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There are many roads to get to the Super Bowl; some take the easier path, others the harder. That’s the case with this Super Bowl, as the New England Patriots host the Jacksonville Jaguars. New England is coming off a thrashing of the Tennessee Titans on Saturday night, in which they held the Titans to only 14 points in a 35-14 victory. Meanwhile, Jacksonville played in a shootout in which they never trailed, defeating the favored Pittsburgh Steelers, 45-42. In what may be considered a clash of heavyweights, it begs the question, can Jacksonville pull off the upset victory behind Tom Coughlin’s leadership?
Keys To The Game
One of Jacksonville’s great strengths has been their ability to halt the passing game. However, Ben Roethlisberger was able to have his way with the Jaguars’ defense for most of the game, throwing for five touchdowns and 469 yards, while only throwing one interception. While they have the number two defense in the NFL, they’ll need to sure up that secondary. As good as Roethlisberger is, he’s not Tom Brady. The other problem that will present itself is they’ll have to contain the running backs. Halfback James White was able to score two touchdowns against Tennessee, one on the ground and one receiving, in addition to halfback Dion Lewis scoring a touchdown on the ground. Expect the Jaguars to play aggressively but not to the point of taking risks. Anybody that’s ever faced the Patriots knows that it’s not the to time play recklessly. The one solace for this offense in this game is that they face a defense that was 29th overall. They couldn’t stop the pass, and they couldn’t stop the run. Their best bet may be to go to the well and give the ball to Leonard Fournette. Despite his play last week, it’s still hard to trust Blake Bortles. Expect Jacksonville to stick to the run game and limit Bortles to between 25 and 30 passes.
To this point, New England has essentially established a residency in the AFC championship game. One of the things to watch for is the Patriots front seven attacking the line of scrimmage. The defensive line and linebackers were able to sack Titans’ quarterback Marcus Mariota eight times, as well as contain him to 37 yards rushing. Considering that Bortles has ran a few times for the first down, the Patriots won’t let that happen. They’ll keep pressure on Bortles and try make him throw bad passes often. Even with a rough pass defense, they have veteran corners that can burn the offense if given the chance. On the other side, expect Brady to throw a minimum of 35 times. It doesn’t matter who the defense is, Tom Brady will attempt to show his dominance and with his array of receivers healthy, and even running backs now, that’s a danger to any team.
Jacksonville’s X-Factor isn’t by stats or by numbers, it’s by leadership, and that would be defensive tackle, Malik Jackson. Before joining Jacksonville in the 2016-17 season, he was with the Denver Broncos, who faced the Patriots in every year he played there. In that time, the Broncos were able to beat the Patriots in the AFC championship en route to a Super Bowl victory over the Carolina Panthers. The Broncos went 3-3 against the Patriots during Jackson’s tenure, with two of those wins coming in the AFC championship game. If anyone can provide a way to beat the Patriots, it will be Jackson.
The Patriots always have a weird time with x-factors, but one name that does stick out is halfback James White. For some reason, he is one of those guys that doesn’t do much in the regular season. In fact, he’s usually absent but once the playoffs begin, he lights up like a fire cracker. He’s not going to give New England 100 yards rushing or receiving, he won’t touch the ball nearly as much as any other back, but what he will do is provide a spark. Two touchdowns against Tennessee showed that can do damage, it’s just a matter of what he is asked to do.
Prediction: While Brady has the experience to beat the Jaguars’ pass defense through the air, as well as the talent around him to do so, it’s a question of if their defense can hold tight against Fournette. Expect Fournette to have a good game, but also expect struggles from Blake Bortles. The Patriots should win this one, 24-21.