When: Sunday, 3:05 p.m. ET
Where: Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, where the Patriots are 17-3 in playoff games.
TV: CBS, with Jim Nantz, Tony Romo, Tracy Wolfson and Jay Feely.
Spread / total: Patriots -9.5 / 46.5
Referee: Clete Blakeman
Last time they met: In 2015, the Patriots beat the Jaguars 51-17. It was their seventh consecutive win over Jacksonville, dating back to the turn of the century.
Five things you need to know
1. The Patriots dominate at Gillette Stadium in the playoffs. Not only are they 17-3 there in playoff games, but they’ve won seven straight home postseason games by an average margin of 36-18.
The Jaguars did finish the regular season with back-to-back ugly road losses, but they’ve already won twice this year at Heinz Field and crushed the Colts 27-0 in Indianapolis in October. They just might be young enough to not fully be aware of how large a task this is, which could work to their advantage.
2. Could Tom Coughlin be a factor? Coughlin isn’t coaching the Jaguars, but as the team’s executive vice president of football operations he plays a huge role in what happens within that organization.
Coughlin has a magic touch, which was on display when he coached the New York Giants to victories over New England in Super Bowls XLII and XLVI. His first year with Jacksonville has been an utter success, and this team feels somewhat similar to the Giants teams that slayed Goliath twice in a four-year span.
3. We all know what it takes to conquer Tom Brady. Coughlin will tell you that if ya wanna beat the Patriots in the playoffs, the key is to get as much consistent, natural pressure as possible on Brady. That’s easier said than done, as the Tennessee Titans found out Saturday. But the Jags are a lot more lethal defensively than Tennessee. In fact, the Jags had the league’s second-highest sack rate despite blitzing a league-low 17.8 percent of the time, per ESPN.com’s Bill Barnwell.
4. The Patriots will adjust. Up against a Titans defense that is stellar against the run and weak against the pass, Brady threw the ball 53 times in a blowout victory last week. That’s incredibly rare, but it shows just how opponent-conscious Bill Belichick is.
This time around, New England goes up against a Jags D that is dominant through the air but surrendered a mediocre 4.3 yards per carry in run defense. Look for New England to try to control this game on the ground, with Dion Lewis, Rex Burkhead and Mike Gillislee all potentially getting a lot of work.
5. Which Blake Bortles will show up? Ultimately, even if the Jags find a way to get to Brady, and even if they control the game on the ground with star running back Leonard Fournette (a strong possibility consider New England’s struggles in run D and the absence of linebacker Dont’a Hightower), Bortles will have to make some plays with his arm and legs in order for Jacksonville to actually pull off the upset. Problem is the fourth-year quarterback has been extremely inconsistent.
Blake Bortles has been riding a roller coaster.
Weeks 13-15: 71%, 7 TD, 0 INT, 9.9 YPA, 128.6 rating
Weeks 16-17: 56%, 2 TD, 5 INT, 6.4 YPA, 58.6 rating
Wild card: 53%, 1 TD, 0 INT, 3.8 YPA, 75.8 rating
Divisional: 54%, 1 TD, 0 INT, 8.2 YPA, 94.1 rating
— Brad Gagnon (@Brad_Gagnon) January 17, 2018
Under-the-radar potential X factor: Jaguars linebacker Telvin Smith doesn’t get a lot of attention as part of a defense with Calais Campbell, Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye, but the speedy 26-year-old was the best defensive player on the field against the Steelers. He had 16 tackles in total, and he scored on a fumble scoop-up. He now has three interceptions, three fumble recoveries and two touchdowns this season, and he’ll likely play a huge role if indeed the Patriots decide to run it all day.
Prediction: The Jaguars lack discipline, and it nearly bit them in the ass all season. Against the Patriots on the road in the playoffs, it probably will. I won’t be surprised if this game stays close throughout, and if a silly mistake is ultimately the difference. Patriots 23, Jaguars 21