The Obstructed AFC Championship Preview

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If you were to poll all the NFL fans at the beginning of the year on which two teams would be the last two standing, you would get the first one which would be the New England Patriots.  And rightfully so.  Who in their right mind would doubt Tom Brady and Bill Belichick?

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But the second one?  I bet NOBODY would have ever gone with the Jacksonville Jaguars.  They were more inclined to compete with the Cleveland Browns for the top pick than competing with the Patriots to start the year.  But with the key additions on defense, the emergence of Leonard Fournette at running back, and Blake Bortles not imploding, the Jaguars find themselves actually one win away from their first Super Bowl.

Wow.  But here they are.

The Patriots steam-rolled Tennessee last weekend with relative ease as the Titans defense was no match-up with Brady.  Jacksonville took Pittsburgh’s best punches and threw hay-makers themselves for a surprising 45-42 shootout win over the Steelers.  So do the Jags stand toe-to-toe with the Pats or will the Patriots continue to hone their skills for their 2nd straight Super Bowl appearance and their 3rd in four years?

JAGUARS WIN IF:

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THEY PLAY PHYSICAL WITH THE RECEIVERS:  One thing that somewhat got me last weekend with the Steelers game was the fact Jacksonville wasn’t really playing Pittsburgh with that same physicality on the corners after the first quarter.  They seemed to have sat back on the idea of the offense would do anything at will on the Steelers defense (and honestly, they did).  But that cannot happen with Brady and the Patriots.  We saw last year what happened in the Super Bowl.  Jacksonville has to make life miserable for the likes of Brandin Cooks and others and frustrate them.  Again, this is the one year that it may feel like if you can actually frustrate Brady and get some things going your way.  And being unable to get it to his receivers will be one way.

THEY FRUSTRATE ROB GRONKOWSKI:  Easier said than done.  When the Patriots offense is clicking is when Gronkowski is a key part of the offense.  And when he is a key part of the offense, the football field is his playground and the defense is just a bunch of toys for Gronk.  If the Jags disrupt him, knock him off routes, and even take a couple of pass interference penalties, it may help the case of getting him off his rhythm.  And if that is the case, the Jags may have a strong case to win this game.

BLAKE BORTLES PLAYS SOLID: The numbers don’t look impressive from last weekend’s win over Pittsburgh (14/26, 214 yards, 1 TD), but Bortles made the passes he NEEDED to make, getting key third down conversions and being fairly accurate with the ball.  He doesn’t have to outduel Tom Brady, but he has to make the needed passes to keep drives alive and not turn the ball over.  That really has been what Bortles has done all year in Jacksonville’s wins.

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PATRIOTS WIN IF:

THEY GET OFF TO A QUICK EARLY LEAD:  Jacksonville is still a young team.  They’re brash, cocky, and arrogant, and it works for them.  Jalen Ramsey has already guaranteed victory.  The Patriots could really kick the Jags where it hurts with an early 14-0 lead in the first quarter and put some doubt in their minds while messing with them in the process.  If it is a 21-0 lead, game over as I don’t think the Jags will have their hearts in it after that.

THEY GET A FEW TURNOVERS:  Bortles when the Jags win doesn’t turn the ball over.  So the key for the Patriots is to get some turnovers notably through the air and frustrate the often inconsistent quarterback.  Any mistake the Jaguars make pretty much will do them in.  Actually you can say any mistake the (NFL team that plays the Patriots) make will pretty much do them in.  But moreso the Jaguars here.

THEY KEEP THEIR POISE:  An understatement.  Again, while the Patriots do not have a lot of adversity to begin with, whenever they do, they do not handle it too well.  If the Jaguars somehow get under their skin and also have a lead at some point in the 2nd half, it could go south for the Patriots because they sometimes have issues stopping the bleeding.  But again, it isn’t often.  But the Patriots have to remember they are the Patriots.

MY TAKE:  I’ve gone against Jacksonville twice already in these playoffs.  And I’m not bothered that I’m wrong because I do want them to win.  However, even with a great secondary like Jacksonville, Brady can pick them apart.  And one thing to worry if I am a Jags fan is that how Pittsburgh got the ball out quickly on them Sunday.  Brady also can get it out quick.  Jacksonville REALLY has to play physical with the receivers to stand a chance here.  But everything has to be perfect and then some for the Jags to go up to New England and win.  I do think they put up a far better fight than what the Titans had, but do you really want to doubt Brady against a young and inexperienced squad?  Me either.  PATRIOTS 30, JAGUARS 14

-Fan in the Obstructed Seat

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