The stakes couldn’t be higher as Championship Weekend kicks off with the Jacksonville Jaguars heading north to Foxboro to take on the New England Patriots. Since Jacksonville’s entry into the NFL in 1995, this will be the 12th time these teams have met with the Patriots having the all-time series lead at 10-1. This includes 4 postseason meetings with the Patriots having won 3 of those games.
The Jacksonville Jaguars (12-6) enter this game having beat the Pittsburgh Steelers in last week’s Divisional Round. In that game, the Jaguars jumped to an early 21-0 lead and were able to hang on late besting the heavily favored and ill prepared Steelers 45-42. Waiting for them this weekend are the New England Patriots (14-3) who, after falling behind 7-0 to the Tennessee Titans, ripped off 35 straight points behind Tom Brady 337 yard 3 Touchdown performance to win 35-14.
A trip to Super Bowl LII is on the line so in yet another futile attempt to be non-bias and analytical, both teams were broken down in key areas to see how they will match up against each other and which one may have the key to a victory.
Quarterback – PATRIOTS: Even though Blake Bortles has had some modest success in the playoffs, the Patriots’ Tom Brady is head and shoulders above anyone that the Jaguars can put out on the field at the Quarterback position injured throwing hand or not.
Running Backs – PUSH: Collectively, the running backs for both teams are statistically even from a production standpoint. While the Jaguars’ group has a slight edge in yards from scrimmage, the Patriots’ running backs have more touchdowns.
Wide Receivers – PATRIOTS: While statistically both WR groups are relatively even with catches, yards, and touchdowns, who is throwing them the ball gives the advantage to the Patriots.
Tight Ends – PATRIOTS: The Jaguars’ Tight Ends have done a nice job providing Blake Bortles with short outlet passes but the Patriots’ Rob Gronkowski dwarfs their production in the number of catches, yards, and touchdowns.
Offensive Line – JAGUARS: Jacksonville’s offensive line has done a much better job at both run blocking and pass blocking than their New England counterparts. Unfortunately the Patriots’ Offensive Line has a much tougher task on their hands than the Jaguars do.
Defensive Front Seven – JAGUARS: While the Jaguars get the edge mainly because of their ability to get to opposing teams’ passers, it is interesting to note that from a run defense perspective, the Patriots actually allowed less yards per game and have allowed fewer rushing touchdowns.
Secondary – JAGUARS: The Patriots’ secondary has made some strides throughout the season, however the Jaguars’ secondary, particularly the corners, are the best in the NFL and have the stats to prove it.
Special Teams – PATRIOTS: While statistically the both special teams groups are even in punting and returning averages, New England’s Stephen Gostkowski gives the Patriots the edge because of more attempts and better overall accuracy.
Coaching – PUSH: No this is not a typo….but before anyone jumps to conclusions there is a good explanation for this. While certainly the Jaguars’ Doug Marrone has done a fantastic job taking over a three win Jacksonville team and getting them one game away from the Super Bowl, in a straight up assessment against Bill Belichick there is really is no competition. However, the Jaguars have Tom Coughlin serving as the Executive VP of Football Operations who has in his possession two Super Bowl rings at the expense of the Patriots. To think that Coughlin hasn’t shared his insights on how to beat the Patriots with the Jaguars players and coaching staff is foolish at best. While Belichick has been more successful than any other coach in the Super Bowl era, the ghost of Tom Coughlin still needs to be exorcised.
If we assign 2 points for every category (1 point per team for draws) this is how it lines up:
Key’s to a Patriots Victory:
1) Don’t Abandon the Running Game: While running against the Jaguars may seem like a futile action to take, the Patriots need to stay patient and continue to use the running game to keep Jacksonville’s defensive line honest and to protect Tom Brady from getting hit repeatedly. Even if the running game isn’t producing the yards that one would normally expect, the number of attempts may pay dividends later in the game.
2) Challenge Jacksonville’s Corners: Conventional thinking would be not to throw at either Jalen Ramsey or AJ Bouye. However, by avoiding throwing to the outside, this will allow the Jaguars to flood the middle of the field with defenders. The Patriots should not be hesitant to take shots down the field, especially if they can isolate Brandin Cooks on AJ Bouye 1 on 1. New England should also try to attack the Jaguars’ secondary using crossing routes to force the Jacksonville corners to defend the field horizontally as well.
3) Don’t Underestimate Blake Bortles: Even though Blake Bortles has become a national punchline for any bad quarterback joke that there is, he has shown the ability to make plays for his team, both through the air and on the ground, in critical situations over the last couple of weeks. The one thing that has been true, however, is that through the first two playoff games, Bortles has struggled throwing the ball when under pressure and has found success when given time in the pocket. While the Patriots are not known as a blitz-heavy team, it might be prudent to throw some well-timed blitzes and unexpected line stunts to make Bortles feel pressure that may or may not be there.
This is the ultimate battle in strengths: New England’s NFL best offense vs. Jacksonville’s NFL best defense. While match ups like this have favored the stronger defensive team, this game may come down to how well the Patriots’ Defense matches up with the Jaguars’ offense.
Expect a stress filled, painfully close defensive battle where the smallest edges in field position determines the outcome.
The Knuckles Prediction: Patriots 20 – Jaguars 17