David Butler II/USA Today Sports

AFC championship preview: 3 keys to the game, fun facts, prediction

Ryan Hannable
January 20, 2018 - 1:42 pm

After all the drama this week surrounding the Jaguars feeling disrespected by the Patriots’ respect, to Tom Brady’s right hand, the game is finally here.

New England and Jacksonville will meet Sunday afternoon at 3:05 p.m. with a trip to Super Bowl LII on the line.

The Jaguars are coming off a stunning 45-42 win over the Steelers last Sunday in Pittsburgh, while the Patriots blew out the Titans, 35-14 last Saturday night. 

Jacksonville has the No. 1 ranked defense, while the Patriots have the No. 1 ranked offense. Of course, the biggest story heading into the game is Brady’s right hand and how much he will be impacted by it. At this point, no one really knows.

Patriots vs. Jaguars
Sunday, Jan. 21, 2018
3:05p.m., CBS
Patriots -7.5, over/under 45.5

3 keys to the game

Establishing the run

If Brady isn’t 100 percent and can’t make all the throws he usually can, this becomes even more important. It was likely going to be a heavy run game any way, but even more so with Brady’s injury. The Jaguars rank 21st in the league in run defense and this is an area that can be exploited. Also, it would help with setting up third-and-short, so Brady doesn’t need to make tough throws down the field, not only because of his hand, but also because of how good Jacksonville’s pass defense is.

Make Blake Bortles beat you

This is similar to last week’s game against the Titans, as the offense is centered around the running game. The Patriots did a tremendous job against Derrick Henry, as his longest run went for just four yards, and they will need a similar performance against Leonard Fournette. If the running game is kept in check, the only chance Jacksonville has of winning is connecting on deep throws down the field. According to MassLive’s Kevin Duffy, in wins when throwing the ball 15 yards or more down the field, Bortles is 26-for-57 (46 percent) for 867 yards (15.2 yards per attempt), but in losses he is just 10-for-41 (24 percent) for 206 yards (5.0 yards per attempt).

Feed Rob Gronkowski

Jacksonville’s defense is best at defending wide receivers with Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye on the outside, as they are two of the best cornerbacks in the league. Where the defense struggles is covering opposing tight ends. According to Football Outsiders, it was 20th in the NFL this season in defending them. Expect the Patriots offense to try and go to Gronkowski as much as it can. Also, look for the running backs to have big days catching passes out of the backfield and same goes for Danny Amendola on quick hitters over the middle.

Fun facts

1. With Bill Belichick and Brady, the Patriots are 21-1 when they score more than 21 points in the playoffs, but 5-8 when they don’t.

2. The Jaguars are 10-0 this season when Bortles doesn't throw an interception.

3. Jacksonville finished with 55 sacks on the year, but 28 of them came against the Colts and Texans (four games).

4. Since 1970, the Patriots are 21-1 when winning the turnover battle in the postseason.

5. Jacksonville is 11-2 when it rushes for 100 yards or more this year.

Prediction

Patriots 20, Jaguars 13

This is going to be a close game that will likely come down to the final quarter. Despite Jacksonville’s defense not facing the best competition, it comes in with plenty of confidence and should be good enough to keep the Patriots offense in check. The game will come down to Jacksonville’s inability to move the ball and score on offense, which is why we have the Patriots winning, but failing to cover the spread.