Last Updated Aug 30, 2021, 10:06 AM
AFC - Jaguars vs. Patriots
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For the seventh consecutive season, the Patriots are playing for an opportunity at the Super Bowl. In two of the past three seasons, New England has advanced to the Super Bowl and won the title, including last season’s epic 34-28 triumph over Atlanta in overtime. The team standing in New England’s way at a sixth championship is an upstart Jacksonville squad on Sunday afternoon in the AFC Championship.
HOW THEY GOT HERE
The Jaguars (12-6 SU, 10-8 ATS) have played two dramatically different games to reach their first AFC championship game since 1999. Jacksonville held off Buffalo, 10-3 in the Wild Card round, but failed to cover as eight-point home favorites. The lone touchdown came on a Blake Bortles one-yard connection with tight end Ben Koyack in the third quarter to break a 3-3 tie. Jacksonville picked up the victory in spite of Bortles throwing for only 87 yards, but the quarterback rushed for a team-high 88 yards.
In the divisional round, the Jaguars were expected to be knocked out by the rested Steelers. However, Jacksonville topped Pittsburgh for the second time this season at Heinz Field, eliminating the Steelers in a 45-42 shootout. The Jaguars cashed as seven-point underdogs, while jumping out to a surprising 21-0 lead on a pair of touchdown runs by Leonard Fournette and another rushing touchdown from T.J. Yeldon.
Jacksonville intercepted Ben Roethlisberger five times in a 30-9 blowout of Pittsburgh in October, while returning two picks for touchdowns. The Jaguars’ defense harassed Big Ben by intercepting him once and recovering a fumble and taking it back for a touchdown to make it 28-7. Pittsburgh mounted a comeback to cut the deficit to seven with two minutes remaining, but couldn’t pick up the win. Fournette finished with 109 yards rushing and three touchdowns, while Roethlisberger threw for 469 yards and five touchdowns in the defeat.
The Patriots (14-3 SU, 12-5 ATS) reached their seventh consecutive AFC championship after routing the Titans in the divisional round, 35-14 as 13 ½-point favorites. Tennessee took an early 7-0 lead, but New England struck back for three touchdowns in the second quarter, including a pair of scores by running back James White. The Patriots pulled away in the third quarter on a Tom Brady scoring strike to tight end Rob Gronkowski, as Brady threw for 337 yards and three touchdowns.
New England covered in the divisional round for the third straight year, while winning in the second round for the ninth time in the past 10 seasons. The victory marked the 19th straight time the Patriots have beaten an AFC South foe which dates back to 2010, as the last loss to a team from that division came against Houston in the 2009 season finale.
The Patriots own a 7-2 SU and 6-3 ATS record at Gillette Stadium this season, while racking up six consecutive covers. Bill Belichick’s squad allowed 42, 33, and 33 points in their first three home games this season, but the last six contests have seen New England yield 7, 13, 17, 16, 6, and 14 points.
The Jaguars won five of nine games away from EverBank Field, while compiling a 5-4 ATS record. In four opportunities as a road underdog, Jacksonville covered three times, including the two outright wins at Pittsburgh and an opening week blowout of Houston. The lone loss in the ‘dog role came in Week 17 at Tennessee, 15-10 as the Jags had already clinched the AFC South title and had nothing to play for.
The storyline coming out mid-week was the right hand injury suffered by Brady in practice. Last year’s Super Bowl MVP collided with a teammate during a handoff, but X-rays were negative. This news affected the line, which opened at nine, but has dropped at several sports books, including down to 7 ½ at the Las Vegas Westgate Superbook. Brady was kept out of Thursday’s practice, but is expected to play on Sunday.
WE SEE YOU
Although the Jaguars and Patriots didn’t face off in the regular season, New England lost to Jacksonville in the preseason opener, 31-24. Brady didn’t take a snap in that defeat, but backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo had his way with the Jacksonville defense by throwing for 235 yards and two touchdowns on 22-of-28 attempts. Garropolo was traded to the 49ers midseason and performed well against Jacksonville in Week 16 by completing 70% of his passes and throwing for 242 yards and two scores.
Since Brady took over as quarterback for the Patriots in 2001, New England owns a perfect 7-0 record against Jacksonville. The Patriots have covered in five of those seven meetings, while all five victories in Foxboro came by double-digits. These teams last hooked up in Week 3 of the 2015 season at Gillette Stadium as the Patriots rolled the Jaguars, 51-17 as 14 ½-point favorites. Brady torched the Jacksonville defense for 358 yards and two touchdowns, while running back LeGarrette Blount found the end zone three times.
In spite of Jacksonville entering the league in 1995, it has squared off with New England four times in the playoffs. These two teams have met for the AFC championship only once before, coming in Jacksonville’s second year in the NFL in 1996 as the Jags came up short in a 20-6 defeat. The Jaguars knocked out the Patriots at home in the 1998 Wild Card round, but New England has captured the last two playoff meetings in 2005 and 2007 at Gillette Stadium.
The Jaguars are seeking their first Super Bowl berth in franchise history as Jacksonville owns an 0-2 record in AFC championship games. The first setback came in 1996 at New England, while falling at home to Tennessee in 1999 by a 33-14 count. In both instances, the team that beat Jacksonville ended up losing in the Super Bowl.
Although all signs indicate to New England advancing to its 10th Super Bowl in franchise history, the Patriots haven’t won back-to-back AFC championships since 2006 and 2007. The Patriots are 5-1 at home in AFC title games under Belichick and 7-4 overall in conference championships since 2001. From an ATS perspective, New England has put together a 3-3 ATS mark in home conference title contests, including covers in the last two opportunities in 2016 against Pittsburgh and 2014 against Indianapolis.
VegasInsider.com expert Joe Nelson says New England will be ready for this vaunted Jacksonville defense, “The Patriots are not likely to be fearful of facing the Jacksonville pass defense and Tom Brady had some of his best games against the top pass defenses he faced this season with big numbers against the Broncos, Falcons, Chargers, and Steelers. Against the Titans, the Patriots threw 53 times, often going up-tempo early in the game knowing the limited depth for the defensive line of Tennessee.”
Nelson continues on this matchup between New England’s offense and Jacksonville’s defense, “Jacksonville’s secondary does have good size which can offer more promise in slowing down Rob Gronkowski and with the help of a great secondary that forces quarterbacks to hold the ball longer Brady certainly rates several notches above most of the quarterbacks the Jaguars have faced with the division counterparts that filled six games of Jacksonville’s schedule offering some of the worst quarterback numbers in the league.”
Even though the Jaguars don’t possess an elite quarterback, Nelson points out that this is where the Patriots have a had problem getting past these squads, “A declining Peyton Manning (x2), Joe Flacco (x2), Eli Manning (x2), and Mark Sanchez are responsible for the seven New England playoff losses in the last decade as it hasn’t been the bigger name, higher ceiling quarterbacks to beat the Patriots on the biggest stages. A more highly regarded quartet of Matt Ryan, Russell Wilson, Ben Roethlisberger, and Andrew Luck are a combined 0-5 vs. New England in the playoffs in that span.”
Keeping the ball on the ground may be the key to victory for the Jags according to Nelson, “All three teams to beat New England this season rushed for at least 120 yards, a mark Jacksonville has reached in 13 of 18 games, losing in four of the five games they failed to do so. Playing with the lead helps, but New England has out-rushed its opponents by 381 net yards over the past four home games while allowing just 3.3 yards per rush despite a season average that suggests the Patriots allow 4.7 yards per rush to sit as the second worst per carry rush defense in the NFL.”
VegasInsider.com handicapper Vince Akins provides several trends to keep an eye on, "The Patriots are 11-0 ATS since Oct 23, 2016 coming off a home game where they covered." New England owns a 5-0 SU/ATS record in that situation this season, including last Saturday's victory over Tennessee. Meanwhile, Akins points out an UNDER trend on Jacksonville, "The Jaguars are 0-7 OU since Jan 03, 2016 coming off a road game where they allowed more points than Vegas expected."
GAME PROPS – According to Las Vegas Westgate Superbook
Total Completions - Blake Bortles
OVER 19 ½ (-110)
UNDER 19 ½ (-110)
Total Touchdown Passes - Blake Bortles
OVER 1 ½ (+170)
UNDER 1 ½ (-200)
Total Rushing Yards – Leonard Fournette
OVER 74 ½ (-110)
UNDER 74 ½ (-110)
Total Gross Passing Yards – Tom Brady
OVER 280 ½ (-110)
UNDER 280 ½ (-110)
Total Touchdown Passes – Tom Brady
OVER 2 (-120)
UNDER 2 (EVEN)
Total Receiving Yards – Rob Gronkowski
OVER 69 ½ (-110)
UNDER 69 ½ (-110)
Total Receiving Yards – Brandin Cooks
OVER 65 ½ (-110)
UNDER 65 ½ (-110)
Scott Cooley of [...] gives his take on where the action is headed, "All of the early action was on New England, and almost everything since the injury news broke has been on the Jags. Once the hand injury became public, we were taking pretty steady action on Jacksonville so we pulled it and adjusted down to -7. We fully expect Brady to play, but if he’s really banged up the offensive gameplan could be altered."
"The total has plummeted down to 44.5 with bettors expecting an adjusted offensive attack. We aren't too lopsided on the side with around 60 percent of the money on the underdog, but we'll see some more public money plopped down on the Patriots this weekend. If this game stays UNDER we do have some serious exposure there."
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