What to Watch For: Jaguars vs Patriots - 2018 AFC Championship
Monday, January 22, 2018
Joe Calabro, GoLocalWorcester Sports Team
|All eyes will be Tom Brady's right hand on Sunday|
Call it the "hand" game. Every Patriot fan and hater will be looking to see if Tom Brady's hand injury is serious. The injury will make Brady less comfortable in the face of the Jaguars big pass rush.
"It's an opportunity to come out here, that I think you take all 16 teams in the AFC, and you all want to be in this game. There are two teams left, both sides are giving it everything they have this week to prepare and be ready. How you prepared and how you've played in the previous AFC Championships, those aren't going to help you," said Patriots safety Devin McCourty during his press conference on Tuesday.
The Patriots advanced to the AFC Championship after beating the Tennessee Titans in the divisional round.
The Jaguars got a win over the Pittsburgh Steelers to advance to their first AFC Championship game since 1999.
"They have very talented players on both sides of the ball. Especially on defense, they have many, many great players. It is going to be a big challenge. It is the best team we are facing all year coming up in the AFC Championship Game this weekend," said Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski during his press conference on Tuesday.
Game time is set for 3 p.m.
Jaguars vs Patriots
The last time the Patriots and Jaguars met was September of 2015 at Gillette Stadium, with the Patriots winning 51-17.
The last time the two teams played in the playoffs was in the 2007 AFC Divisional round, with New England beating the Jaguars 28-3 at Gillette Stadium to stay undefeated.
In the Brady/Belichick era, the Patriots are 6-0 (including playoffs) against the Jaguars.
All eyes will be on Tom Brady and his right hand during Sunday's game.
During practice on Wednesday, Brady injured his right thumb during a collision with a teammate and needed stitches, according to reports.
When asked about the injury during his press conference on Friday, Brady said,"I'm not talking about it."
According to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, Brady was "zinging it pretty good" during Friday's practice.
Wide receiver Danny Amendola told the media on Friday during his press conference that Brady "looked good" during practice. When pressed further, Amendola added he looked "like Tom Brady."
Despite the reports of Brady looking good in practice, there are still plenty of unknowns heading into the game.
The Patriots offensive line will have their hands full with Jacksonville defensive end Calais Campbell.
Campbell leads Jacksonville with 14.5 sacks on the season and is one of the top contenders to win defensive player of the year.
"He's got 14.5 sacks. Let's start with that. Yeah, he's good at everything. He's long, he's strong, he's powerful, he's quick, he's very instinctive, he's a smart player, uses his hands well, and he's one of the best defensive linemen in the league," said Patriots head coach Bill Belichick during his press conference on Friday.
Overall, the Jaguars enter the game with a league-leading 55 sacks on the season. However, 28 of those came in the four games they played against the Houston Texans and Indianapolis Colts.
Overall, the Jaguars defense rank as the best defense in the league when it comes to yards given up per game (169) and second best in the league when it comes to points given up (16) per game.
"They obviously are a top-ranked defense in the league, some great players at all levels and really well coached, scoring a lot of points. We are going to have to play really well," said Brady in his Friday press conference.
Other than quarterback Blake Bortles, running back Leonard Fournette is the key to the Jaguars offense.
Last week against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Fournette ran for 109 yards and three touchdowns on 25 carries to help Jacksonville advance.
"He's physical, he's got a lot of size on him but he also is fast. That's very rare in this league to have a big back that can run away from you. So he's physical and I think he's a lot shiftier than people may [think]. He's got a good spin move on him so it's going to be a tough guy to tackle and we've just got to, like I said, play with fundamentals, knock the line of scrimmage back, make them uncomfortable and get a lot of guys to the ball," said defensive lineman Trey Flowers during his media availability on Thursday.
The Patriots defense has given up only five rushing touchdowns all season.
Over the last three games, New England has given up 80, 40 and 65 yards rushing respectively.
Expect the Patriots to load up to stop the run and use players like James Harrison and Kyle Van Noy to set the edge.
Pats Running Backs
The Jaguars secondary led by Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye has only given up nine touchdown passes and 1,768 wideout receiving yards this season, among the lowest in the league.
Meaning Dion Lewis and the Patriots running backs will play a huge role in the game, especially with Brady's hand being injured
In the Patriots last game against the Titans, Lewis had 15 rushes for 62 yards and nine catches for 79 yards.
Lewis has averaged at least five yards per carry in six of the Patriots last nine games.
"He's had a great season running the ball, catching the ball, blocking. That's my guy right there. He's always played well. When his number is called he always answers. He's definitely a difference maker. He runs with power. He can run with agility, run with speed, make guys miss. It's tough for defenses to try and tackle a guy like that," running back James White told the media during his availability on Thursday.
White had one rushing and one receiving touchdown last week against the Titans. On the year, White has hauled in 56 passes for 464 yards and three touchdowns.
According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, Rex Burkhead will play after being inactive last week.
This season, Burkhead has 30 catches for 254 yards and three touchdowns. He also has 264 rushing yards on 64 carries.
The Patriots need to be aware of Jacksonville's willingness to go for it on fourth down.
On the season, the Jaguars have converted 10 of 13 fourth downs, giving them a 76.9 conversion rate, second best in the NFL.
Last week against the Steelers, Jacksonville went for it on fourth and goal on their opening drive and made it.
"They've done that multiple times during the year very successfully. They've done it offensively. They've run several fakes in the kicking game on fourth down. It's a four-down game and we're going to have to stop them on all four downs," said Belichick during his Wednesday press conference.