The Pittsburgh Steelers helped legitimize the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2017. But after going 10-1 since falling to the eventual AFC South champions in a surprising 30-9 rout in Week 5, the Steelers' potential return to the AFC Championship Game depends on the team carrying the lessons it implemented from that humbling defeat.

And while many expect the road to Super Bowl LII to feature a rematch of Pittsburgh and the New England Patriots, Jacksonville is anything but a speed bump.

Ben Roethlisberger threw five interceptions and the Steelers gave up 231 rushing yards in what served as the Jaguars' emergence as a legitimate postseason threat. While Jacksonville rode the same lockdown, turnover-generating defense and rugged run game back to the divisional round, Pittsburgh was served the reality check it needed. Roethlisberger in particular finished the season on an upswing, posting a 102.7 quarterback rating in the 11 games since that point.

But even with wide receiver Antonio Brown expected to make a timely return, it could be the running attack that swings the second meeting.

Running back Le'Veon Bell still managed 25 touches in the first meeting, but just 15 of those were runs. Though the Jaguars steadily improved their rushing defense over the year, the unit still finished 21st with 116.3 yards allowed per game. In its six losses, Jacksonville gave up an average of 153.3 yards on the ground. Using him frequently would help Pittsburgh negate a powerful pass rush led by defensive player of the year candidate Calais Campbell, as well as limit its turnover liability against Pro Bowl cornerbacks Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye.

That could add up to a heavy workload for Bell, who last season set the NFL record for rushing yardage in a player's first two playoff games with 337.

Much of Jacksonville's burden for stopping Bell could fall to linebackers Telvin Smith and Myles Jack. The two will not only be critical in preventing him from reaching the second level and breaking long runs but also containing him in the passing game. Bell had 10 catches in the first contest but managed just 46 yards.

Here are three more matchups that will define the divisional round of the playoffs:

New Orleans Saints WR Michael Thomas vs. Minnesota Vikings CB Xavier Rhodes

Whether this matchup truly manifests remains unclear. While putting arguably the league's pre-eminent lockdown cornerback on the Saints' foremost threat in the passing game would seem like a natural assignment, Rhodes was tasked with covering Thomas on just a handful of plays in the Vikings' Week 1 win. But much has changed for both teams since that point, and Thomas has emerged as an even more dangerous target in a Pro Bowl season.

Rhodes has an established pattern of erasing opponents' top receivers, having held the likes of Antonio Brown, Julio Jones and A.J. Green to modest outputs in 2017. While Drew Brees completed passes to eight different receivers last week, having Thomas taken largely out of the equation would leave him with few reliable options against the second-ranked pass defense (192.4 points per game). New Orleans would also face a bleak outlook on third down, as it ranks a pedestrian 19th in conversion percentage (37.6) and is up against the league's best unit in that facet (25.2% allowed).

With the running game integral to the Saints' success, Thomas has to establish himself on Sunday in order to prevent Minnesota from consistently loading up the box. Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram were held to just 68 combined yards from scrimmage in a wild-card win over the Carolina Panthers thanks in part to an athletic linebacking corps that prevented the Pro Bowl duo from turning the corner and finding open-field space. The Vikings could follow that formula with Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks while also disrupting plays up front through nose tackle Linval Joseph.

Philadelphia Eagles RB Jay Ajayi vs. Atlanta Falcons' front seven

Ajayi has already found success against the Falcons this year, albeit not with the Eagles. Yet even with a stronger offensive line and supporting cast, duplicating or improving upon that production in the divisional round could be difficult.

While still playing for the Dolphins in a Week 6 meeting with the Falcons, Ajayi ran 26 times for 130 yards, the most Atlanta gave up to any one running back this season. And though he has averaged 5.8 yards per carry while in Philadelphia, the third-year running back has not had more than 15 carries in any game with the team. That should change Saturday, with the Eagles likely doing all they can to limit backup quarterback Nick Foles' role.

But Atlanta's rush defense steadily improved since its last meeting with Ajayi, as no other rusher cracked 100 yards during the regular season. The Los Angeles Rams' Todd Gurley netted 101 rushing yards in last week's wild-card game but still was largely kept in check. Breakout linebacker Deion Jones and the rest of the defense should be able to focus on Ajayi, with the defense likely challenging Foles to prove he can beat it on the outside.

Tennessee Titans DT Jurrell Casey vs. New England Patriots' offensive line

Whether motivated, distracted or unaffected by an ESPN report detailing his alleged discord with Bill Belichick, Tom Brady yet again faces another favorable outlook in the divisional round. The Titans' hopes for pulling off the upset likely depend on generating pressure, the same key that opponents have been looking to for years.

Brady's vulnerability to the rush has spiked this year, as he was sacked 35 times and on 5.7% of his dropbacks. After the 40-year-old's number dipped from Week 13 to Week 16 (1,013 yards with four touchdowns and five interceptions), Tennessee will try to keep him off beat by forcing him into turnovers and third-and-long situations. Though Brady has a famously quick trigger, the short passing game could be limited by the statuses of running backs Rex Burkhead, James White and Mike Gillislee, all of whom are listed as questionable.

Tennessee didn't have any one player who finished with more than 7 1/2 sacks, but the defense as a whole ranked tied for fifth with 43. Its best bet for disrupting New England's attack might be Casey, a slippery yet powerful rusher who fits the model of the kind of interior rusher that has given Brady trouble at times. The Titans will need that push, as the secondary struggled at times last week against the Kansas City Chiefs and looks ill-equipped to handle deep throws to Rob Gronkowski and now-healthy wide receiver Chris Hogan.