After taking care of business against the Titans in the Divisional round of the NFL playoffs, the Patriots will look to secure their tenth AFC Championship against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
For the Jaguars, this will be their first appearance in the AFC Championship since 1999 when they lost to the Tennessee Titans. Given their lack of national exposure, most casual NFL fans are probably overlooking this young Jacksonville team. After all, they have to travel to Gillette Stadium to take on the heavily favored Patriots.
That may prove to be a mistake, as the Jaguars have an excellent collection of young talent; particularly on the defensive side of the ball.
Players like Marcel Dareus, Malik Jackson, Calais Campbell, and Jalen Ramsey might not be household names, but they have been the foundation of this Jacksonville run to the Conference Championship game. Coach Bill Belichick told reporters on Monday:
“I mean, they’ve got a lot of good football players. They bring a lot of problems. They bring speed, size, power, instincts, athleticism. They’ve got a lot of good football players that have a lot of skill.”
The key matchup in this game will be the Jaguars pass rush versus quarterback Tom Brady. If the Jags are going to defeat Goliath they will need to maintain constant pressure on Brady. The pass rush of the Jaguars is easily the deepest collection of talent on the front line in the NFL.
Their depth along the defensive line is going to be relied upon heavily, as Brady is known for quick decisions with his throws. This, in turn, leads to a lot of fatigue for opposing defensive fronts. The Jaguars ability to rotate in fresh bodies with minimal loss of talent will likely be their best chance of slowing down the Pats offense. “They’re very well balanced and you don’t see that a lot,” said Belichick. “You just don’t see that type of balance with good pass rushers.”
Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels was asked if Jacksonville is the toughest defense he has faced all year:
“Yeah, I mean, no question. They have really, really, really good players at all three levels of the defense. They get lined up and play fast and aggressive and have got an incredibly disruptive front that’s deep and talented.”
Make no mistake about it, the Jaguars are bringing the best defense in the NFL into Foxborough this Sunday. It has been said a lot already this week but it’s worth repeating; the Jaguars have elite playmakers on all three levels of their defense. If Blake Bortles and the Jags offense can find a way to put enough points on the board, Jacksonville just might find themselves making their first-ever Super Bowl appearance.
–Sam Puran is a Staff Writer for Full Press Coverage Sports Media. She covers the New England Patriots. Follow her on Twitter @S_Pats21