The way things are shaping up, the Jacksonville Jaguars will grab the AFC's top wild-card spot, and if they win their opening game, they will face the New England Patriots either in the Divisional or Conference Finals of the AFC Playoffs.
If this happens, I wouldn't be at all surprised if the Patriots suffer their first (and final) loss of the season.
Right now, the Jags are a team motivated. Jack Del Rio is sure to push the buttons of a squad with no Pro Bowlers. I don't see Belichick being able to likewise motivate a team with eight players making a trip to Hawaii.
Just look what each team is playing for. The Patriots are playing for their fourth championship in seven years, while the Jaguars are looking for their first ring in franchise history.
Not only that, but a Super Bowl may be the only thing that could save the team's current location in Jacksonville. With ticket sales in the gutter, owner Wayne Weaver has reportedly toyed with moving the team to Los Angeles.
Another factor I see is the Jaguars' run offense (second in the NFL) matching up against the New England run defense (10th in the NFL). Taylor and Jones-Drew have proved to be a potent one-two punch, if not the most potent in the NFL.
The Patriots do have the numbers (10th in the NFL in rushing defense, allowing 98.9 yards per game), but take this into account: the Patriots defense ranks dead last in the NFL in rushing attempts defended against.
Why? The Pats get ahead early and by so much, the offenses they face have no option but to throw the ball on first, second, and third down.
If you look at yards per carry, the Jags rank fourth in the NFL in rushing offense (4.4 yards per carry). But the Patriot defense is a measly 27th in the NFL (4.3 yards allowed per carry)—worse than the Jets and the Falcons.
The running game will be huge if the game is played in a snowy Gillette Stadium come playoff time.
On the other side of the ball, the Patriots find themselves in a similar hole. The Jaguars' tough running defense has been known to shut down backs hard and early. The Patriots were able to get Lawrence Maroney to a hair over 100 yards versus the Jets (30th ranked rush defense), but those yards were hard-earned, on 26 attempts. The only other time Maroney played against the Jags, he was held to 48 yards.
The two things the Patriots have fed on all year are a historic passing offense and a great turnover margin. New England leads the league in both categories, but if they face the Jaguars in the playoffs, these two categories could become almost irrelevant.
If the weather is anything like it was last week in Foxboro, expect the Pats pass offense to be pacified by the elements. Last week, versus the 3-11 NY Jets, Brady was only able to throw for 140 yards, no touchdowns, and a pick.
As far as the turnover ratio goes, don't expect David Garrard—two interceptions in 307 pass attempts—to give away too much to the Patriots. Ellis Hobbs has been spotty all year, and Rodney Harrison is on the downside of his career. As long as Garrard keeps the ball away from Asante Samuel, the Patriots passing defense won't be able to prey on Garrard like they have against other inexperienced quarterbacks in the NFL.
Tom Brady does have the top passer rating in the NFL, but don't forget Garrard comes in at number three.
The statement made by the Jags in their game that against the Pittsburgh Steelers last week should also make Patriots fans stand up and take notice.
The game was billed as a team from sunny Florida coming into a snowstorm in Heinz Field to a waiting Steeler team who was proved tough in the cold. But the Jags, unlike most southern teams, are a team built on size and physicality, not speed.
Jacksonville proved they could go nose-to-nose with any northern team in cold, sloppy conditions. The Jags beat the Steelers by seven points—and in identical conditions the Patriots only beat the 3-11 Jets by 10.
So go ahead, call me crazy. Maybe I am. The Patriots are 14-0 and will probably cruise into the playoffs with a 16-0 record. And maybe they won't even play the Jags!
All I'm saying is if Jacksonville takes a trip to Foxboro any time this winter, the Patriots better be ready for all they can handle.