Today’s opponent cheerleader is Tiffany of the Roar, the Jacksonville Jaguars cheerleaders. I can’t tell you anything about her, because unlike almost every other team with cheerleaders, the Jaguars don’t include little biographies or quotes on the cheerleader section of their site. This is perhaps appropriate, because the Jaguars have made it to the AFC playoffs without a lot of media hoopla over their accomplishments. As a matter of fact, their quarterback David Garrard has the third best passer rating in the NFL this season, just behind Ben Roethlisberger and Tom Brady, a fact that has surprisingly failed to earn him almost any national press during the season. But Jacksonville and Garrard are certainly getting press now as they come to play the Pittsburgh Steelers in a playoff game on Saturday night, where they’re favored to win by the Vegas odds makers. Incidentally the reason the Pittsburgh game is at night while they southern California and the Florida playoff games are in the day is because the television network requested Pittsburgh for the Saturday night game, as the Steelers have almost always gotten good television ratings.
But despite what Vegas is saying and the thrashing the Jaguars gave the Steelers the last time they came here, I expect the Steelers to win. Do I expect the Steelers to win because Coach Mike Tomlin is playing a continuous loop of their last game against Jacksonville on all the televisions down at the Steelers South Side practice facility? Absolutely not, if anything I think that will only annoy the players and serve to make it that much harder for Tomlin to get to them. They’re professionals, they shouldn’t and don’t need any motivation besides being in the NFL playoffs. Tomlin’s stunt seems a little amateurish to me, and couldn’t he have had at least one television showing reruns of ‘Saved by the Bell’ to mix it up a little bit? No, I expect the Steelers to win because they are the more talented team (even though they’ve been playing down for the a bit), and the Steelers love to view themselves as underdogs, as best exemplified by their run as a sixth seed to win Super Bowl XL. Why, I bet that Hines Ward has been crying tears of anger into his pillow every night this week at the thought of the Steelers being underdogs on their own home field. Jacksonville has been playing quite well, probably above their talent level, but this is Garrard’s first playoff appearance, and I think the new level of pressure may produce a quarterback meltdown, similar to the one exhibited by Ben Roethlisberger in his first season. I expect the Steelers to be able to capitalize on this and rise up to the occasion for the win.
However, let me add one caveat: Tomlin needs to game plan to allow the Steelers to win. With Willie Parker out for the season and injuries up and down the offensive line, the best way for the Steelers to win is to give the ball to Big Ben and let him throw it on almost every play. For some reason the offensive line seems to pass protect a little better than they run protect (although they don’t do either well), and the playoffs are a lousy time to try to find out if Najeh Davenport can ever make it as a starting running back in the NFL. (I suspect that although he is a serviceable second option, that’s all he will ever be, and that’s why the Green bay Packers cut him). If Tomlin tries to get the team to ‘Steeler-up’ and play their traditional physical style of football, they’re going to lose, because Jacksonville does that better than they can right now. Big Ben had what is statistically the best season any Steelers quarterback has ever had, and it’s almost never a mistake to give the ball to the best player on the team and let him do his thing. Let’s hope that Tomlin chooses to do that on Saturday night.