On Sunday, the New England Patriots will play for the right to appear in their second straight Super Bowl. In order to get there, the defending world champions will have to defeat a Jacksonville Jaguars team that is coming off a 10-6 regular season, the AFC South title and two completely different playoff contests - one a defensive battle, the other an offensive shootout.
Let's take a look back at those two games and the rest of Jacksonville's season to find out how they got to the AFC Championship Game:
Week 1: at Houston Texans
Result: W 29-7
Jacksonville started its season on the road against the Texans and immediately showed its potential in all three phases of the game. In his first NFL game, Leonard Fournette displayed some exceptional power rushing – gaining 100 yards and a touchdown on the day –, while the defense registered a total of 10 sacks and a defensive score. This all helped the Jaguars jump to a 19-0 halftime lead and ultimately an opening day victory.
Week 2: vs Tennessee Titans
Result: L 16-37
As impressive as the Jaguars played in week one, they struggled one week later. Both the passing offense and rushing defense had a tough time against the Titans who were able to score 30 unanswered points between the end of the first quarter and the beginning of the fourth. Jacksonville never found any momentum and as a result suffered its first loss of the year by three touchdowns.
Week 3: vs Baltimore Ravens
Result: W 44-7
The Jaguars bounced back after their loss against Tennessee with a blowout win over the Ravens. Behind a balanced offensive attack that saw quarterback Blake Bortles play one of his statistically best games of the year (20/31, 244, 4 TDs) and a defense that limited its opponent to 52 passing yards, the home team jumped to 23-0 halftime lead that only increased over the final two quarters.
Week 4: at New York Jets
Result: L 20-23 (OT)
In week four against the Jets, Jacksonville's up-and-down first half of the season continued. While the Jaguars' strength – the rushing offense and pass defense – had another solid outing, the team's pass offense was unable to get into any rhythm while Jacksonville gave up 256 yards and two scores on the ground. Overall, those inconsistencies were too much to overcome against New York.
Week 5: at Pittsburgh Steelers
Result: W 30-9
One of the Jaguars' most complete wins of the season happened in week five against the Steelers. After a tight first half that saw the visitors enter the locker rooms up 7-6, Jacksonville turned up the heat in the third quarter – especially a defense that recorded five interceptions on the day. The unit scored two pick-sixes and helped set up a victory that was sealed on a 90-yard scoring run by Leonard Fournette.
Week 6: vs Los Angeles Rams
Result: L 17-27
Against the Rams, Jacksonville was unable to repeat its impressive performance from one week earlier. After a high-scoring first quarter that saw Los Angeles go up 17-14, the Jaguars were unable to keep pace as the story was the same it had been all year long: The rushing offense looked very good, the rushing defense struggled and in the end the home team made a few plays more – the biggest of which a blocked punt that the Rams recovered for a touchdown just before halftime.
Week 7: at Indianapolis Colts
Result: W 27-0
The first meeting with the Colts was no challenge for Jacksonville as the Jaguars dominated from the get-go. Behind a healthy mix of run and pass, the visitors took the opening possession all the way to a 7-0 lead and never looked back. Overall, the team was efficient on offense and imposed its will on defense as the Jaguars' pass rush registered 10 sacks of ex-Patriot Jacoby Brissett.
Week 8: Bye
Week 9: vs Cincinnati Bengals
Result: W 23-7
For the first time all year, the Jaguars were able to win multiple games in a row. Against Cincinnati, the team had another dominant performance on both offense and particularly on defense: Jacksonville gave up only 148 yards and one score. For comparison, the team's offense – despite playing without Leonard Fournette – was able to gain more than that on the ground alone (149 yards).
Week 10: vs Los Angeles Chargers
Result: W 20-17 (OT)
The Jaguars' second overtime contest of the season saw another result than the first one: Before Josh Lambo's game-winning field goal in extra time, Jacksonville and Los Angeles played a back-and-forth matchup that saw the Jaguars on the brink of defeat until a 34-yarder by Lambo tied it at 17. And after an interception in overtime, the team's kicker was able to split the uprights from 30 yards out.
Week 11: at Cleveland Browns
Result: W 19-7
Despite another solid defensive performance – Jacksonville limited Cleveland to 184 yards of offense while registering five takeaways –, the Jaguars' week 11 game against the winless Browns was a tight contest that was not decided until the fourth quarter. In fact, the eventual AFC South champions found themselves down 10-7 at halftime. The second half was more of the same: The Jaguars offense struggled, while the defense came up with big plays; the last of which a fumble recovery for a touchdown.
Week 12: at Arizona Cardinals
Result: L 24-27
Jacksonville's four-game winning streak came to an end in Arizona as the Cardinals did a fine job of limiting the NFL's number five scoring offense all game long. Even though the Jaguars' defense had another productive outing – Calais Campbell scored on a fumble return in the third period –, the unit was unable to stop the Cardinals from driving into game-winning field goal range in the final seconds of the game.
Week 13: vs Indianapolis Colts
Result: W 30-10
Meeting number two with the Colts looked similar to the first one: The Jaguars were productive on offense – surprisingly especially in the passing game – and able to limit Indianapolis' attack all game long. But while the pass defense came up with two interceptions, the run defense had another uneven outing and allowed the visitors to rush for 141 yards. In the end, though, Jacksonville was never in danger of losing the game.
Week 14: vs Seattle Seahawks
Result: W 30-24
As has been the case one week earlier, Jacksonville played another good game in most aspects: The offense was balanced and productive against the Seahawks, while the defense was opportunistic against the pass and finished with three interceptions. Not all was perfect, though, as Jacksonville gave up two passing touchdowns of 60+ yards and allowed Seattle to rush for 141 yards. Still, the team did enough to come away with its ninth victory of the season – securing a winning campaign for the first time since 2007.
Week 15: vs Houston Texans
Result: W 45-7
Like they did on opening day, the Jaguars started fast against Houston. Jacksonville was up 31-0 at halftime behind a dominant performance on offense and defense. While Blake Bortles had an impressive outing – going 21 of 29 for 326 yards and three touchdowns – the Jaguars' number two scoring defense gave up only one touchdown and 186 yards to the Texans.
Week 16: at San Francisco 49ers
Result: L 33-44
After three wins in a row, the Jaguars hit a road-block against former Patriot Jimmy Garoppolo and the 49ers. The home team took a 37-19 lead early in the fourth period and despite Jacksonville rallying late and coming within four of San Francisco, the it was too little too late – especially as the defense allowed the game-sealing touchdown run only four plays later.
Week 17: at Tennessee Titans
Result: L 10-15
With the AFC South title in hand and no change in playoff seeding possible, the Jaguars played a sloppy game against the Titans. The two teams' rematch saw Jacksonville gain only 229 yards of offense while turning the football over four times. And even though the defense gave up only one touchdown all day and scored on a fumble return by Yannick Ngakoue, it was not enough to avoid a season-sweep by Tennessee.
AFC Wild Card Round: vs Buffalo Bills
Result: W 10-3
The Jaguars' first playoff game since a 2007 loss at the hand of the Patriots was a defensive battle against the visiting Bills. Neither passing offense found any rhythm while the ground games did most of the heavy lifting. In the end, Jacksonville did just enough on both offense and defense and scored the game-winning touchdown on a 15-play drive in the third period.
AFC Divisional Round: at Pittsburgh Steelers
Result: W 45-42
At least some members of the Steelers overlooked Jacksonville and the Jaguars made them pay. The visiting number three seed upset the number two seed in the divisional round using a proven formula: Jacksonville dominated on the ground – rushing for 164 yards and four scores – and played opportunistic defense, registering an interception and scoring on a fumble return. And even though the Jaguars defense had one of its worst days of the season against the pass, it was enough to defeat the Steelers and set up a meeting with the Patriots in the AFC Championship Game.
Even though Jacksonville did not play the toughest of schedules at times, the team did what playoff teams do: Dominate the opponents that did not feature the same level of talent and pull out some close victories when need be – a sign for mental toughness and playmaking ability. The Jaguars certainly earned their right to play for the conference title.