Next Sunday, the New England Patriots will host the AFC Championship Game at Foxboro's Gillette Stadium. Lining up on the opposite side of the field will be the Jacksonville Jaguars, who were able to pull off the upset victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers earlier today. Let's take a quick first look at the Patriots versus Jaguars matchup:
The Jaguars defense is legit but not impenetrable.
Make no mistake: Jacksonville has a terrific defense that is one of the best in the NFL. The unit has been especially productive in the passing game and finished the regular season ranked in the top-four of every major category. With that in mind, the Patriots still have the means to have success against it if they play on top of their game. For example, as excellent as the Jaguars have been against the pass, they have been comparatively uneven versus the run - an area New England could try to take advantage of with Dion Lewis and company.
Leonard Fournette's injury will be one to closely monitor this week.
Running back Leonard Fournette suffered an ankle injury versus the Steelers and quickly had to exit the game because of it. While he ultimately returned and even scored his third touhdown of the day, Fournette not being 100% heading into the title game would be a big blow to the Jaguars offense. After all, the rookie is the team's best offensive player and has played a big role in both of Jacksonville's playoff victories.
The Patriots defense should be able to shut down the Jaguars' passing game...
The Jaguars' aerial attack had its moments versus the Steelers but overall looked as uneven as it has all year long. Quarterback Blake Bortles finished the contest with a solid stat-line - he completed 14 of 26 pass attempts for 214 yards and a touchdown - but struggled with ball placement and decision making at times. New England's high-profile secondary should therefore be able to substantially shut down Jacksonville's passing attack - even though the unit's main focus has to be on stopping the run.
...but needs to bring its A-game to slow down their running attack.
As inconsistent as the Jaguars' passing game is, as productive has their ground game been this season. With Leonard Fournette as the lead back, Jacksonville rushed for 164 yards against the Steelers. The Patriots cannot allow this to happen on Sunday as it would allow Jacksonville to control the clock. Consequently, New England needs to play its best run defense - and getting previously injured veteran Alan Branch back might help.
New England and Jacksonville met in the AFC title game 21 years ago.
The 2018 AFC Championship Game will be a rematch: In January 1997, the Patriots hosted the Jaguars in the old Foxboro Stadium with a Super Bowl ticket on the line. New England under head coach Bill Parcells was able to defeat the visitors 20-6 to advance to its second title game in franchise history.