The New England Patriots loss to the Buffalo Bills last weekend served as the proverbial nail in the coffin to their divisional hopes. With two games left, the Patriots would need to win out and hope for a Buffalo loss to have a chance at the AFC East crown.
However, the Patriots till control their own destiny when it comes to securing a playoff spot. With two wins the Patriots will cruise back into the playoffs following a year away, and the journey back starts this weekend against the lowly Jacksonville Jaguars.
As we touched on earlier this week, the Patriots and Jaguars look much different than they did in September of 2018. So, with little to look back on from that matchup, both teams will rely on winning the matchups within this game. What are those matchups you ask?
Jonnu Smith vs. Andre Cisco
The Jaguars shouldn’t have much of a chance on Sunday. Though we all often hear the phrase “any given Sunday”; the fact of the matter is New England’s the better football team who has more to fight for. So, while they’re taking care of business on Sunday, they may want to try out a few things with their forgotten free agency signing Jonnu Smith.
Smith has been ridiculed for his lack of production this season, but is actually out pacing his career averages in targets and catches. The real problem looks to be how Josh McDaniels has been scheming his touches. McDaniels himself admitted to that this week saying, “There’s no question about that: he’s a player that can do some things with the ball in his hands. We know tha,.. I’ve got to do better to get him the ball.”
Opposing New England’s tight ends this week will be a young safety tandem in Daniel Thomas and Andre Cisco. Cisco is slotted to take over for Andrew Wingard, who is one of many Jaguars on the COVID list. A rookie safety with little experience in the league is the perfect guy for McDaniels to scheme some stuff up against.
Kyle Van Noy vs. Dare Ogunbowale
The Jaguars have had just about zero things go right for them this season. At 2-13, they’re primed to finish last in the NFL for the second straight season. The hiring of Urban Meyer was an unmitigated disaster, leading to his firing after just 13 games. To top it all off, they’ve been historically unlucky with injuries and illness, with 27 players occupying the COVID list as of 12/31. What does that have to do with Dare Ogunbowale? Well, he’s their fourth string running back and will be starting on Sunday.
James Robinson, Carlos Hyde, and Travis Etienne have all gone down with injuries over the course of the season, leading to Ogunbowale’s placement amongst the starters. Since they’re down to RB4, it would make sense that Jacksonville looks to play to his strengths when getting him involved. Prior to last weekend, Ogunbowale had as many receptions (6) and carries on the season. As a runner last week, he got a career high 17 carries and averaged less than 3.5 yards per carry. If he has a strength as a back, it’s catching the ball out of the backfield.
That is where Kyle Van Noy comes into the equation. New England’s best coverage linebacker (Phillips and Dugger don’t count people), Van Noy has drawn the assignment of limiting pass catching backs like Alvin Kamara, Austin Ekeler, and Christian McCaffrey, with varying levels of success. Van Noy shouldn’t have too much of a problem limiting Ogunbowale’s impact, which should play a part in the next matchup.
Bill Belichick vs. Trevor Lawrence
I told you all in week two that as long as the opposing team starts a rookie quarterback, I will be highlighting their matchup with Bill Belichick. If you need a reason why, here it is:
Updated Rookie QB stats vs Bill Belichick defenses since 2000:— Keagan Stiefel (@KeaganStiefel) December 30, 2021
Average QBR: 68.7
This one is short and sweet. Will Trevor Lawrence —toward the end of his rookie season— be able to outperform those who came before him? If we’ve learned anything from the numbers above, the answer is; probably not.