New England Patriots vs Jacksonville Jaguars: AFC Championship Game preview and prediction

FOXBOROUGH, MA - JANUARY 13: Tom Brady (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
FOXBOROUGH, MA - JANUARY 13: Tom Brady (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images) /
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New England Patriots
FOXBOROUGH, MA – (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images) /

Their Underrated Defense

The Patriots shut down a Tennessee Titans’ offense which had ridden young running back Derrick Henry past the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC Wild Card round. Henry turned in a strong performance against Kansas City with 156 yards rushing on 23 carries. Against New England, Henry had just 28 yards on 12 carries.

The Patriots also had a strong game in the secondary as quarterback Marcus Mariota struggled much of the game and was sacked eight times. Mariota finished with a nice passing line, but he was for 7 of 13 for 86 yards on the final drive when New England had their backup defense on the field playing off the wide receivers. Prior to that garbage time drive, he had been held to just 15 completions on 24 attempts for 186 yards.

The Patriots offense usually gets the headlines but the defense has been driving the team’s success since Week 7. After a brutal start to the season, the Patriots’ pass defense has been among the best in the NFL. Strong play from cornerback Stephon Gilmore has been a big part of the success, along with a number of players on the defensive line and linebacker contributing to the pass rush.

Other than last week against Pittsburgh, the Jaguars have struggled on offense. In the AFC Wild Card Round, they were held to just 230 total yards of offense by the Buffalo Bills as they edged them in a 10-3 defensive struggle. The Jaguars need running back Leonard Fournette healthy and running effectively to be able to open up the secondary for quarterback Blake Bortles to exploit with play-action.

If the New England defense can slow Fournette and force Bortles into some costly turnovers it would go a long way for a New England win. In their six losses, the Jaguars had 15 turnovers. In their ten regular season wins they had just eight turnovers. So far in the playoffs they have not turned the ball over at all.