Jacksonville Jaguars @ New England Patriots Tips | Sunday 21st January 2018

NFL boffin Tom Selwyn analyses the weekend’s NFL Championship play-off matches, starting on Sunday night from New England.

Jacksonville Jaguars @ New England Patriots | Sunday 21st January 2018, 20:05 | Sky Sports

They needed the jolt of Tennessee going 7-0 up early, but I don’t think anyone seriously doubted the Patriots would end up in the AFC Championship game.

Putting up 35 straight points was an impressive way to do it, but giving up early and garbage time TDs will give Bill Belichick ample ammunition to drive his team to do better. They’ll need to as well because their opponents, the Jaguars, will not be an easy out.

They are unpredictable – going from a 10-3 scoreline two weeks ago to a 45-42 scoreline last week is ridiculous – but make it extremely tough on opposing teams in some form or another.

Jacksonville has a +8 handicap as I write this and even though I trust New England not to overlook them as Pittsburgh seemed to (their players commentary on social media was embarrassing), I think the value for this game is with that handicap.

The Patriots tend to figure out what opposing defences are doing to them pretty quickly, but having to beat one of the league’s best by over a TD seems ambitious. As I stated last week, the key for the Jaguars will to not fall behind early.

It is eminently preferable for them to run the ball and play defence than it is to put the game in QB Blake Bortles’ hands. To be fair to Bortles he played well last week, but the Patriots have that tape now and I’m not sure Jacksonville want him trying to go blow for blow with New England’s QB Tom Brady.

Earlier in the season I would have said that New England’s front seven was their weakness, but they’ve got better and better as time has wore on. They held Tennessee’s RB Derrick Henry to just 28 yards rushing on 12 carries last week and registered eight sacks of QB Marcus Mariota.

If they can get even close to that sort of performance this week then I’d say the Patriots should be confident of a win. Of course the offense will have to fire too and against the Jaguars that’s no easy task.

Pittsburgh showed you can put up a lot of points and numbers against Jacksonville, but prior to last week’s game they had given up under 16 points a game so Brady and co will have to be at their very best against a unit that has great players at every position.

I think this game will be closer than the lines indicate and although the Patriots are rightly favoured, the Jaguars shouldn’t be underestimated.

Player to Watch – Jacksonville

Paul Posluszny – LB: Posluszny isn’t near the top of the list when you name Jaguars defenders, but as Jacksonville’s MLB he’ll be tasked with adjusting to Patriots QB Tom Brady’s audibles at the line. A daunting task given how good Brady is pre-snap.

Player to Watch – New England

David Andrews, Joe Thuney, Shaq Mason – Interior OL: The book on beating the Patriots says to get pressure up the middle. Andrews, Thuney and Mason will need to hold up and give Brady room to step up. Additionally, if the Jaguars have a weakness, it’s against the run straight up the gut – they’ll be key to executing this too.