After the Jaguars’ narrow victory over Ben Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh Steelers in last Sunday’s shootout, the shift of focus in Jacksonville has quickly turned to the Patriots. While New England is still the odds-on favorite to repeat as Super Bowl champions, the road to a sixth Super Bowl championship might not be as simple as it looks.
Although Tom Brady and the Patriots embarrassed the Tennessee Titans last Saturday night, the Jaguars are a much different beast. Throughout the course of the season, Jacksonville’s defense has been widely regarded as one of, if not, the best defense in the entire league, as Cornerbacks A.J. Bouye and Jalen Ramsey have proved to make up the most threatening secondary in the NFL. Together, the two deadly defensive backs combined for 10 interceptions, the most among all Cornerback duos in the entire NFL. With the Patriots expected to rely heavily on the passing game, which ranked 2nd in the NFL in 2017, Bouye and Ramsey are sure to give Tom Brady his biggest challenge of the season.
In addition to Jacksonville’s impeccable secondary, the remainder of the Jaguars’ defense will challenge Brady and the rest of the New England offense on Sunday. The Jacksonville pass rush has proved to be the most menacing force in recent memory, as the Jaguars have racked up the most sacks in the NFL with 55 during the regular season and four more that they have managed to tack on during the Postseason. With big bodies like Malik Jackson and Marcell Dareus coming off the line, Tom Brady has much more to worry about than the heavy coverage he will face down the field. In 2017, the Patriots offensive line was very average, as Tom Brady was sacked on 35 occasions and hit another 84 times. On Sunday, the Patriots will be facing the single best defense in football and it would not be surprising to see Tom Brady spend plenty of time on the ground.
While the Jacksonville defense is certainly noteworthy, their young and dangerous offense has looked impressive throughout the course of the season. Led by a dual threat of QB Blake Bortles and rookie RB Leonard Fournette, the Jaguars offense has looked occasionally inconsistent, but consistently solid. Although the Jaguars scored 45 points last week, Blake Bortles played an incredibly average game as he completed 14 of 26 passes for 214 yards and only 1 TD. In a game where the Jaguars scored the most points they had all season, Bortles looked like a lackluster run-of-the-mill QB while the running game picked up the slack. Leonard Fournette and T.J. Yeldon combined for 129 yards on the ground, as well as 4 TDs between the two of them, 3 of which came from Fournette, his highest single-game TD total all season. Together, the impressive RB tandem added 67 yards on 5 receptions, with Yeldon accounting for 57 yards on his own.
While the Patriots have focused their efforts into creating a “pass first” offense, the Jaguars have relied heavily on the production they’ve received from the Running back position, as they ranked 1st overall in rushing yards per game with 141.4. Needless to say, two very different teams will meet in Foxborough on Sunday as a team full of young startups will do everything in their power to shock the world and beat a team composed of experienced veterans. The Patriots are sitting as 10-point favorites with a 81% chance to win, but Jacksonville’s stout defense and explosive offense could prove to be the greatest challenge the Patriots have faced all season.
And although Tom Brady has already certified himself as the greatest Quarterback of our time, a loss on Sunday to Tom Coughlin’s Jaguars would cement the 2017-2018 Patriots’ season as the 2nd biggest disappointment in the history of modern sports. The only bigger disappointment came 10 years ago when the Patriots lost Super Bowl XLII to Tom Coughlin’s Giants.