The New England Patriots (10-4) continue their campaign for home-field advantage and a first-round bye in the playoffs against the lowly Jacksonville Jaguars (2-12) this Sunday.
The Patriots suffered a minor setback in their playoff aspirations last week with a 41-34 loss to the San Francisco 49ers, and they now need a win to keep their grip on the No. 3 seed in the AFC and to keep hope alive for the No. 2 seed.
The Jaguars stopped worrying about playoffs a long time ago—they were among the first teams mathematically eliminated this season. The Jaguars are in contention for the first pick in the 2013 NFL draft but don't have much to hang their hat on other than that accomplishment this season.
On paper, this looks like it has all the makings for a blow out, but this is the same Jaguars team who took the Houston Texans into overtime, so nothing is a given.
Here's a look at everything you need to know about this pivotal game for the Patriots.
Where: EverBank Field, Jacksonville, Fla.
When: Sunday, Dec. 23 at 1 p.m. EST
Live Stream: NFL Sunday Ticket
Radio: WOKV-FM (Jacksonville) or WEEI (Boston)
Spread: New England -14.5 (via Covers.com)
If it feels rare to see a home team receiving more than 14 points, that's because it is.
According to Grantland's Bill Barnwell, the Jaguars are the biggest home underdog since the St. Louis Rams in 2009.
Jaguars are 14.5-point underdogs at home versus Patriots this week. First home dog over 14 since Rams in 2009. bit.ly/XRSDH9— Bill Barnwell (@billbarnwell) December 21, 2012
As big as the line is, it really doesn't seem to be big enough. The Patriots are coming off of a loss, so we can be sure that Bill Belichick and Tom Brady will be looking to fine tune the offense and won't be letting their foot off the gas the whole time.
The Jaguars have nothing left to play for and may even look at losing this game as a blessing, as it brings them one more game closer to that top pick in the draft. The Patriots should cover.
Over/Under: 50 (via Covers.com)
How you feel about this point is probably determined by just how many points you think that the Patriots can put up against this defense.
The answer probably lies between the 35-45 range, so the Jaguars won't have to do much offensively to push this game over the point total.
Looking at the Jaguars offense, it's questionable if they can even do that. The offense scored only three points last week against the Dolphins, and it didn't look good the previous week when they only scored 10 points against the Jets.
This will be close, as it's hard to predict just how many points the Jaguars can amass in garbage time. However, the inclination has to be with the over, because the Patriots should do most of the heavy lifting, and they won't mind running it up.
Injury Report ( via CBS Sports as of Dec. 21)
|CB||Alfonzo Dennard||Hamstring, knee||Questionable|
|TE||Rob Gronkowski||Forearm, hip||Questionable|
|LB||Dont'a Hightower||Hamstring, shoulder||Questionable|
|LB||Brandon Spikes||Knee, ankle||Questionable|
Fantasy Big Plays
New England: Brandon Lloyd, WR
In reality, if you have players who play offense for the New England Patriots, they should be in your lineup (assuming they are healthy of course).
However, if you have to spotlight one, Lloyd is the man.
When the Patriots acquired Lloyd there was all kinds of buzz about how well he would do in the system with Tom Brady getting him the ball. Those expectations turned out to be a bit lofty this season, but Lloyd has come through as the season winds down with some big games.
He has led the Patriots in receiving two weeks in a row now and should be a favorite target against the Jaguars.
Projected Stats: Eight receptions, 90 yards, one TD
Jacksonville: Cecil Shorts, WR
If you own Chad Henne, Cecil Shorts or Justin Blackmon, this isn't really a bad matchup for the Jaguars—they'll be seeing a ton of reps with the Jaguars playing from behind early on.
The Patriots' secondary isn't all that great, and Shorts has emerged as a reliable option at the wide receiver position. He recently had a four-game touchdown streak from Week 10-13, but an injury forced him to miss Week 14 and Week 15, and he was held out of the end zone.
Shorts represents the Jaguars' best chance to beat the Patriots deep, and they'll be looking for the big play to stay in this one.
Projected Stats: Seven receptions, 100 yards, one TD
Key to Victory
The First Half
The Patriots are better at beating teams by halftime than anyone in the NFL.
New England's offense is scoring 18.3 points per first half, and its quick-strike offense is great at putting team's backs against the wall. If it can jump out to a quick lead against Jacksonville, this game will be over before it starts.
If the Jaguars can make it through the first quarter without creating a 10-point or more deficit, there's a chance this is will be a closer game than everyone expects. If the Patriots get in a rhythm early, it's over.
There's too much at stake for the Patriots at this point in the season for them to stumble at all with the Jaguars.
Ultimately, Tom Brady and his explosive offense will overwhelm Jacksonville as the Jaguar faithful continue to hope for the No. 1 pick to make a difference next season.
Finale Score: New England 38, Jacksonville 14