And so, the Patriots’ real season begins.
For the seventh year in a row, the Patriots will play in the AFC Championship Game. I do not think those words have sunk in for many Patriot fans. We are truly blessed to have witnessed this run of unprecedented success and consistency. Getting to one Conference Championship is a big deal, just look at how Jacksonville’s All-Pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey reacted. Some teams hang banners for making it there!
But somehow, this team has been able to make it there seven years in a row. If the Cleveland Cavaliers have taught us anything, it is that getting back up for the climb after you have already been to the top of mountain is a tough task.
As we approach kickoff, the team standing in the way of the Patriots going to their second consecutive Super Bowl is gaining a lot of popularity amongst analysts and fans. Who can blame them? The Jaguars boast arguably the best defense in the league and are full of personality. They are a confident group whose play talks just as loud as their mouths.
Their quarterback is a certified trashcan who has taken a beating from the public for his abysmal play throughout his career. But despite that, Blake Bortles has stepped up throughout this postseason and made big plays at big moments, which has caused some people to ask the question “Has Blake Bortles turned the corner or is he still ‘trash’?” Don’t get it twisted, he’s still trash. If put into a position where he is forced to win this game, he will fold like Andy Reid trying to manage the clock.
The Patriots will most likely try to do exactly that, as the Jaguars have heavily relied on Leonard Fournette and their running game all year long. Jacksonville had the most rushing yards and attempts during the regular season and rode their horse to the AFC Championship to the tune of 109 yards on 4.4 yards per carry versus the Steelers. Stopping Fournette will be paramount to the Patriots’ success as it will put more pressure on Bortles and diminish their play action game, which has been crucial to their offensive success.
The Patriots did a great job of neutralizing Titans’ running back Derrick Henry last week as they held him to only 28 yards a week after going off for 156 yards on the Chiefs. This was a very encouraging sign for a New England defense that ranked 20th against the run during the regular season. I would expect many seven and eight-man fronts from the defense as they try to continue this trend of improved run defense.
Offensively, the Patriots will have their hands full trying to move the ball on this ferocious Jaguars defense. We should respect this defense and the threat they hold, especially with former Giants Head Coach Tom Coughlin being on that staff as Executive Vice President of Football Operations. But Tom Brady has shown us in recent postseasons that all-time great defenses even have trouble stopping this offense, especially when they are as predictable as this unit.
Now I do not expect this offense to drop 42 points on the Jaguars like the Steelers did last week. Part of that is because they will not need to as the Patriots’ defense will surely play better than the Steelers’ defense. But with players like Chris Hogan, James White, and Rex Burkhead back from their respective injuries, I am fully confident that they will be able to put up enough points to win this game. It will not be easy, and the offense will definitely need a lot of production from its running backs in both the passing and running game, but the Patriots have a good history of running back production in the playoffs.
At some point during this game, take a moment to remember everything this franchise has accomplished. Think back to some of your favorite moments during this 18-year run. Whether it be the first Super Bowl back in 2001 or the most recent one over the Atlanta Falcons, the Patriots have shown that they are built for games like this. They have seen and experienced almost everything this sport has to offer. So that Jaguars defense that we’ve heard about all week, they are just another chapter in the long story of success for this franchise. They are just another building block for the Patriots as they aim to repeat as Super Bowl champions.
This is the time of the year when the team plays its best and it will be no different today. Welcome to the Patriots' season everyone, let’s ring it in the way we usually do.
New England 24 – Jacksonville 13