Tomorrow is the big day, will Tom Brady and the Patriots continue their dominance and play in another Super Bowl? Or will the Jacksonville Jaguars price that defense truly does win championships? Let’s look at how the positional groups stack up against one another.
New England Patriots: Tom Brady, Brian Hoyer: This might truly be the biggest difference in level of skill between two quarterbacks meeting in a conference championship game. Tom Brady is on his way to being the most accomplished player in history, while Blake Bortles is barely passable at times. The playing field will be slightly leveled if Brady’s injured hand keeps him from being as sharp. Brian Hoyer is a solid backup familiar with New England’s system.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Blake Bortles, Chad Henne: At times Bortles looks as if he’s taken a step in his development, other times he goes for an entire game throwing less than 90 yards. Henne is a serviceable back up, but with as bad as Bortles has looked at times Henne has never been called on to replace him, that doesn’t seem promising.
New England Patriots: Dion Lewis, James White, Rex Burkhead: While being extremely undersized, Lewis has become the lead back in this diverse group. Somehow White always seems to get hot during the playoffs, as witnessed last week against the Titans. Burkhead the biggest of the three backs, providing needed size in goal line situations, he’s also a crucial special teams player.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Leonard Fournette, Chris Ivory, T.J. Yeldon: Fournette is a special talent, he’s a true 3 down back that has an elite blend of size, speed, and physicality. Ivory is a bit limited in what he brings to the table, but he’s a large and physical back that can wear down defenses. Yeldon was the lead back a year ago so the skill is there, but a lot has changed in a years time.
Advantage: Jaguars by a slim margin
New England Patriots: Brandin Cooks, Danny Amendola, Chris Hogan, Rob Gronkowski: Cooks is a genuine threat to score from anywhere on the field with his elite speed. Amendola is a sure handed weapon that has Brady’s trust while Hogan has all the ability in the world but hasn’t had the same type of season he had a year ago. Gronkowski is the true weapon here, he’s the best tight end in the history of the game and nearly unstoppable.
Jacksonville Jaguars: DeDe Westbrook, Keelan Cole, Marquis Lee, Allen Hurns, Mercedes Lewis: This season has been the year of the rookie for Jacksonville. DeDe Westbrook and Keelan Cole have exceeded all expectations and have become the top weapons in the passing game. Lee and Hurns are still trustworthy veteran receivers with plenty left in the tank. Lewis doesn’t bring much to the table as far as being a mismatch in the passing game, but he’s a solid blocker and answers when called on.
New England Patriots: Nate Solder, Joe Thuney, David Andrews, Shaq Mason, Cameron Fleming: While playing better as of late, this line allowed Brady to get sacked 35 times this season. Mason and Andrews were both listed on the top 25 lineman list by PFF. They’ll have their hands full with Jacksonville’s front four.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Cam Robinson, Pat Omameh, Brandon Linder, AJ Cann, Jermey Parnell: This group has only allowed 7 sacks in the last 7 games, paid that along with their dominance in the running game and you have a stout group.
New England Patriots: Eric Lee, Lawrence Guy, Malcom Brown, Trey Flowers: Flowers led the team in sacks with 6.5, Brown is an athletic specimen who makes splash plays. Lee and Guy are solid complimentary pieces for a line that doesn’t inspire much fear to opposing defenses.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Yannick Ngakoue, Abry Jones, Malik Jackson, Calais Campbell: Ngakoue has been a pleasant surprise this season after being a later selection in the draft, Jones and Jackson are handfuls in the middle with their bull rush and brute strength. Campbell is a DPOY candidate with his 14.5 sacks. This is a special group.
New England Patriots: Kyle Van Noy, Elandon Roberts, James Harrison: Van Noy is the classic Belichick grinder who can always be counted on to make the right decision. Roberts has done his best filling in for D’onta Hightower but has his limitations. Harrison has been a surprise after being a late season addition. He’s added solid tackling and a couple sacks.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Paul Posluszny, Myles Jack, Telvin Smith: Posluszny is the old guard here, he’s been the heart and soul of the Jaguars defense for a long time but now only has to be part of the supporting cast not the central playmaker. Smith and Jack make up the best linebacking duo in the league. They led the team in tackles with 102 and 90 respectively. They’re truly elite playmakers in the middle of the field, both capable in coverage and against the run.
New England Patriots: Devin McCourty, Stephon Gilmore, Malcolm Butler, Pat Chung: McCourty is the quarterback of the defensive backfield, he’s a smart player that is rarely out of position. Chung is a savvy veteran safety who’s been in New England for a long time who understands what needs to be done in their system. Butler and Gilmore form an impressive tandem. Gilmore has great size for the position while Butler has excellent instincts.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Jalen Ramsey, AJ Bouye, Tashaun Gipson, Barry Church, Aaron Colvin: Church and Gipson rounded out the top 4 in leading tacklers, they’re both solid in coverage and aren’t afraid to come up in the run game. They’re the weakness of the defense, but that’s not a slight to them, it’s a testament to how elite this defense truly is. Ramsey and Bouye are by far the best cornerback duo in the league, they’re also arguably the two best individual corners in the league. They can make their assignments disappear, Ramsey make be the best corner since Darrell’s Revis. Add in Colvin manning the slot and this is secondary is insane.
New England Patriots: Ryan Allen, Stephen Gostkowski, Danny Amendola: This is a classic Patriots group, they understand their assignments and don’t allow the game to get too big. They don’t make mistakes in critical times. Gostkowski has proven to be reliable over the years.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Josh Lambo, Brad Nortman, Jaydon Mickens: Nortman has been solid averaging 44 yards per punt. Lambo has nailed a handful of long kicks, making both his attempts of 50+ yards. Mickens has been solid on punt returns, with a long of 72 and even adding a touchdown.
This game has a nearly even split down the middle, the Patriots have the offense and the Jaguars have the defense. This will easily be the best defense that Brady and company have faced this season. If Jacksonville can manage to put up points this one could end up close. If Brady’s injury is worse than it seems and keeps him from being 100% there’s a real chance the Jags could steal this one away.
I want to pick the Jaguars here, because I love their defense and I think they’re the more complete team. But until his level of play declines it’ll be hard to pick against Brady. Patriots 24-20