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Jacksonville at New England 2018 AFC Championship Picks
Can Jags Get To Brady?
All season long, the Jacksonville Jaguars have thrived because of their punishing, unforgiving defense. That unit got them to the AFC Championship Game, and if the Jaguars are to make the first Super Bowl appearance in franchise history, it will happen because their front seven is able to pressure, contain and disrupt New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. In fact, this may be their only hope, because it is the one area of the game where Jacksonville holds a distinct advantage.
Jacksonville got to the quarterback 55 times this season, the second-most sacks of any NFL team. They were led by defensive end Calais Campbell, whose 14.5 sacks also placed him second in the NFL. On the flip side, Brady was sacked 35 times this season. Only Buffalo's Tyrod Taylor (46), who the Jags saw in the Wild Card round of the playoffs, hit the turf more this season among QBs from teams that made the playoffs.
Is this enough of an edge to give Jacksonville a chance for the upset? We look at this and other variables, based on odds provided by Bovada.
Jacksonville Jaguars (+270) at New England Patriots (-340)
Expect the Patriots to counter the Jags pass rush by utilizing a lot of no-huddle offense, and calling plenty of quick-hitting run plays between the tackles. While fast, the Jacksonville line is not overly big and New England may be able to overpower them and wear them down physically via a steady diet of power running. Dion Lewis went for 141 yards from scrimmage last week against the Titans, and the Patriots also expect RB Rex Burkhead (knee) to be good to go for the first time since Dec. 17. He had six TDs in four games before his injury.
Another key factor for the Jaguars could very well be the mastermind behind their personnel, VP of football operations Tom Coughlin. The first head coach in Jaguars history, Coughlin got them to the AFC title game in their second season in existence, but he's best known for his work in charge of the New York Giants, winning two Super Bowls against Pats coach Bill Belichick while holding Belichick's team to 14 and 17 points in the two games. The rest of the NFL is 0-5 against Belichick in the Super Bowl and none ever held the Pats under 20 points.
The Jaguars lost 20-6 at New England in that 1996 AFC title tilt and are 0-2 in AFC Championship Games. They are 1-3 in previous playoff games against the Patriots, posting their lone win at home, while dropping the three games in Foxborough by a combined margin of 79-29.
To have any chance at the upset, Jacksonville will need its top-ranked NFL pass defense (169.9 yards per game) to keep Brady, the NFL's leading passer this season (4557 yards) in check. The Jaguars were also the league's second-best scoring defense (16.8 points per game). On offense, it will be about ball control for the Jags. They can't count on QB Blake Bortles to win the game for them, so they will need to be able to maintain a consistent running attack.
The Jaguars were the league's top rushing team during the regular season (141.4 yards per game) and have upped that pace to 159.5 yards per game in the postseason. But New England's balanced attack figures to be a difference maker. The Patriots have won seven straight playoff games at home and are 6-1 at home in AFC Championship Games. Brady is 18-3 at home in the playoffs. And the Patriots won't take Jacksonville for granted like the Steelers did.BABB Pick: New England (-8), under (46.5) Bovada
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