The AFC Championship Game: What To Watch

New England Hosts Jacksonville In The AFC Championship Game For The First Time Since The 1996 Season: The Matchup

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Foxborough, MA — The Jacksonville Jaguars and New England Patriots renew their relatively mild playoff rivalry Sunday afternoon. The Jags and Pats have played each other four times in the playoffs since Jacksonville’s first season in 1995. New England is 3-1 vs. Jacksonville in the playoffs, looking for the fourth victory and tenth trip to the Super Bowl.

With a multitude of storylines, the biggest is Patriots’ quarterback Tom Brady. He didn’t participate in practice Wednesday or Thursday due to a hand injury. Also, Brady chose not to partake in his scheduled media appearances on Wednesday or Thursday.

Brady Vs. Bortles

AP PHOTO: AARON M SPRECHER

Most saw Brady taking the Patriots to this year’s AFC Championship Game, his 11th.

No one saw Jags’ quarterback Blake Bortles in this spot. No one. Bortles will enter Sunday’s matchup with the lowest winning percentage for a starting quarterback in any Championship game, AFC or NFC (.355).

Brady is the greatest quarterback of all time; Bortles hopes to be on a roster next season.

However, as unlikely this quarterback matchup is, Brady was not elite or the greatest quarterback of all time in his first Super Bowl run.

Brady has the tougher matchup vs. the NFL’s top pass defense and number two defense overall. But Brady is 18-3 at home in the playoffs and 3-0 vs. top-two defenses in the playoffs.

Bortles has a great matchup on paper, but you can’t measure a Bill Belichick-coached team solely on paper. The key for Bortles is turnovers; Jacksonville is 10-0 this season when Bortles does not turn the ball over.

Belichick vs. Coughlin III…Sort Of

AP PHOTO: DAVID J PHILLIP

As Brady is the greatest quarterback of all time, Patriots head coach Bill Belichick is the greatest coach of all time; the two go hand in hand.

However, throughout Belichick’s career, he’s had a thorn in his side that kept him from winning seven Super Bowl instead of five, Tom Coughlin.

Tom Coughlin was victorious against Belichick in Super Bowls XLII and XLVI while coaching the New York Giants. Before coaching the Giants, Coughlin coached the Jaguars from 1995-2002. Now Coughlin is the Jacksonville’s EVP of Football Operations.

Coughlin has brought a winning attitude and culture to Jacksonville, as the Jaguars went from 3-13 last season to the AFC Championship Game this season.

However, Coughlin isn’t on the sidelines for this one. There’s no doubt he’ll do everything he can this week to help Jacksonville secure a win, but he cannot do it for them. He’s brought the necessary pieces and the blueprint; can Jacksonville use the Coughlin’s knowledge to make their first Super Bowl appearance?

Matchups To Watch:

PHOTO: JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS

Patriots’ Pass O vs. Jags’ Pass D: An unstoppable force meets an immovable object as New England’s top-ranked pass offense faces Jacksonville’s top-ranked pass defense. It starts up front for Jacksonville, they’ve registered 55 sacks on the season. Brady is average vs. elite pass rushes in the playoffs; the middle of the Pats’ offensive line is a concern. The biggest key will be Jacksonville’s linebackers covering the Patriots running backs out of the backfield; they are Brady’s second read and outlet when his receivers cannot separate.

Bortles vs. Belichick’s D: The Patriots’ defense may give up a lot of yards, but they don’t give up a lot of points. Most noteworthy, in the red zone where Jacksonville was 5 for 5 last week vs. Pittsburgh. Expect defensive coordinator Matt Patricia to blitz often to make Bortles uncomfortable, forcing him into mistakes. Bortles will try to combat the blitzing with short passes and screens to the running backs. Also, expect Bortles to take quite a few shots deep early to loosen up the Pats’ defense and not stack the box.

Fournette to Provide Balance: Jags’ running back Leonard Fournette will play a vital role in Sunday’s matchup. His first task is to pound the ball and shorten the game, keeping Brady off the field. Jacksonville must have balance vs. the Patriots to rely on play action where Bortles is at his best. Fournette’s second task, picking up any extra blitzing players from New England, which can be difficult for a young back.

The X Factor: GRONK

Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski is the best tight end in the NFL. A physical specimen who is the single biggest mismatch in the league.

The question is who draws the task of covering Gronk and how much of Jacksonville’s resources are they willing to spend towards him? If they choose to double him, Brady will expose Jacksonville’s great secondary. If not, Gronk can win any matchup vs. any player on Jacksonville’s roster.

Prediction: Jacksonville 24 – New England 23

 

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