NFL Playoffs 2018: Jaguars at Patriots picks; how to watch, stream AFC Championship
It wasn't the matchup that we expected, but the Jaguars would argue that's everyone else's fault
The Jaguars have been playing with a chip on their shoulder all season, but either way, who could have predicted that they would be playing in the AFC Championship Game? After a difficult win against the Bills, the Jaguars responded by hanging 45 points on the Pittsburgh Steelers, coming away with a massive upset win that, if you ask the Jaguars, wasn't an upset at all. After all, they'd beaten the Steelers earlier this season -- why would this game be any different?
There was no such miracle for the other remaining AFC South team. The Titans were utterly manhandled by the Patriots, as the juggernaut kept on rolling. The Patriots are looking like their usual well-oiled selves, as their 35-14 win over the Titans felt easy. Tom Brady threw the ball 53 times, completing 35 passes for 337 yards and three touchdowns -- not to mention no interceptions. Dion Lewis had 15 carries for 62 yards in a performance that was, if nothing else, efficient -- a Patriots' hallmark.
Blake Bortles also played a clean game, although he only threw the ball 26 times. He completed 14 passes for 214 yards and a touchdown, but he also put up a clean goose-egg in the interceptions category. The Jaguars' gameplan offensively is simple: Give it to Leonard Fournette and let him run straight. It wasn't often that the Jaguars decided to stretch the ball to the outside, and it wasn't often that they had to. Fournette had 25 carries for 109 yards and three touchdowns -- and his long was only 18 yards. He was steady, and grueling to tackle. Exactly what the Jaguars needed to keep their defense relatively fresh.
And that defense may be why this was the nightmare matchup for the Patriots. If you get into an air-raid shootout with the Patriots, odds are you're going to lose. But if your defense can make a few opportune stops, and maybe even score a defensive touchdown, then your chances increase exponentially. Blake Bortles isn't winning a shootout with Tom Brady -- full stop, no conversation. But if his job is to hold off the Patriots, that's how the Jaguars have a chance in this game. The way to beat the Patriots is to force them out of their style -- something that no team in the AFC was better equipped to do than the Jaguars.
You can follow along with all the action in, but here's how you can watch the game via live stream on CBSSports.com:
How to watch Jaguars at Patriots
Date: Sunday, Jan. 21
Time: 3:05 p.m. ET
Location: Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Massachusetts
Channel: CBS (check local listings)
Can the Jaguars' defense continue to do just enough to win?
Yes, last week was a terrific win for the Jaguars, but there were some real concerns about how the defense played once it went up 21-0. It didn't seemed to go into a shell, perhaps Ben Roethlisberger was just willing the Steelers back into the game, but it was hardly a stellar performance. Roethlisberger threw for 469 yards and five touchdowns, with only one pick, against the Jaguars' defense. Getting a 21-0 lead is significant, that shouldn't be downplayed, but giving one up is as well. There is something to be said for making plays in key scenarios -- Telvin Smith's fumble recovery for a touchdown to answer the Steelers making the game 21-7 comes to mind -- but there's also something to be said for giving up plays in key scenarios -- such as the 36-yard touchdown pass that the Jaguars allowed on fourth down towards the end of first half.
However, for all of its flaws, the Jaguars' defense is still one of the best in the NFL, and Tom Brady knows it. "This is the biggest challenge we've faced all year," Brady told WEEI on Tuesday, via NBC Sports. "We've had a good offense. They've had the best defense. And that's always a challenge when you go up against those guys. When you watch them play over the course of the whole season, you can see why. There is not a lot of time for the quarterback to throw, and I think the whole secondary knows it. The linebackers know it. And they're aggressive. They take chances. They get a lot of turnovers. They got a really good scheme, and the quarterback is just under pressure all day. Unless you get opened very quickly, there's a lot of sacks and sacks turns into long yardage and long yardage turns into punts."
On all three levels, the Jaguars have playmakers. Marcell Dareus, Yannick Ngakou, Dante Fowler Jr. and Calais Campbell can all pressure the quarterback, Telvin Smith has emerged as a spectacular linebacker alongside Myles Jack and Tashaun Gipson complements the cornerback duo of Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye very well. Put all of that together, and you're looking at the No. 2 defense in the NFL facing off against the No. 1 offense. It will undoubtedly be a fun matchup, but the Jaguars can't coast in this game on talent alone -- the Patriots' offense is going to come into this game extra well prepared.
Jalen Ramsey, however, isn't sweating it. As he said after the Steelers' game: "We're going to the Super Bowl, and we're going to win that b----."
Can Blake Bortles continue to make plays as needed?
The Jaguars' offense does not run through Blake Bortles. That's pretty obvious. However, Bortles will need to make plays for the Jaguars to win this game. Where the Jaguars excel is in staying ahead of the sticks. They went 8-of-14 on third downs against the Steelers, a success rate of 57 percent. Of the Jaguars' 14 third plays, they ran on only three of them. On one of those 11 passes, Bortles scrambled for a first down.
The takeaway there? The Jaguars pass on a need-to basis. Of the 26 passes Bortles threw, 10 of them were on third down. Bortles has been continually disrespected, but he's doing what the Jaguars ask of him: He's making plays when they're dialed up for him. Leonard Fournette is and will continue to be the guy against the Patriots, with TJ Yeldon getting carries peppered in. But the Jaguars passed the ball 26 times against against 35 rushes. The priority of the team is perfectly clear with that number.
With that in mind, the Patriots were 20th against the league against the rush, giving up 144.8 yards per game on the ground. They were 30th against the pass, giving up 251.3 yards per game. The Jaguars may consider switching their gameplan up for this game, but that will likely only happen if a.) Matt Patricia sells out against the run early (entirely possible) or b.) the Jaguars have a lot more confidence in Bortles than anyone realizes.
Of course, if you ask Bill Belichick he'll tell you that Bortles has the potential to surpass Tom Brady's legacy, and oh have you not even mentioned punter Brad Nortman? It's not like the Patriots don't have defensive playmakers, even with their struggles. Malcolm Butler is still a strong cornerback, and Stephon Gilmore quietly didn't allow a completion in his first career playoff game. If the Patriots manage to take away an entire side of the field against the Jaguars, it will only make moving the ball through the air that much more difficult. When you're being forced to target Butler, any quarterback is going to struggle, and that's what the Patriots are all about: Forcing you out of your game and making you struggle.
Who will win?
The Jaguars are, once again, massive dogs in this game at +9.5. However, in a straight-up pick, five of CBS's eight experts like the Patriots to come out on top. Whether it's a slugfest or an air raid, it's bound to be an exciting game, and among the rubble, we'll finally have a 2017 AFC Champion. Click here to see all of our picks for the coming week.
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