AFC Championship Game: How the Patriots stack up against the Jaguars

(Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images) /

The Patriots have to be concerned with the Jaguars defenders, but Jacksonville’s offense looked pretty good on Sunday too.

Patriots fans should not overlook the Jaguars in the AFC Championship Game. The Steelers did, and look what happened. Jacksonville has a great defense and they could make Tom Brady’s life a living hell.

That said, New England definitely has some matchup advantages that they could exploit. Let’s take a look at some of them below.

When the Patriots have the ball…

New England’s offense isn’t shaking in their boots, but they should be concerned with the abilities of Jacksonville’s defense. All season long they have been one of the best units in the NFL, and the Patriots will expect that to continue on next Sunday. The Jags gave up 42 points to the Steelers in the Divisional Round, but that could be an anomaly. Still, the fact that Ben Roethlisberger was able to throw for 5 touchdowns in a loss should give Tom Brady a great feeling. It’ll be fun to see what he can do against Jacksonville on a huge stage.

Patriots O-Line v. Jaguars Pass Rush

New England’s offensive line played extremely well against the Tennessee Titans in the Divisional Round and QB Tom Brady was not sacked at all. That would be an amazing performance if they can do the same against Jacksonville on Sunday.

The key to the Patriots success is keeping Tom Brady upright and comfortable. He needs to be able to slide around and step up in the pocket in order to extend plays and make accurate throws. He’s the greatest quarterback of all-time, but he can’t do it all on his own. Brady will need the entire line to play their best against Jacksonville for the offense to be able to find their rhythm. Right tackle La’Adrian Waddle left the game against the Titans with an injury, but the signs are pointing towards it not being too serious and he could be back for Sunday’s game. If he’s not available, Cameron Fleming will be relied on to protect Brady on that side.

Jacksonville’s pass rush is ferocious, with players like Calais Campbell, Yannick Ngakoue, Malik Jackson, and Dante Fowler all getting after the quarterback. The Jaguars were second in the NFL this season in sacks, but they didn’t get to Ben Roethlisberger as much as you would have thought. In fact, they only sacked Big Ben twice in their 45-42 win. The Patriots would likely be able to survive with that type of success, but if Jacksonville manages to pressure Brady and get 4 or more sacks, the Jaguars could stun the world.

Patriots RBs v. Jaguars Linebackers

Jacksonville did a nice job of corraling Steelers linebacker Le’Veon Bell as he finished with just 67 yards on 16 carries. He got involved in the passing game as well though, with 9 receptions, 88 yards, and a touchdown.

New England has more weapons in the backfield than Pittsburgh.

Dion Lewis and James White will, of course, be involved, and Rex Burkhead or Mike Gillislee may return as well. Lewis is electric whenever he gets his hands on the ball, and it takes a village to bring him down. James White always seems to find the end zone. Both are reliable targets for Tom Brady and he will likely check down to them on more than a few occasions. When they get the ball, they can score with ease, so Jacksonville will have to be very cautious. The Jaguars have small linebackers, but they’re very quick. Screen passes to running backs likely won’t work in this matchup, and those are a TB12 favorite. The linebackers and cornerbacks for the Jaguars can fly and they react extremely quickly. The way that they rally to screen passes is incredible, so Josh McDaniels will have to get creative with his backs.

Brandin Cooks v. A.J. Bouye

Brandin Cooks is a deep play threat, and the Jaguars struggled with that on Sunday. Martavis Bryant was able to get behind the defense in the first half for a long touchdown, and Antonio Brown did the same late in the game. Jacksonville will likely put their best cornerback on Cooks, A.J. Bouye. In the regular season, he was spectacular with 53 tackles, 18 passes defended, and 6 interceptions. Brady will have to make sure he doesn’t underthrow the long ball or it could be headed the other way.

Cooks ended the regular season with 1,082 yards and 7 touchdowns, but he’s a hit-or-miss player. He was a miss in the Divisional Round as he and Brady struggled to connect on the long ball. That could change on Sunday though, you just never know.

Danny Amendola v. Jalen Ramsey

The Jaguars have the benefit of having two really great cornerbacks. Jalen Ramsey could be a true #1 on many other teams as he finished his sophomore season with 52 tackles, 17 passes defended, and 4 interceptions. He played well against the Steelers, but his next matchup could cause some issues.

Danny Amendola seems ready to fill the Edelman role in the playoffs. He hauled in 11 receptions for 112 yards against the Titans, and you know he’s just itching to get into the end zone. Amendola is a security blanket for Brady, much like Rob Gronkowski. The chemistry between the two could be a factor as the Patriots look to dink and dunk methodically down the field.

Rob Gronkowski v. Myles Jack

The Patriots could once again have a mismatch with Rob Gronkowski. He’s a beast that all teams struggle to defend, but the Jaguars have Myles Jack at linebacker. He may be their best bet to keep up with Gronk. Still, you’d have to give the tight end the edge in this matchup over the course of an entire game. Gronkowski would have the size over Jack (6’6″ v. 6’1″), but Jack should be able to run with him. The size difference would be seen in the red zone though, and Gronk will be the best option to score touchdowns from in close for Brady and the offense.

When the Jaguars have the ball…

Jaguars O-Line v. Patriots Pass Rush

The New England Patriots seem to have found a bit of a pass rush. They set a franchise record for a playoff game with 8 sacks against the Titans on Saturday, and they’ll look to get after and rattle another AFC South QB in Blake Bortles on Sunday. Bortles was sacked just 24 times this season, tied for the 3rd fewest in the NFL. His offensive line does a great job to protect him and he has the ability to scramble and escape. New England will want to contain him. If New England begins to get pressure with Trey Flowers, Deatrich Wise, and others, the Jaguars offense could be in for a long day.

Leonard Fournette v. Patriots Linebackers

Leonard Fournette had a great rookie campaign and he had an amazing day against the Steelers with three touchdowns. Much like they did with Derrick Henry, the Patriots will aim to stop the run and force the QB to win the game. James Harrison did a phenomenal job of setting the edge against Tennessee and his late arrival in New England could be a factor in their Super Bowl run. On the other side, Kyle Van Noy will have to do the same to ensure Fournette doesn’t break loose.

Jaguars WRs v. Patriots DBs

The Jacksonville Jaguars wide receivers do not scare anyone. Stephon Gilmore, Malcolm Butler, and Eric Rowe should have no problems keeping up with Allen Hurns, Marqise Lee or Dede Westbrook. This is a clear advantage for New England, especially if they can eliminate the run to force Blake Bortles to have to throw.

Blake Bortles v. Patriots DC Matt Patricia

Another key for the defense is going to be causing confusion for Blake Bortles. He’s not an elite QB and Matt Patricia should look to get creative with coverages and blitzes throughout the game. it doesn’t have to be a factor on every play, but if you can force Bortles to overthink a play, the defense will have the advantage.

Special teams a factor?

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The New England Patriots will likely have the edge on special teams. It is always a point of emphasis for Bill Belichick, and it’s helped him win more than a couple of games. If the game is close, special teams could become even more critical.

Jacksonville has a solid kicker in Josh Lambo, but the edge will still be given to New England’s Stephen Gostkowski. With the game on the line, you have to trust SG3 to make the kick. Same issue in the punting game. Brad Nortman averaged 44.1 yards per punt this season for the Jaguars, but left-footed punter Ryan Allen averages 43.4 for an almost even punting game. The reason New England gets the edge there is because of how well the coverage team plays. New England has a great chance to pin opponents every time they punt thanks to players like Matthew Slater.

As far as the return game goes, I’d give New England the edge. The Jags had found success with Jaydon Mickens on punt returns. In the regular season, he had 27 returns for 287 yards and a touchdown. He’s been hobbled by a hamstring injury though and missed the game against the Steelers. New England will likely use Danny Amendola as their return man on punts and Dion Lewis for kick returns. Lewis has the ability to turn any return into a score, and if he does the Patriots will run away with the game.

Next: Jaguars stun the Steelers

The AFC Championship Game will be played on Sunday at 3:05 PM at Gillette Stadium. It is the Patriots 7th consecutive appearance in the game, and they are looking to get back to the Super Bowl for the 8th time in the Brady-Belichick era. First, though, they will need to focus on the Jaguars and their stingy defense. New England can’t look past Jacksonville like Pittsburgh clearly did.