Posted on January 17, 2018, by Travis Pulver
The fact that the New England Patriots are playing in their seventh consecutive AFC Championship comes as no surprise. But the fact that they are facing the Jacksonville Jaguars—well, that’s still a bit shocking. Yes, we’ve watched them play well for most of the season, but it’s the Jaguars we’re talking about– the Jaguars!
But if you make the right personnel moves, play your ‘A’ game, and don’t mess up good things can happen.
That was certainly the case Sunday when the Jags took down the Steelers, 45-42, in Pittsburgh. Of course, while the Steelers are a tough team, the New England Patriots beat the Steelers earlier this season. They dominated the Tennessee Titans in their game Saturday night, 35-14.
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When the two play next Sunday to decide who gets to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl, there is no telling what fans will get. Can the Jaguars defense make life difficult for Tom Brady? Brady and the Patriots offense have struggled in the past against tough defenses.
But a bigger question may be whether Blake Bortles can get the Jaguars offense moving against a very good Patriots defense.
So—who’s going to win?
The New England Patriots like to do the same thing every year. They go through a span of the season where the look vulnerable. It lasts long enough to make people think that maybe—just maybe – the impenetrable Patriots have finally cracked. Maybe this year will be the year that they fall from grace.
But then they get it together when no one’s paying attention and dominate the competition. When it comes time for the Patriots to play their best football—they do.
They certainly played a pretty good game against the Tennessee Titans last weekend. The run game wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t good either (27 total carries for 101 yards and two touchdowns). But it doesn’t matter how well the run game works as long as they have Tom Brady.
And Brady, as usual, was awesome. He had to throw 53 times, but he completed 35 of his attempts for 337 yards and three touchdowns.
They may try to run more against Jacksonville since the Jaguars weakness is stopping the run. Establishing the run will be the key to keeping pressure off of Brady and giving him the time he needs to throw.
Jacksonville, on the other hand, will try to copy what the Denver Broncos did a couple of years ago. They are going to dial up the pressure, knock Brady around, and make it hard for him to attempt a pass let alone complete one. They have the personnel to do it, and it is not hard to imagine them doing so.
But Tom Brady is a living legend for a reason. When he catches fire—which he often does in clutch moments in big games—he can beat anyone. The question for the Jaguars will be whether Blake Bortles can get the job done.
He wasn’t great during the first half against Pittsburgh, but he got the job done in the second half when the defense started to fail.
Leonard Fournette and T.J. Yeldon have to get the run game established early to take pressure off Bortles. The less pressure there is on him, the less likely he will be to make any costly mistakes. He avoided them against the Steelers and for most of the season, and clearly, everything worked out.
But if he fumbles or throws a couple of interceptions, the Jaguars will be in trouble. The Patriots are good enough to beat any team’s ‘A’ game. But to beat them, teams have to bring just that. If not, the Patriots will capitalize on whatever mistakes the Jaguars make.
Expect the Jaguars to do what Denver did a couple of years ago. They will dominate the game on defense allowing Bortles to get by with an ‘okay’ game much like Peyton Manning did.
That being said, if the spread wasn’t what it is, the Patriots would be a safe bet. It’s kind of hard to go against Tom Brady, anyway, no matter who he’s facing. But since the oddsmakers have decided to make New England nine-point favorites, the smart money is on the Jaguars.