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Jaguars vs. Patriots: Updated Odds, Predictions for AFC Championship Game 2018

Ryan McCrystal@@ryan_mccrystalFeatured ColumnistJanuary 19, 2018

Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles (5) plays in an NFL football game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Sunday, Jan. 14, 2018, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Don Wright)
Don Wright/Associated Press

Back in early September it would have sounded comical to predict an AFC Championship Game between the Jacksonville Jaguars and New England Patriots, but here we are. 

Tom Brady and Bill Belichick have reached the final round of the AFC playoff bracket for the seventh consecutive season. Meanwhile, the Jaguars reached the postseason this year for the first time since 2007, and are in the AFC Championship Game for the first time since quarterback Mark Brunell led them to the game following the 1999 season. 

In terms of experience, there's no question who has the edge in this game. From a matchup perspective, however, this one could be closer than many fans expect. 

Here's a quick look at the TV info and betting odds, followed by a breakdown and prediction for the game. 

          

Jacksonville Jaguars at New England Patriots

Date and Time: Sunday, January 21, at 3:05 p.m. ET

TV: CBS

Odds: NE (-7.5), O/U 46.5

Betting info from Oddsshark.com

       

Can New England Stop Leonard Fournette?

Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

The ability to stop the running game in the NFL has become almost irrelevant in recent years, so much so that six of the eight teams allowing the highest rushing yards per attempt this season made the playoffs, including New England. 

However, the ability to stop the run can still be relevant in certain matchups. 

The Jaguars are one of the teams that still requires a good rushing defense against to defeat, mostly because stopping the run means forcing quarterback Blake Bortles to throw. 

Jacksonville is 1-4 when held to under 100 yards rushing and, including the postseason, is 11-2 when going over the century mark. 

Another way of looking at this stat is by breaking down Bortles' pass attempts. When Bortles is forced to throw 30 or more times, the Jaguars are just 5-6. When they're able to keep his attempts under 30, however, the Jags are 7-0, including wins in both postseason games this year. 

During the regular season, only the Chargers allowed more rushing yards per attempt than the Patriots defense. So if the Jaguars want to control this game on the ground and limit Bortles' impact, this is an ideal defense for them to be facing in the AFC Championship Game. 

Of course, if Jacksonville falls behind early this may not make a difference, but if the score is close, it's an area where the Jags hold a clear edge.

          

Can Jacksonville contain Rob Gronkowski?

Steven Senne/Associated Press

As good as the Jaguars defense has been this season, expecting them to completely shut down Brady is unrealistic. The Patriots will find ways to move the ball, so the Jaguars have to settle for making it more difficult for them to do so. 

To accomplish this, the Jaguars should follow a classic Bill Belichick strategy by attempting to take away the Patriots' most dangerous weapon: Rob Gronkowski. 

Brady has plenty of targets to choose from, but there's no question his favorite is Gronk, and in clutch situations that's usually where Brady is trying to go with the football. 

Brady's performance in third-and-long situations proves that. If we define "long" as seven or more yards to go, Gronkowski accounted for 14 of the Patriots' 41 receptions in this situation (34.1 percent). No other Patriot receiver had more than six receptions in those situations. 

The Jaguars have, predictably, given no indication as to how they plan to stop Gronk. However, their talented secondary gives defensive coordinator Todd Walsh plenty of options from which to choose. 

Taking away Gronkowski won't guarantee the Jaguars a victory, but it is an important step toward making Brady more uncomfortable which will increase the odds of Jacksonville forcing him into mistakes. 

        

Prediction

It's hard to pick against Belichick and Brady on their home turf, but it's also hard to think of a more difficult matchup for them. The Jaguars have the defensive talent to take away what the Patriots do best on offense, and they have the power running game to attack the Patriots' biggest weakness on defense. 

Even though the Patriots are a more complete team, the Jaguars match up perfectly and have no reason to be intimidated. 

Prediction: Jaguars 24, Patriots 23

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