Week 2 of the NFL schedule offers us a rematch of last year’s AFC Championship Game between the Jacksonville Jaguars and New England Patriots. Game time is set for 4:25 on Sunday, September 16, at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville, Florida. The game can be seen in most markets on CBS.
The Patriots are listed as 2-point road favorites after opening as only a 1-point favorite. This game also has an over/under of 45 points. Click here to check out a full list of this week’s NFL odds.
As expected, both teams won their season opener. The Jaguars had to endure an ugly affair on the road against the Giants. However, a pick-six from Myles Jack early in the 4th quarter helped to solidify a win despite some inconsistency from the Jacksonville offense.
The Patriots, meanwhile, knocked off the Texans at home 27-20. The final score doesn’t necessarily reflect the ease with which the Patriots won the game. New England led 21-6 at halftime and despite being outscored 14-6 in the second half, the Patriots had little trouble closing out the game.
Of course, the memory of last year’s AFC Championship Game is still fresh in the minds of both teams. With a 20-10 lead early in the 4th quarter, the Jaguars looked poised to pull off the upset until Tom Brady led two touchdown drives to put New England ahead and send the Patriots to the Super Bowl. Obviously, this week’s game won’t change what happened. But the Jaguars will no doubt be interested in some form of redemption, especially in front of their home crowd.
The Jaguars (mostly Jalen Ramsey) have done a lot of talking heading into this game, but it’s not always easy to back up that talk against Brady and the Patriots. Jacksonville’s defense is banking on having their way against Brady on Sunday. However, New England is the more balanced team right now, and that’s what gives them the edge in this matchup. With the line at less than a field goal, I feel comfortable leaning toward the Patriots on the road.
With Jack’s pick-six last week, the Jaguars were able to win last week with their defense doing most of the heavy lifting. But beating the Patriots on just one side of the ball usually isn’t enough, especially when you’re counting on getting the better of Brady. The Jaguars are going to need more from their offense, and I just don’t see that happening.
The biggest problem is the status of running back Leonard Fournette, who’s battling a hamstring injury that limited him to just nine carries in Week 1. There’s a good chance the Jaguars hold out the often injury-prone Fournette to help keep him healthy over the next 16 weeks and beyond. Backup T.J. Yeldon is a capable runner, but he’s not the difference maker that a healthy Fournette would be. Yeldon just isn’t the same kind of powerful workhorse back who can carry the Jacksonville offense through long stretches of the game.
If Fournette doesn’t play, a large amount of pressure will shift over to Blake Bortles. While Bortles has made some big strides over the past year, he usually struggles without a productive running game to support him. He had a modest effort last week, going 18 for 33 for just 176 yards. He may be a little more comfortable playing at home, but you can’t assume he’s going to deliver a 300-yard performance. With Jacksonville lacking established wide receivers, it’s even harder to believe Bortles will be able to carry the Jags offense.
The New England defense deserves a little bit of credit as well. How they fare long-term after some concerns heading into the season remains to be seen, but the Patriots looked solid on that side of the ball last week. They held the dynamic Deshaun Watson in check, limiting him to 176 yards passing and only 40 yards on the ground, which is better than most defenses are likely to do this season. They also prevented DeAndre Hopkins from doing too much damage.
Finally, there’s the Brady factor. It was business as usual for him last week, throwing for 277 yards and three touchdowns. The Patriots would like to run the ball if they can in order to take some pressure off him, but they’ll put the game in his hands if they need to. Brady’s receivers are still a work in progress, but he still has Rob Gronkowski. The Jaguars will likely share Gronkowski among several of their defensive players, but he’s still a menace for opposing defenses. Phillip Dorsett also started to emerge as a viable target last week, giving the Patriots some much-needed speed.
Even if the Jacksonville defense can win the battle against Brady, that doesn’t guarantee a win for the Jaguars. Considering how unreliable the Jacksonville offense can be, especially with Fournette banged up, it’s hard to see the Jaguars pulling out the win. The Patriots may seem like the safe pick, but they’re also the smart pick. I’ll lean toward New England to win by at least a field goal.