The AFC Championship is set. After the Jaguars shocked the Steelers in a 45-42 victory, the Jags earned the right to travel to Foxborough to take on the defending Super Bowl Champions.
The Patriots are hosting the AFC Championship for the second consecutive season. In addition, they are in the game for the seventh straight year, an NFL record. Now, the Patriots will host the upstart Jaguars team with a formidable—at times—defense.
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Most people, especially the Steelers themselves, expected Pittsburgh to get their shot at redemption in a rematch with the Patriots. However, a sluggish start for the Steelers doomed them from the get-go and the Jaguars capitalized. At one point, they held a 28-7 lead over the AFC’s second seed. The Steelers managed to make it a game heading into halftime, however, the hole proved too large to climb out of.
Jaguars defense can be problematic
Despite surrendering 42 points to the Steelers, the Jaguars sported one of, if not the, best defense in the league. As a team, they surrendered the second-fewest yards in the league. Only the Vikings gave up fewer yards on the year. The Jaguars 55 sacks on the year were second only to the Steelers 56. Four players had at least eight sacks for the Jaguars, led by Calais Campbell (14.5) and Yannick Ngakoue (12). Malik Jackson and Dante Fowler had eight apiece. Nine other players have been credited with at least one sack on the year.
Perhaps the most impressive part of their defense is their secondary, led by the likes of A.J. Bouye and Jalen Ramsey. On the year, the Jaguars were the only team to allow less 3,000 passing yards on the year. They held opposing quarterbacks to a league-best, 56.8 completion rate in addition to allowing the fewest passing touchdowns on the year. The teams 21 interceptions were second best in the league.
— Full Press NFL (@FPC_NFL) January 14, 2018
Stout defense and a ground-and-pound offense
In addition to the stout defense, the Jaguars boast one of the best rushing attacks in the league. Led by rookie Leonard Fournette, the team rushed for 2,263 yards—a league-best in 2017. Despite playing in just 13 games, Fournette led the pack with 1,040 yards and nine touchdowns. Chris Ivory (382), T.J. Yeldon (253), Corey Grant (248), and quarterback Blake Bortles (322) all contributed to the best running attack in the league.
Speaking of Blake Bortles, coming into 2017, he had a combined 11 wins over three seasons. In 16 games in 2017, he won 10 games as he led the Jaguars to the AFC South division crown. Bortles wasn’t great by any means, however, he was good enough to compliment the Jaguars elite defense. His ability to extend plays with his legs is always a bonus, especially against the Patriots.
The two teams will meet Sunday, January 21st at 3:05 PM on CBS.