And then there were four.
Divisional weekend is in the books and the conference title matchups have been set. The Jaguars, Vikings, and Eagles join the Patriots in the Conference Championship round. A place the Patriots are all too familiar with.
By now, the idea that there was a rift so strong it threatened to unravel the Belichick-Brady era in New England seems foolish. Simply fodder to fill a two-week void. In that sense, it was successful as it remained a talking point for much of the Patriots week off. However, if anyone expected this to be a distraction, they were sorely mistaken. The Patriots quickly silenced the critics with a thorough handling of the overmatched Titans.
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Now, only three possible teams stand in the way of the Patriots successfully defending their title. A win over the Jaguars would pit them against either the Minnesota Vikings or Philadelphia Eagles out of the NFC. The common thread among all these teams… they boast some of the best defenses in the NFL. And, of course, none of those franchises have ever won a Super Bowl.
First up… the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Most assumed that the Steelers would be the fourth member of this quartet. However, the Jaguars had other plans as they stunned the sluggish and perhaps overconfident Steelers at Heinz Field. Now, they get the first crack at trying to derail the Patriots freight train. One that looks to be heading non stop to Minnesota.
The two teams haven’t met in a meaningful game since 2015. However, they did participate in joint practices in addition to a preseason game together this season. With that said, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady has enjoyed a lot of success against the Jaguars. Both in the regular season and postseason. Brady is 5-0 against the Jaguars in the regular season. He has completed over 70 percent of his passes for 1,369 yards. He has thrown 11 touchdowns to just two interceptions.
In the postseason the two teams have met twice in the Brady-Belichick era. (The two teams met in the 1996 AFC Championship Game. New England won and advanced to Super Bowl XXXI). The first meeting came in the 2005 Divisional round. Brady threw three touchdowns and no interceptions and had a passer rating of 116.4 in a 28-3 win. That win put Brady at 10-0 in the postseason to start his career. The Patriots would lose the following week in Denver, ending their streak and run at a third straight Super Bowl.
The second meeting also came in the Divisional round just two seasons later in 2007. The Patriots had just become the first team to finish a season 16-0 and the Jaguars drew the shortest straw. The result was as expected. Brady completed an NFL record, 92 percent of his passes, going 26-of-28 in a 31-20 victory. Again, he threw three touchdowns and no interceptions with a passer rating of 141.4. The Patriots beat the Chargers the following week to advance to the Super Bowl.
How The Jaguars Can Win
This iteration of the Jaguars is not like the ones from over a decade ago. They boast one of the top defenses in the league and they can really get after the quarterback. Their 55 team sacks are second best in the league behind Pittsburgh, garnering them the nickname Sacksonville. Their front seven is led by Defensive Player of the Year candidate, Calais Campbell. They have the pieces that can execute the gameplan that can beat the Patriots. Rush with no more than four and play tight man-to-man coverage. Cornerbacks, Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye are certainly capable of playing a physical style of defense. It doesn’t hurt to have Tom Coughlin overseeing things as well.
On offense, Blake Bortles has to make plays. He can not rely on the defense to carry him to a win as he has in several games this year. If that happens, the Jaguars will surely lose. Controlling the ball with a heavy dose of Fournette is part of the recipe. That and disrupting Brady IN the pocket. However, Bortles has to make plays with both his arm and legs. He is athletic enough to pick up chunks of yards on the ground—he was third on the Jaguars in rushing. In addition, the Patriots will likely key in on Fournette to take him out of the game so Bortles will likely have no choice. In order to beat the Patriots, they can’t be afraid to push the ball downfield and play aggressively. Dinking and dunking to three points on ANY drive will not be enough to win this game.
The Bottom Line
The Jaguars could accomplish everything mentioned above and play the perfect game… and still lose. As good as the Jaguars defense has been, they have still allowed more than 40 points twice in the past four games. The Patriots are a different animal than Pittsburgh. They will surely approach the game differently than the Steelers and will undoubtedly be better coached against the Jaguars. Therefore, don’t expect the Jaguars to come anywhere close to the 45 points they put up against the Steelers. Especially considering, since Week 5, the Patriots defense is among the elite teams in allowing points.
If Ben Roethlisberger can throw for nearly 500 yards against this vaunted defense, what do you expect Brady to do?