Introducing first: fighting out of the blue corner, they are the current, reigning, defending champions of the National Football League. They hold a professional record of 14-3. Fighting out of Foxborough, Massachusetts: the New England Patriots.
And in the red corner, they are the young guns holding a 12-6 professional record. Fighting out of Jacksonville, Florida: the Jacksonville Jaguars.
The battle for the AFC Championship is just days away. It’s the classic story of the wily veteran looking for yet another record to break going against the fresh-faced underdogs.
Jaguar cornerback Jalen Ramsey already guaranteed a Jacksonville victory in the Super Bowl. History says otherwise, as the Jags are one of four teams never to compete in a Super Bowl. Meanwhile, the Patriots have won five Super Bowls since the year 2000.
I break down everything you need to know about the battle for conference superiority and a shot at Super Bowl LII.
Jacksonville as a whole has been the little guy for quite some time now. The last time the Jags made the playoffs was also the last time the team finished with a record over .500, being 2007.
The end result? A 31-20 loss in the divisional round to none other than Tom Brady’s Patriots.
Two years previous, Jacksonville faced off with New England in the wild card round to a similar result. Brady and Co. triumphed over the Jags 28-3.
Jacksonville has reached the postseason seven times since the franchise’s inception in 1995 with a postseason record of 7-6. Three of the losses came at the hands of New England.
1998 was the only time the Jags defeated the Patriots in the playoffs, overcoming New England 25-10 in the wild card playoffs.
New England has been the most consistent team for nearly two decades. The Pats have only missed the playoffs twice since 2001 and won five Super Bowls in the same period.
As of now, New England is listed as 9.5-point favorites with a projected total of 46.5.
JACKSONVILLE OFFENSE VERSUS THE NEW ENGLAND DEFENSE
Though best known for their defense, the Jacksonville offense is no joke. The Jaguars offense averages a league-best 143.39 yards rushing. This is in large part to the near-unstoppable Leonard Fournette.
The former LSU Tiger exploded for 109 yards and three touchdowns in the divisional round against Pittsburgh. Fournette did injure his right ankle in the game against the Steelers, but was able to return in the second half.
The Patriots defense is middle of the road when it comes to stopping the run. The 17th ranked rushing defense this season started off struggling against the likes of Kansas City. However, the Pats’ D has held its last three opponents to an average of 63 yards rushing. One of these games includes Tennessee’s Derrick Henry.
Passing is the area that Jacksonville has been less than reliable in. Blake Bortles did throw for a good-not-great 214 yards passing and a passing touchdown. However, Bortles was held to just 87 yards passing against Buffalo in the wild card round.
Bortles hasn’t shown the ability to carry the team on passing alone. Jacksonville is 5-1 in games that Fournette rushes for at least 100 yards. Alternatively, the Jags are 1-4 in games in games they can’t reach 100 collective yards.
Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler is chomping at the bit for Bortles to target his young receivers.
PATRIOTS OFFENSE VERSUS JACKSONVILLE DEFENSE
This is the match-up fans are clamoring for.
New England boasts the highest-scoring offense in league at nearly 29 points per game. At 40-years young, Brady threw for 32 touchdowns and only eight interceptions this season.
Sporadic injuries to Chris Hogan, Dion Lewis, and Julian Edelman, just to name a few, have failed to derail the Patriots’ path to the AFC Championship.
Bill Belichick’s offense ranks second in passing and ninth in rushing.
The biggest obstacle between Brady and a shot a ring number six is the Jacksonville defense. The Jaguars help opponents to just 17.39 points this season, bettering the Patriots’ 18.5 points per game.
Jacksonville counters the Patriots’ second-ranked passing offense with the top-ranked passing defense.
Cornerback Jalen Ramsey had some harsh words for the Pats after defeating the Steelers and looks for a true breakout moment against Brady. The duo of Ramsey and A.J. Bouye will make Brady think twice before every throw.
The Jags’ running defense hasn’t had quite the same impact as the passing D, but it’s still a force to be reckoned with. Jacksonville showed this by forcing a fumble and subsequent 50-yard touchdown against Pittsburgh last week.
The four-man front of Jacksonville will put constant pressure on the Pats’ offensive line and threaten to bring “Sacksonville” up north. Calais Campbell leads the Jags with 14.5 sacks this season. Campbell has also forced three fumbles.
AFC Championship Game
Sunday, January 21 at 3:05 p.m.
Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Massachusetts
Odds: Patriots -9.5; total 46.5
TUNE IN LATER THIS WEEK FOR AN IN-DEPTH LOOK AT THE NFC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME.
Reach Cory on Twitter @MrCoryLeeSmith