The New England Patriots advanced to the AFC Championship 2018 Game on Saturday with a 35-14 victory over the Tennessee Titans in an AFC Divisional Playoff game.
Next Sunday, with the winner advancing to Super Bowl XLII in Minneapolis, Minnesota, the Patriots will meet the Jacksonville Jaguars, who beat the Pittsburgh Steelers, 45-42, in the other AFC Divisional Playoff game on Sunday.
On Saturday, the Philadelphia Eagles — with a victory over the Atlanta Falcons — advanced to the NFC Championship game against the New Orleans Saints or Minnesota Vikings, who play later on Sunday.
Game: Jacksonville Jaguars at New England Patriots
Date and Time: Sunday, January 21, at 3:05 p.m. ET
TV/Live Stream: CBS, CBS All Access
Odds: New England (-9), O/U 46.5
Prediction: Patriots 27, Jaguars 24
Was this one really so hard to see coming in the weak AFC ?
The Patriots, led by Brady, emerging in the title game against the best possible defense isn’t a shocker. Jacksonville boasts 55 sacks and 21 interceptions from a defense that allowed a league-low 16.8 points per game. It’s a unit that held the Pittsburgh Steelers to nine points during the regular season and also kept Seattle, Cincinnati and the Los Angeles Chargers at 24 points or fewer.
Granted, the rematch with those Steelers in the divisional round didn’t look nearly as dominant. On the road, the Jaguars coughed up five passing scores and 42 points to Ben Roethlisberger, yet won by three. The final score doesn’t really do the game justice, as the Jaguars had jumped out to a 21-0 lead and Leonard Fournette hit up the Steelers for 109 yards and three scores on the ground before leaving the game with an injury and later returning.
Speaking of looking great, Brady did what he does in his team’s first playoff game this year, almost casually throwing for 337 yards and a trio of scores during a 35-14 win over the Tennessee Titans. He hit a different target for each score, including Rob Gronkowski.
Brady himself? The dominance was proof any chatter about his team took a backseat to the proven process.
“I just try to be consistent, show up and do the best I can do every week for the team, and regardless of whether I’m the worst quarterback in the league or the best quarterback in the league or somewhere in between, it’s just my job is to do the best I can do for us every week,” Brady said, according to ESPN.com’s Mike Reiss.
One could argue beating up on the Titans might leave the Patriots unprepared for the Jaguars from a competitive standpoint. The Jaguars, after all, have plenty of swagger and just went into Heinz Field to take down another dominant team.
But the argument could lean the other way as well via suggesting the game against the Titans served as a quality warm-up that a team coming off a bye needed.
As it stands, the biggest difference in this matchup overall, though, is at quarterback. Brady tossed 32 touchdowns against eight interceptions this year, while Bortles, though surprising, compiled 21 and 13, respectively.
This isn’t to say Bortles hasn’t impressed this postseason. When he wasn’t pulling off gutsy runs to keep defenses guessing, he was taking superb care of the football while throwing two touchdowns and no interceptions in the two playoff wins. Fournette has played a huge role in this, drumming up 166 yards and the three touchdowns in the two games.
The problem here is simple—Brady can negate the Jacksonville defense. His vast array of backs create mismatches, as does Gronkowski. Plays designed to fire the ball off fast should negate the Jacksonville rush, and once Brady starts scoring at home, the Jaguars will find themselves in the uncomfortable position of needing Bortles to get them back into the game.
That’s where the problems begin and end, helping to explain the line from oddsmakers.
This is the playoffs, which expose team’s deepest flaws. For the Jaguars, it’s their quarterback, and masking it won’t work on the road against Brady. Fournette should have a big game if his ankle can withstand all four quarters, but it’s Brady who has been here before against elite defenses and pulled through, so look for a late scoring drive to decide this one, as the team with the better player at the most important position of all pulls ahead for good.
Prediction: Patriots 27, Jaguars 24