On Sunday, the AFC Conference kicks off the day with a championship game that pits the New England Patriots against the young, hungry Jacksonville Jaguars. The Patriots are the reigning Super Bowl champs and are one win away from a shot at repeating. The Jaguars have never been to the Super Bowl and look to upset the vaunted Patriots team. Kickoff inside Gillette Stadium is at 3:05 PM ET.
Since Jacksonville came into the league, the Patriots have dominated them with a 10-1 all-time record. The Jaguars only win came in a 1999 Wild Card game. New England holds a 3-1 record against the Jaguars in the playoffs.
Last weekend, Jacksonville went into Pittsburgh and “shook up the world.” They defeated the Steelers 45-42 and swept Pitt on the season. Jacksonville has a swag about them right now and they’re looking to carry that momentum into Foxborough against the Patriots.
New England demolished the Tennessee Titans last weekend 35-15 and look poised for another trip to the Super Bowl. Everyone was predicting a Steelers vs Patriots showdown for the AFC title game, but the Jaguars had other plans. Will Old Man Brady teach these young Jaguars a post season lesson they’ll never forget?
The spread opened with the Patriots favored by 8.5 points. It currently sits at -9 for the Pats. The Over/Under opened at 47 points and has come down to 46 total points.
The Patriots are heading to their 7th consecutive AFC Championship game, which is an incredible feat in itself. In those previous 6 AFC title games, the Patriots have gone 3-3. This weekend, they go up against a ferocious defense that reminds me of the time New England faced Baltimore at home as a big favorite only to lose and the Ravens go on to win the Super Bowl.
Yes, the Jags are that good on defense. What was impressive about last weekend’s win in Pittsburgh, was that the Jaguars still found a way to get the victory despite giving up 42 points on defense. Everyone knew that the Steelers wanted revenge and were out for blood. So, for the Jaguars to overcome this on the road is not only a confidence booster, but it also shows just how good they are.
Unlike the Steelers, the Patriots don’t have as good of a running back or group of receivers. New England’s receivers Cooks, Hogan and Amendola will be on lockdown by the Jaguars secondary that features Jalen Ramsey. This will allow the Jaguars to double team Gronkowski and cover RB’s White or Lewis out of the backfield. Jacksonville also has a front 4 that can put pressure on Tom Brady both from the edge and up the middle. They don’t need to blitz to get pressure. And, Brady has always struggled with pressure up the middle, that collapses the pocket.
Last weekend, they forced 2 turnovers, had 2 sacks and 7 QB hits on Big Ben, 6.5 tackles for a loss and 8 passes defended. The Jaguars defense even scored a TD on a turnover. If Brady makes any mistakes, this Jaguars team will pounce on him. Don’t get me wrong, Brady will get his numbers, but that doesn’t mean it will translate into touchdowns.
On the flip side, the Pats finished with the 20th ranked rushing defense this season, but they held the Titans to just 65 rushing yards on 16 carries last weekend. Part of that was due to getting out to a big lead by half time. This weekend, the Patriots go up against the #1 rushing offense in the Jaguars and I don’t see them getting out to a big lead early.
Jacksonville put up 164 rushing yards against the Steelers last weekend and their top back Leonard Fournette rushed for 109 yards and 3 touchdowns on 25 carries. Backup running back T.J. Yeldon added 20 rushing yards, 57 receiving yards and 1 touchdown. New England will be put to the test against this Jaguars physical running game.
We all know that the Jaguars’ offensive weakness has been their passing game. But, Bortles had a respectable performance last weekend against Pitt with 1 TD, 0 turnovers and 214 passing yards. He even ran for 35 yards. In fact, Bortles has been a major threat with his legs as he has over 110 rushing yards in two playoff games. The Patriots have the secondary to shut down the Jaguars receivers and will be able to stack the box against the run.
With all of that said, who do you think will win the game?
Let’s get to the numbers before the prediction:
The Jaguars went 4-2 ATS this season as an underdog and are 12-5 ATS in their last 17 games as an underdog of 3.5 to 9.5 pts, including going 3-0 ATS this year under that spread range. The Jaguars were also 9-5 ATS versus AFC opponents this season. The Patriots are 1-1 ATS versus AFC South opponents and 0-2 ATS as a home favorite of 7.5 to 10.5 points.
I think if Bortles can succeed in not turning the ball over and Fournette can move the chains then this Jaguars team has a legit chance at upsetting the Patriots. Their defense is a beautiful thing to watch when they’re playing at their peak. This weekend, I believe we get the Jaguars best performance. The front 4 will harass Brady all day and move him from the pocket. They will shut down any Patriots running threat. But, the biggest thing is that they will contain Gronkowski which will hinder the success of the New England Offense.
The Patriots will limit Bortles and Fournette from running wild, but I like T.J. Yeldon as the “wild card” of this game. I think he can provide some mismatches out of the backfield like how New England does with running backs Lewis and White.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking this game is all about Brady vs Bortles, because it’s not. It’s about Brady vs the Jaguars defense. And, I like their aggressiveness. I’m not ready to say they pull off the upset, but I think they take the Patriots to their limits. However, “to be the man, you’ve gotta beat the man” and I just don’t think the Jaguars are the “man” yet. Look for Gostkowski to hit some late field goals to give the Patriots the win and a repeat trip to the Super Bowl. I like New England to win 26-20, but for the Jaguars to cover the spread.