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The New England Patriots travel to Jacksonville this weekend, in what feels like a letdown compared to the previous week’s games. The Jacksonville Jaguars, already considered underdogs coming into this game, now have the added disadvantage of playing an angry and borderline embarrassed Patriots team, looking to wash the taste of last week’s loss to the 49ers out of their mouths. History tells us that the Patriots don’t often lose two games in a row, and the 2-12 Jaguars don’t look poised to break that tradition.
Despite the road now becoming a lot tougher, a first round bye is not out of contention yet for New England. They would need a miracle upset by the Browns or Chiefs over the Denver Broncos down the stretch, but all the Patriots can do now is worry about their own play and let the playoff chips fall where they may.
|Record||10-4 (1st in AFCE)||2-12 (4th in AFCS)|
|Points/G||36.1 (1st)||15.6 (31st)|
|Points All./G||22.5 (T-17th)||27.4 (29th)|
|Rush Yds/G||136.7 (8th)||82.4 (30th)|
|Rush Yds All./G||106.4 (11th)||148.1 (32nd)|
|Pass Yds/G||295.7 (3rd)||201.6 (24th)|
|Pass Yds All./G||270.7 (29th)||246 (24th)|
|Takeaways||36 (2nd)||21 (T-18th)|
|Giveaways||14 (T-3rd)||20 (12th)|
|TO Diff.||22 (1st)||1 (T-17th)|
As bad as the Patriots offense looked in the first half against San Francisco, their second half surge allowed Tom Brady to hang 34 points on the top ranked 49ers defense. Expect the Patriots to have plenty of success against the 29th ranked Jaguars defense, especially on the ground where they rank dead last in rush yards allowed. It will be interesting to see whether Stevan Ridley gets the bulk of the carries or whether he’ll spend some time in the doghouse after his fumbles last week, but he should be productive when given the chance.
In the passing game, Brady should enjoy plenty of time to throw the ball. In each of the last two weeks, New England has faced a team with one player that has more sacks than the entire Jaguars team (15), and no one on Jacksonville has recorded more than 2.5 sacks on the season. If the running game gets going early, look for a few big play action plays down field since Brady will have the confidence to stand back there and deliver.
Chad Henne has taken over at quarterback for the injured and struggling Blaine Gabbert, but the results have been pretty much the same. Of course, the last time Henne played New England he threw for over 400 yards and 2 touchdowns. The Patriots defense is much changed since then, but if nothing else it should give Henne more confidence going in that he can throw on this team.
Defending him starts up front, against an offensive line that has allowed 42 sacks so far this season. The Patriots pass rush has scuffled a bit in recent weeks, due in part to Chandler Jones still regaining his rhythm after injury. Getting him more active this week would be good, as it would prevent star wideout Cecil Shorts from getting too far upfield. Shorts leads the Jaguars with 925 receiving yards and an explosive 19 yards per reception average. Though improved, the Patriots secondary is still susceptible to the big play on occasion. Rookie WR Justin Blackmon has been targeted a team-high 108 times, resulting in 51 catches, so expect Henne to look his way most of the game, even if the success isn’t there early.
In the running game, it’s looking doubtful that Maurice Jones-Drew plays this game, but he will be a game-time decision. If he doesn’t suit up, the rest of the Jaguars running options are unimpressive. Rashad Jennings is the feature back in Jones-Drew’s absence, but his 2.8 yards per carry stat isn’t going to scare anyone.
– Rob Gronkowski has been practicing since late last week, but it’s not yet known whether he’ll play this weekend (probably not, according to reports). Broken bones don’t generally present a risk of re-injury once they’re healed, so it would be beneficial to get him a game or two to ease back and knock off some rust before the postseason.
– In the category of statistics you don’t see every day: Jacksonville’s 5 rushing TDs as a team is only one more than Tom Brady has as an individual.
– The Jaguars might be more respectable on defense if they didn’t shoot themselves in the foot so often. They lead the league with 33 first downs surrendered due to penalties.
Everything is going against the Jaguars here. Jacksonville’s offensive line should prevent them from consistently attacking New England’s weaknesses, and they lack the defensive horses to limit Tom Brady’s offense. Combine all that with what will surely be a motivated and ticked off Patriots team, and this one should be a walk.
Patriots 38, Jaguars 17