AFC Championship Game 2018: Jaguars vs. Patriots Comments and Stat Predictions
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AFC Championship Game 2018
There isn’t a word to best classify the AFC Championship Game between the Jacksonville Jaguars and New England Patriots, though “intriguing” is perhaps one of the first that springs to mind for most.
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It’s not hard to see why. These Jaguars and quarterback Blake Bortles just took down the 13-win Pittsburgh Steelers, spoiling the AFC title game most thought they’d see, all while talking boatloads of trash in the process.
The Patriots are still the Patriots, though an injury Tom Brady suffered in practice has made the outlook somewhat mysterious.
Game: Jacksonville Jaguars at New England Patriots
Date and Time: Sunday, January 21, at 3:05 p.m. ET
TV/Live Stream: CBS, CBS All Access
Odds: New England (-9), O/U 46.5
Jacksonville Passing New England Passing
Blake Bortles, 18-of-32, 250 yards, 2 touchdowns Tom Brady, 31-of-42, 305 yards, 2 touchdowns
Jacksonville Rushing New England Rushing
Leonard Fournette, 24 rushes, 98 yards, 1 touchdown Dion Lewis, 14 rushes, 45 yards
Jacksonville Receiving New England Receiving
Marqise Lee, four catches, 60 yards, 1 touchdown Rob Gronkowski, 10 catches, 105 yards, 1 touchdown
T.J. Yeldon, three catches, 55 yards, 1 touchdown Danny Amendola, nine catches, 84 yards, 1 touchdown
Keelan Cole, three catches, 50 yards Dion Lewis, eight catches, 80 yards
The Jaguars aren’t blinking in the face of Brady, even at Foxborough, Massachusetts.
So it goes for a team that went into Pittsburgh and earned a 45-42 win after jumping out to a 21-0 advantage and holding on tight. Bortles only threw one touchdown, but running back Leonard Fournette bruised his way to 109 yards and three touchdowns on 25 carries.
It wasn’t a great day at the office for the Jaguars defense after a few splash plays helped Ben Roethlisberger work his way to five touchdown passes. Don’t tell that to Jaguars cornerback Jalen Ramsey, though, who sounds more than up to the task of lining up against Rob Gronkowski, as captured by Around The NFL:
Brady and the Patriots, though, have taken more of a respect-thy-opponent approach, especially when it comes to Ramsey.
“He’s a really good player. I have watched a ton of film on him,” Brady said, according to Stats LLC (via ESPN.com). “He has a lot of strengths. He’s obviously very confident. That is reflected in how he plays. I am more concerned about how he plays [as] opposed to what he says.”
Still, covering Gronkowski isn’t an easy task. He led the Patriots in receiving this year, catching 69 passes for 1,084 yards and eight touchdowns, then touched up the Tennessee Titans in the first playoff game via six catches for 81 yards and a score.
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Even against an elite Jaguars defense, Gronkowski figures to have a big game, provided Brady is his usual self.
That’s the big question now, right? According to NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo, Brady’s hand was “a bloody mess” after contact with a teammate, though the quarterback himself doesn’t sound too concerned about the situation, as explained by Mark Maske of the Washington Post:
This was bound to be a close game either way before the injury. Brady would still have to counteract a 55-sack Jaguars defense through quick outs and capitalizing on mismatches.
One of those key areas comes from the New England backfield, something Jaguars linebacker Myles Jack wasn’t shy about addressing when asked.
“They have, I really want to say, like a three-headed monster,” Jack said, according to Phillip Heilman of Jacksonville.com. “They’re all fast, shifty guys. They can all catch the ball out of the backfield.”
Indeed, the trio of Dion Lewis, James White and Rex Burkhead accounted for 11 rushing scores during the regular season, as well as 118 catches. This short-passing attack doesn’t only neutralize the pass rush of a team like Jacksonville, it essentially works as the running game and helps the offense control time of possession and field position.
Call it the X-factor between these two powerhouses. Brady might not be 100 percent, but his ability to read coverages and make the right decisions is unmatched, and zipping the ball between the line of scrimmage and intermediate range shouldn’t be too much of an issue.
When it comes down to it, Brady securing a lead means forcing Bortles to the air, which creates a predictable result.