Written by Cody Manning
Previous Match up: The Jaguars and the Patriots held a joint practice prior to this season, otherwise, it has been since Week 3 of the 2015 season when they last met each other. The Patriots put a 50 burger on the Jaguars. Tom Brady threw for 358 yards and two touchdowns. Former Pats running back, LeGarrette Blount had 79 yards and three touchdowns. Rob Gronkowski was their leading receiver with 101 yards on only four receptions. The Jaguars only managed to put up 17 points in their 34-point loss. Blake Bortles threw for 242 yards with two touchdowns, but he also threw an interception. T.J. Yeldon was their leading rusher, managing only 33 yards. Allen Hurns lead the receiving crew with 70 yards and a touchdown. But, that was over two years ago, and this is a new Jaguars team.
Offense: Last week the Patriots had their number one ranked offense on display against the Titans, as they scored 35 points and had 438 total yards. They surpassed their season average for points (28.6) and total yards (394.2). New England looked like they are ready to ride their offense all the way to the Super Bowl once again. They will have a tougher task as a unit as they face one of the top defenses this Sunday. I expect that Bill Belichick will use his stable of running backs and try to attack the Jaguars’ defense through the running game. While I don’t expect Tom Brady to back down from their elite pass defense, I do think he will be methodical with all his throws by making the smart ones, while testing them deep every once in awhile throughout the game.
The Jaguars offense showed last Sunday that they can go against a top defense in this league. They put up 45 points against the 5th ranked defense which surpassed their season average of 26.1 PPG. Their best playmaker, Leonard Fournette, will be heavily leaned on once again, as you want to control the clock in Foxborough, so you can keep Tom Brady and company off the field. Blake Bortles did show up in crunch time last week and helped lead his team into the AFC Championship Game. If their offense can continue to roll this Sunday, then it will help their chance to advance to the Super Bowl.
While Jacksonville’s offense had quite a day last week, they still have questions in their receiving core, as T.J. Yeldon was their leading receiver with 57 yards. The Jags really need someone from that core to step up if they want to give themselves a shot. With their concerns at that position, along with the Patriots having the most consistent offense in the league, if it comes down to a shootout, then I’ll put my money on New England.
Defense: Sacksonville. The Jaguars earned that nickname earlier this season, and if they want to disrupt Brady, they are going to need their front to get pressure on him. If Brady can sit in the pocket, then he will have a field day against Jacksonville. The Steelers gave the Patriots the blueprint on how to throw against their elite defense. While they gave up a lot of passing yards last week, it was their defense that made a crucial play by scooping up a fumble and taking it for a touchdown. I expect that Calais Campbell and Yannick Ngakoue will be getting into Brady’s face to force him to make difficult throws. While it hasn’t been announced, and may not happen, I am excited to see if Jacksonville sticks Jalen Ramsey on Rob Gronkowski.
Statistically, the Patriots have one of the worst defenses in the league, being the 4th worst in yards allowed. But, we are in the playoffs, and Belichick always finds ways to confuse the opposing offense. While they didn’t force any turnovers last week, New England held the Titans to 267 total yards, and only gave up 14 points. Just like I mentioned last week about the Steelers, I am sure the Pats will come into the contest with a game plan to limit Fournette and let Bortles beat them. I know that it sounds like I still don’t respect Bortles, but to beat New England at home, you must run the ball and control the clock. Bill knows this, and I am positive he will take his chances against Bortles and their receiving core over the young stud running back.
I feel like both defensive units will be the ones that end up determining the winner. New England will want to limit the run, while daring Bortles to beat them in the air. If Bortles plays like he did last week then it could backfire on them. They still have a defense that is prone to giving up a lot of yards to the opposing offense. I do think Jacksonville will find a way to get to Brady throughout the game to throw him of his rhythm. The biggest question is how will they defend Gronk? Like I already stated, I have a feeling they will stick Jalen Ramsey on him, similar to when the Broncos stuck Aqib Talib on him. Sometimes those “dirty” cornerbacks have a way of limiting him. While I believe Bill Belichick will come in with a great defensive plan, I will take the talent on Jacksonville’s defense.
Special Teams: Josh Lambo had a big week last week by making all six of his extra points, along with his 45-yard field goal. He managed to do this at Heinz Field, which can be difficult to kick in for the away team. Even though he was perfect last week, I would still rather have Stephen Gostkowski on my side. He is at home, and has made big kicks in Foxborough during the playoffs before. If this comes down to a field goal, I’ll take my chances on Gostkowski.
Coaching: Doug Marrone is having a memorable first year as a head coach. He led his team to winning the AFC South and winning two playoff games on the way to the AFC Championship Game. Regardless what happens this Sunday, he should be proud of what he has done with his squad this season. Bill Belichick is coaching in his 7th straight AFC Championship Game, I don’t think I need to say anything else on who has the advantage in this one.
Prediction: The one x-factor going into this game isn’t a player or even on the coaching staff. It is the guy in Jacksonville’s front office who always seemed to give Bill Belichick a tough time, Tom Coughlin. While he won’t be on the sidelines, you know that he has helped Marrone game plan for the Patriots. The Jaguars have the defense to give the Patriots fits throughout the game by being physical and not allowing New England to have their way with them. The key to beating the Patriots in the playoffs at home, is having that “We don’t care who you are attitude”, and I think that Jacksonville has it. Get ready Duval County, you will be going to your first Super Bowl in franchise history.
Jaguars win 21–17