facing the youngest defense in the league.
But the wild card is Luton, who is making his third-ever NFL start in his rookie season. The 6-foot-6 slinger has been lauded for his poise in the pocket the last few games while hitting on 44 of his 73 passes for 473 yards. He and DJ Chark Jr. have become a revelation, combining for 11 connections and 202 yards the last two weeks. The only problem was that last week's opponent, Green Bay, seemed capable of getting pressure on Luton despite sending just four pass rushers, including a pair of sacks on the attempted game-winning drive.
2. Running backs running in the opposite direction
Both Steeler James Conner and Jaguar James Robinson have become big stories for their teams in the last few weeks. Robinson has been a real find, running for more yards (684) than any undrafted rookie in NFL history through nine games. In his last three games, the Illinois State alumnus has run for 109, 99, and 119 yards. And as mentioned above, they nearly beat the Chargers, Texans, and Packers in those three games.
Meanwhile, the last three games haven't been friendly to the cleats of Conner. Back in October, he had 20 carries against both the Browns and the Titans and averaged 4.6 yards per attempt. But the last three weeks he's carried the ball 37 times for just 105 yards, a 2.8 yards per carry average. Advantage goes to whichever running back helps set the tone early in this game.
Robinson is dealing with a shoulder injury which has limited his practice reps this week. There have been no reports to suggest he's in danger of missing this game, but it's something to keep an eye on.
3. Falling for a Khan man
If Jacksonville loses this game it will mark a dubious NFL milestone. Jaguar owner Shad Khan has seen his team lose 99 games during his tenure, which began when he bought the team in November 2011. The record of 41-100 would leave him tied with former New Orleans Saints owner John Mecom for triple-digit losses in his first 141 games. Both those hapless owners sit behind the infamous Tampa Bay Buccaneers owner Hugh Culverhouse, who lost his 100th game in 140 games at the beginning of the franchise.
Just to contrast the two organizations, the Steelers clinched their 17th straight non-losing season with last week's win. Meanwhile, the Jaguars have had 10 losing seasons since 2007. A loss to Pittsburgh will assure an 11th.
File this under the "for what it's worth" department: four of the Jaguars' losses have come by one score, including nip-and-tuck defeats to Houston (27-25) and Green Bay (24-20) in the last two weeks. Plus, in their last three road contests, the Steelers have barely escaped Dallas (24-19), Baltimore (28-24), and Tennessee (27-24). So there is precedent that this might just turn into another close shave.
Look at their game with the Cowboys. In that one, the Steelers nearly let a third-string quarterback (Garrett Gilbert) take them down. So shrugging off Jake Luton here could be a dire mistake. We've seen it before. But I still give the Steelers the edge to become a perfect 10.
Prediction: Steelers 28, Jaguars 20
— Written by Eric Sorenson, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He is a college football, college baseball and college hockey addict... and writer. Follow him on Twitter @Stitch_Head.