Can Jaguars Shock or Even Cover Against Mighty Patriots in AFC Title Tilt?

jaguars patriots

Doug Upstone

Thursday, January 18, 2018 2:06 PM UTC

Thursday, Jan. 18, 2018 2:06 PM UTC

For some, Sunday's AFC Championship Game matchup is a disappointment. Most NFL fans wanted a rematch of Pittsburgh and New England, but Jacksonville crashed the party.

Jacksonville Jaguars at New England PatriotsFree NFL Pick: New England -9Best Line Offered: Pinnacle

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Sportsbooks are not convinced Sunday's AFC Championship Game will be much of a contest, and the NFL odds have the Patriots at -9. This is New England's second-highest favored role in the conference finals during the Belichick/Brady era, with only San Diego a bigger underdog at +14 in 2007. (Pats won 21-12 and failed to cover.)

What are the keys to the game for both teams? Let's examine them.

Two Aspects Stand Out for Jacksonville

We here all the time about line play, but unless it is really obvious, we don't notice it, good or bad. The Jaguars will need “the big uglies down in the trenches” (Keith Jackson reference) on both sides of the ball to be difference-makers. What coach Doug Marrone will be looking for is his offensive linemen to open up holes and have rookie RB Leonard Fournette breaking into triple-digit yardage on the ground.

Meanwhile, Jacksonville's stout defense has to be at Tom Brady's legs or crawling all over him. It was documented by scouts that Brady was less comfortable in the pocket the last six regular-season games this year, which led to more interceptions and less accurate throws. If the Jags keep the pressure on Brady, they can slow the New England offense.

However, the most important person is Blake Bortles. If Bortles plays like he did against Pittsburgh, Jacksonville can stay in game. If "Bad Blake" shows up and is as jittery as he was against Buffalo in the Wild-Card Round, the celebration in Foxborough starts early.

Patriots Must Run, Find Gronk and Rush Bortles

For all the praise Jacksonville received for upsetting the Steelers, New England's offense saw a great deal on film to exploit against the Jags' vaunted defense.

The Patriots do not have Le'Veon Bell or Antonio Brown, but they have the kind of running game that involves backs hitting the hole fast, which is the Jaguars' biggest defensive weakness. Look for New England to attack with quick-hitting runs and use tempo. The Jacksonville defense was chewed up by Pittsburgh tight ends down the middle and outside the numbers, and assuredly Brady and company will deploy a similar strategy with Rob Gronkowski and others.

Not 100 percent certain the Pats will bring five on the pass rush right from the start, but it will be soon enough since the last thing they want is having Bortles get comfortable. Make him uneasy in the pocket and spy him so he can't escape, and New England's offense will be going back on the field frequently.

Who Wins and Covers the AFC Title Tilt?

For NFL picks, I cannot see Jacksonville being able to stay at that same level two weeks in a row on the road. New England is not going to take the Jaguars lightly like the Steelers did. The Patriots at home in this spot are a force, and let's not forget teams like the Jags that just scored more than 40 points in the postseason are 3-11 and 3-10-1 ATS in their next game the last decade.

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