Bill Cowher explains how Jags can beat Steelers and how Titans can slow Brady

The Divisional Round of the 2018 NFL Playoffs are here and the AFC side of the bracket features two games that are considered a little lopsided in Vegas, with the Steelers checking in as a touchdown favorite over the Jaguars and the Patriots sitting at just under a two-touchdown favorite over the Titans. If you stare long enough at the lines, you can convince yourself the Jags and Titans will cover. But the reality is in the playoffs, covering is totally possible and even those two underdogs winning shouldn't be dismissed out of hand. NFL on CBS anlalyst Bill Cowher, whose connections run deep with both matchups, sees a path for each team to win. 

Cowher, who will be double dipping on "The NFL Today" this weekend -- tune in at 7:15 p.m. ET on Saturday and noon ET Sunday on CBS to see the gang, joined the CBS Sports Pick Six Podcast to break down the upcoming matchups and outlined a plan for each team to pull off an upset. Cowher, who won a Super Bowl with the Steelers, sees a case where both the Jags and the Titans have a little bit of an advantage by having played the week prior.  

"The teams that won, you now feel like you're almost on a roll. You beat a playoff team, you're going into another place, in some cases it's a rematch, a familiar foe," Cowher explained. "But, more importantly, this team's been resting for a week, and yet, you are still playing. So there's an element of, if we can jump out early, can we create a little bit of, I don't know if panic's the right word, but a little bit of unrest for that home team that you're coming into, who's been sitting there for a week waiting to play a game."

Cowher, who drafted Ben Roethlisberger during the 2004 NFL Draft, believes Ben and the rest of the Steelers offense has evolved over the course of the season, particularly since Roethlisberger's five-pick game against the Jags in the Week 5 home loss. 

"I would be surprised if it gets opened up too much. Certainly when you look at the offense of the Pittsburgh Steelers, it's an explosive one, particularly if they ever get Antonio Brown back. But they even proved early in that New England game this is still an offense to be reckoned with," Cowher said. "I think this is a different offense than you saw in Week 5 against Jacksonville."

But, he added, Jacksonville has changed too. Cowher believes, as we've mentioned in this space before, that the Jags need to let Blake Bortles be his best self in a game that likely won't end with a 10-3 score.

"And Jacksonville's also evolved. I think the biggest thing in this game is the patience that Pittsburgh can have and also, you know, what kind of approach does Jacksonville have with Blake Bortles? Do they come in there and recognize they cannot be one-dimensional? I thought they kind of played it close to the cuff because they were against that Buffalo team, Cowher continued. "But they're going to have to put some points up. The points they got last time it was based on Leonard Fournette running and the pick-sixes that Ben threw. I think early in this game, it's really important for Jacksonville to keep the game close. I don't think they can get into a high-scoring affair and get behind because that's not the makeup of their offense. And I think for Pittsburgh you have to protect the ball but not be too cautious, because the thing they've got to be careful about is let Ben be Ben and from their standpoint they'll be smarter this time."

So, basically, the Jaguars need Bortles to surprise and to force the Steelers into being too cautious. It's not an impossible scenario and the Jaguars can win this game

The Patriots probably have an easier task against the Titans, but there has been a lot of buzz surrounding New England over the last week, with reports of "tensions" emerging between Bill Belichick, Tom Brady and Robert Kraft. The trio dismissed the reports and Cowher believes if anything it will be a "positive" for the Patriots, who routinely use this sort of thing for motivation. 

"If it's a factor in any way, it's going to keep them more focused on what their task is at hand," Cowher said. "If anyone's able to use something to motivate them to prove something wrong, to prove people wrong, New England is one of the better teams about doing that, and so is Bill. So I think it will have absolutely no factor and if anything it will be a positive heading into the playoffs."

They are truly "all in" on Tennessee, and the Titans surely don't appreciate the external motivation for an already good football team. So how do they win this game? Play keep away, according to Cowher, who once had many of these Tennessee coaches -- Mike Mularkey served as his offensive coordinator and Dick LeBeau was his defensive coordinator -- in Pittsburgh. 

"The one thing I'll say about Tennessee is, if you look at them from the standpoint of 'what's the best way to stop Tom Brady?' Well I think keeping him off the field. So what do you do? You run the football. And you talk about a team that can run the football -- and you talk about a two-headed monster, with Derrick Henry and Marcus Mariota as a running quarterback. We've seen him, what he's been able to do from that standpoint. And then the play-action is Delanie Walker, and I think the big matchup to look for there is Patrick Chung against Delanie Walker. The outside receivers -- [Stephon] Gilmore and [Malcolm] Butler, they're good, but they're not going to be tested as much. This is a game for Tennessee that's going to be played in between the numbers. With the running game, the play-action game, that's the best way to keep New England off the field."

Defensively, Cowher knows as well as anyone you've got to get Brady "off his spot." The Titans aren't loaded on the defensive line, but they can get a push on the interior.

"Jurrell Casey as an inside rusher, is a nice matchup there to see if you can get Tom Brady off his spot. You're talking about a team offensively that is one of the best in the National Football League in terms of yards, so many weapons," Cowher continued. "I think the two things if I'm going in there -- the two people I want to stop are Dion Lewis in the running game and Rob Gronkowski. And I think those are the guys you have to be ready to stop -- I think that's the gameplan Dick LeBeau will have going in. We've seen tight man-to-man be a little bit of a part of what people try to do to give Tom some indecision and some different looks. We've seen Miami do it, we've seen Pittsburgh do it, two weeks in a row right there, so I think you're going to see a little bit of that from Dick LeBeau, but I think the biggest thing is you've got to take away the big play-action pass, you've got to stop the run, you've got to stop that tight end because he's a matchup nightmare."

The reality of this weekend is both the Jags and Titans have an uphill battle to advance in the postseason. But it's a single game and anything can happen over the course of 60 minutes. There is a path for each to win. 

Cowher also talked about Jon Gruden's return to coaching with the Raiders (and confirmed he's not coming back himself!) plus much more. Listen to the full interview below and subscribe to the podcast on iTunes here. Make sure and tune into see Cowher and the rest of the crew on "The NFL Today" at 7:15 p.m. ET on Saturday ahead of Pats-Titans and noon ET on Sunday ahead of Jags-Steelers for the best pregame show in the business.

CBS Sports Senior Writer

Will Brinson joined CBS Sports in 2010 and enters his seventh season covering the NFL for CBS. He previously wrote for FanHouse along with myriad other Internet sites. A North Carolina native who lives... Full Bio

Show Comments Hide Comments
Our Latest Stories