Five Storylines For The AFC Championship Game

The Patriots Welcome Jacksonville to Foxborough, As The Jaguars Look To Repeat Their Performance From Last Week: Top Storylines

The Coughlin Factor

AP PHOTO: BILL KOSTROUN

Patriots’ quarterback Tom Brady and head coach Bill Belichick have been brilliant together since 2001. Bringing New England five Super Bowls in seven appearances; both will go down as the best to ever do it, in their respective roles.

However, their two Super Bowl losses came at the hands of the New York Giants, led by then head coach Tom Coughlin.

Coughlin is now the EVP of Football Operations for Jacksonville. He’s built the Jaguars through his eyes with a strong pass rush, playmakers in the secondary, and a top-rated rushing attack.

Can Jacksonville utilize Coughlin’s experience vs. New England en route to their first Super Bowl appearance?

Brady Vs. Elite Defenses in the Playoffs

AP PHOTO: AARON M SPRECHER

If you don’t have an elite quarterback, the only way to beat Brady and the Patriots is to have an elite defense. Most noteworthy, an elite pass rush.

When Brady faces a team in the playoffs with 48 plus sacks during the regular season, he has nine touchdowns to nine interceptions with a passer rating in the 70’s.

Jacksonville posted 55 sacks this season to along with other top-tier stats. The Jags finished second in points allowed (16.8), first in total defense (286 yards per game), first in passing defense (170 yards per game), second in interceptions (21) and second in takeaways (33).

The following teams defeated Brady with elite defensive play and won a Super Bowl: The New York Giants in 2007 and 2011 (both teams won Super Bowls), the 2012 Baltimore Ravens (won Super Bowl XLVII), and the 2015 Denver Broncos (won Super Bowl 50).

Will This Moment Be Too Big for Jacksonville?

As Brady and Belichick prepare for their 11th AFC Championship Game, Jacksonville is playing in their third, first since the 1999 season.

The Patriots have been to seven Super Bowls since 1999, winning their latest last season in dramatic fashion over the Atlanta Falcons. New England is the best-coached team in the league, led by the best quarterback ever.

The Pats are battle-tested, experienced, and focused on nothing other than defeating the Jaguars this week. Even last week’s reports of disconnect within the Patriots didn’t slow them down against the Titans.

Jacksonville is in unfamiliar territory. They’ve never won an AFC Championship game; hence, never winning a Super Bowl.

Will this moment be too big for the Jaguars, affecting their preparation and performance? Or can they treat this like any other game and use the matchups to their advantage?

Will New England’s Play Callers Be Focused

AP PHOTO: WINSLOW TOWNSON

The Patriots coordinators are some of the best play callers in the business. As a result, offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia will be head coaches next year.

McDaniels is reportedly taking the Indianapolis Colts job. Patricia will fill the Detroit Lions’ vacancy. The respective General Managers for the Colts and Lions have ties to New England head coach Bill Belichick.

But will these play callers be focused going into Sunday’s Matchup? Yes, they work for Belichick who is the most focused coach of all time as he pays attention to detail like no other. However, they are not Belichick.

In last year’s Super Bowl featuring the Patriots and Falcons, then offensive coordinator Mike Shanahan took the San Francisco 49ers job before the game. He unraveled, as the Patriots came back from a 28-3 deficit.

Bortles

AP PHOTO: DON WRIGHT

Jacksonville quarterback Blake Bortles is the most scrutinized and dissected player in the NFL this season. No one would give Bortles a second thought if the Jags went 3-13. But the Jaguars are not 3-13, they’re in the AFC championship game with Bortles as their signal-caller.

He’s had stretches during the season where he’s looked great and stretches where he’s looked like the old Bortles. Then, in his first ever playoff game he had more rushing yards than passing yards.

But the key to Bortles success is not limited to yards and touchdowns, its turnovers. Coming into this season, he led the league in turnovers since being drafted, but Bortles has done a much better job of protecting the football. In fact, Jacksonville is 10-0 when Bortles doesn’t turn the ball over including their two playoff victories.

The Jaguars have already overachieved this season and so has Bortles to some extent. Quarterbacks with comparable or worse statistics than Bortles has gone to the Super Bowl. But can Bortles navigate Patricia’s and Belichick’s defense? Sunday’s matchup will be the toughest of his career.

Catch the AFC Championship Game Sunday, at 3:05pm on CBS

JAQUAN CATHEY ON THE JAGS VICTORY OVER PITTSBURGH.

 

 

 

 

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