Ladies and gentleman! Welcome to the next stop of the Patriots playoff gauntlet tour, the AFC Championship. Last week witnessed the glorious Patriots banish the Titans to Tartarus in an old fashion 35-14 blowout.
The G.O.A.T. (Tom Brady) threw for 337 yards and added three more touchdowns to his Hall of Fame resume. Danny Amendola stepped up by leading the Brady Bunch with 112 receiving yards and the Patriots defense also flexed their muscles by limiting Derrick Henry to only 28 rush yards and sacked Marcus Mariota eight times.
Pats vs. Jags: An AFC Championship Duel
New England’s next opponent is the feisty Jacksonville Jaguars. Yes, that is right, the Patriots are taking on the Jaguars in the AFC Championship game! The Jags shockingly dominated the Pittsburgh Steelers in the first half and were able to leave Heinz Field with a win, 45-42.
Leonard Fournette carried the Jaguars in his Jansport while stuffing the stat sheet with three touchdowns and 109 rush yards. Blake Bortles got in on some of the action by tossing the ball for 214 yards and a touchdown. And despite the ridiculous hands of Antonio Brown, the Jags defense was able to uphold their side of the deal. Telvin Smith returned a fumble to the house and Myles Jack picked off Ben Roethlisberger in the first quarter to put the Jags in scoring position.
Patriots vs. Jaguars is going to be like the conclusion of that addictive series you’ve been watching on Netflix. Brady, age 40, chasing his sixth Super Bowl ring is going up against a Jaguars defense that has been playing BEAUTIFULLY this season.
It’ll be very interesting to see how the Patriots move the ball offensively against a top-ranked rushing defense. Not to mention, if the Patriots defense can stop the potential Rookie of the Year, Fournette. It’ll be a chess match on the turf for sure, but the team that controls the momentum will be one win away from partying with Mickey in Disneyworld.
Stretch The Jaguars Defense
There isn’t a team in the NFL that spreads the ball around as well as the Patriots. New England will have to mix in a lot of three and four receiver sets to give Brady options to not throw toward Jalen Ramsey or A.J. Bouye. Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels will have to draw up plays that’ll allow playmakers such as Amendola, Brandin Cooks, and Chris Hogan to get in open space avoiding tight one-on-one coverage.
If Ramsey does cover Rob Gronkowski, that’s an opportunity for New England to spread the ball to the running backs out of the backfield for short yardage receptions and possibly more. This will also allow Brady to get the ball off quickly evading strip-sacks.
Put The Game On Blake Bortles’ Shoulders
A task that is easier said than done. Defensively the Patriots will HAVE to limit Fournette to less than three yards a carry on first and second down, forcing Bortles to throw on third-and-long. Fournette is dangerous gaining yards after the first hit and nearly impossible to bring down in open space.
Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia will have to stack the box on obvious running downs to get as many hands on Fournette as possible to prevent him from picking up yards after the first hit. With Fournette’s superpowers neutralized, Bortles will have no choice but to throw the ball. And honestly, that is something you do not wish for if you’re a Jaguars fan.
“Defense Wins Championships”
Jacksonville defensive end Calais Campbell, with career highs in sacks (14.5) and three forced fumbles, is looking to have Brady eat dirt all game. The Jaguars will have to make Brady feel really uncomfortable in the pocket and force him to throw the ball prematurely throughout the game. That’s where the stifling secondary will queue in to cause turnovers (33 takeaways this season, not including playoffs). How can Brady shine if he doesn’t have possession of the ball?
The Jaguars cannot shoot themselves in the foot. To walk out of Foxborough with a win, they’ll have to be the better team mentally. That means not incurring silly penalties defensively giving the Patriots a second chance. Once they do, they’ll find themselves playing catchup to the Patriots and that’s not an ideal situation to be in against a team that’s playing in its seventh consecutive conference championship game.
When it’s all said and done, the Patriots should beat the Jaguars 24-17. The game will be tough, the game will be competitive, and the game will come down to the wire. Do not be surprised if we see a historic game-winning drive by Brady and company to lead the Patriots to the final stop of the tour, Super Bowl LII.