AFC Championship Preview

Jacksonville Jaguars (12-6) at New England Patriots (14-3)

Sunday, January 21 st , 3:05 PM EST.

Championship Sunday: Two teams enter. One team leaves.

If you ask Jaguars cornerback Jalen Ramsey who’s advancing to the Super Bowl this year, the outcome isn’t in doubt. If Tom Brady’s thumb injury is as bad as some rumors suggest, he might be right.

The Jaguars have made it to the AFC Championship game on the back of a fearsome defense, a dynamic running game, and a newly risk-averse Blake Bortles playing the best football of his not exactly stellar career. People have wondered if the Jaguars could really win with Bortles under center, perhaps rightly so. But nonetheless, here we are. The guy’s exactly one win away from suiting up as an AFC Champion. That’s a real thing, he just needs to keep doing what he’s doing, and the Jaguars defensive line needs to win the battle in the trenches.

Assuming that Tom Brady is playing, the Jaguars know exactly what they have to do to win. They need to rush three or four men, and get to Brady, early, often and all day. The secondary, among the league’s best, must clamp down long enough to create coverage sacks. If either of those things doesn’t happen, and the Jaguars can’t frustrate Brady completely, there probably isn’t much that Jacksonville can do to stay in the game.

Here’s the problem from Jacksonville’s point of view.

Jacksonville is the best defense that the Patriots have seen this year, they are able to stifle the best passing attacks in the league. But, New England’s offensive personnel creates several mismatches on offense, and the Jaguars will need to lean heavily in one direction or the other to clamp down. They can’t do both. They need to either double down on Gronkowski, or focus on containing the threat of any number of skilled running backs who catch passes in the flat. Assuming that their top corners can shut down Brandin Cooks and Chris Hogan completely, it’s still a massive task for the Jacksonville linebackers to keep up with Danny Amendola, Dion Lewis and James White. Brandon Bolden hasn’t gotten a ton of snaps this year, but the Jaguars haven’t been great against up-the-middle power rushers. Don’t be surprised to see him get more touches on Sunday.

On the other side of the ball, the Patriots have allowed the fewest points since week five, and they will take away Leonard Fournette and that Jaguars ground game. No team in the league is better than New England at neutralizing an opponent’s top weapon. If the Jaguars want to advance, regardless of Tom Brady’s injured hand and that mighty defense, it’s going to be up to Blake Bortles.

No pressure dude.

 

Tom Capo

 

Tom Capo writes about sports, parenting, food, wine and travel; but seldom all at once. He’s currently working on his first novel and collection of shorter fiction. He lives in the Bay Area with all of his girls; wife Allison, daughter Liliana and dog Artemis.

 

 

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