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-Divisional Playoffs: Jaguars vs. Patriots
By Chris Pokorny, PFCritics Writer
January 10, 2008
Jaguars vs. Steelers


Game:  Jacksonville Jaguars (12-5) vs. New England Patriots (16-0)
Where: Gillette Stadium (Foxboro, MA)
When: 8:00 PM EST
Announcers: Jim Nantz & Phil Simms (CBS)

"I mean, honestly, do you think we would ever tell our team, 'Just 50 this week, fellas? That's all we need. Just 45 and then we'll take a quarter off.' We always try to play 60 minutes," said Belichick."


The Patriots have played 60 minutes all season long. Even in their season finale, when they had everything locked up, you didn't see Matt Cassell on the field against the New York Giants. You saw Tom Brady. And Randy Moss. And the rest of the players that led the Patriots to the first 16-0 record in NFL history. Counting their division rivals only once, the Patriots have defeated 13 of the league's 31 possible opponents. The Jaguars weren't one of those teams. The Patriots' feat was impressive, but just as the Jaguars were the only team this season to be able to take down the Pittsburgh Steelers in Heinz Field (twice no less), they'll try to be the first team to take down the New England Patriots. With the fire they have, anything is possible.

Let's get to the preview for the showdown between the Jaguars and the Patriots...

OFFENSE

Category Jaguars Patriots
Points Scored 25.7 (6th) 36.8 (1st)
Passing 208.0 (17th) 295.7 (1st)
Rushing 149.4 (2nd) 115.6 (13th)
Total Offense (yards) 357.4 (7th) 411.3 (1st)

DEFENSE

Category Jaguars Patriots
Points Scored 19.0 (10th) 36.8 (1st)
Passing 213.5 (15th) 190.1 (6th)
Rushing 100.3 (11th) 98.3 (10th)
Total Defense (yards) 313.8 (12th) 288.3 (4th)

 

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Quarterback
Tom Brady broke the record for passing touchdowns this season with 50. He already has three Super Bowl rings on his finger. Who do you think has the edge here? David Garrard was not very good in his first postseason start last week against the Pittsburgh Steelers. After the Jaguars built an early lead, Garrard threw two interceptions, nearly matching the three interceptions that he had all season. However, when Garrard scampered for a 32 yard run on fourth down to basically win the game for the Jaguars, you sensed that Garrard gained confidence. Unfortunately the Patriots are so good at scheming against opposing quarterbacks that Garrard will have to ensure that he goes back to limiting his picks if his team wants any shot at winning.
 
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Running Back
If there's one area that the Jaguars excel at over the Patriots, it's on the ground. Maurice Jones-Drew continued to show his impact on the league last week against the Steelers, as he had a 96-yard kickoff return (short of a touchdown) and a 43-yard reception for a touchdown. Fred Taylor's numbers were down from his season averages, and part of that had to do with the team's funk at the start of the second half. The Jaguars can't afford to fall behind by multiple possessions early; their strength is their running game, and running is harder when there's a sense of urgency. Meanwhile, critics complained all season that the running game is the Patriots' weak link. If having the 13th ranked rushing attack is a weak link, especially when you have the 1st ranked pass offense, then you're only looking nitpicking.
 
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Receiver
No one can question not only the talent the Patriots have at the receiver position, but the toughness that they have too. Randy Moss can dominate receivers with his speed, height, and body control. When you pair that with a record-breaking quarterback, it's no wonder that the byproduct is a record-breaking receiver. Wes Welker is almost just as good in his own right, especially when the Patriots find themselves in close games. Welker had 112 catches this season. 24 of those catches came against the Philadelphia Eagles and the New York Giants, arguably the team's toughest two games of the season. The Jaguars still don't have a premiere receiver, but in terms of who has had the most success against the Patriots in the past, it's the little-used Matt Jones. Jones had 6 catches for 94 yards against the Patriots two years ago in the playoffs, and he had 4 catches for 69 yards and a touchdown last season against them.
 
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Offensive Line
It's a little hard to believe that Tom Brady was sacked 21 times this season. Although most of the time he has a lot of time to throw, when you look at the games and teams that sacked him often this year, they were in close contests. The Colts brought him down twice, and the Eagles and the Ravens brought him down three times. Garrard snapped the ball significantly less often, partially because he didn't play in four games, and was taken down the same amount of times. Although the Patriots are favored here, the offensive line is far from a weakness for Jacksonville.
 
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Defensive Line
Neither team relies on their defensive line to bring down an opposing quarterback as much as they rely on them to plug the line. And, this season, both teams could plug the line very well. The good news for the Jaguars is that defensive tackle John Henderson should be able to play this week, with defensive end Paul Spicer ready to rush from the edge. Who do the Patriots have on the defensive line? Only veterans Ty Warren, Vince Wilfork, and Richard Seymour. Both lines serve their purposes very well, but which linebacking group benefits more?
 

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Linebacker
The Patriots are the stronger benefactor of a good defensive line. On top of that though, I'm not sure you can find a group with a better combination of talent, experience, and knowledge of the game in history. Mike Vrabel, Junior Seau, Adalius Thomas, and Tedy Bruschi sound like a group that would start at the Pro Bowl. What's funny is that Thomas, the newcomer, has had the supposed "least" impact despite being the top free agent in the offseason. The Jaguars, unfortunately, can't be at full strength without Mike Peterson anchoring the middle of their line. The Jaguars haven't had him since Week 11 and have still played great, but you'd hope to have your top players in games of this magnitude.
 
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Secondary
Is it just me, or does Rashean Mathis just have a knack for destroying the Pittsburgh Steelers' hopes? Without him, who knows if Jacksonville would still be in it. The Jaguars would really like to see him produce a similar effort against the Patriots, but that'll be tough to do. Brady rarely makes critical mistakes, and if Mathis tries to jump a route, he may give up a bigger play. Then again, isn't this a game where the Jaguars will need to take risks in order to win? The Patriots may have the real edge here due to the veteranship from Asante Samuel, Ellis Hobbs, and Rodney Harrison, but Jacksonville's group isn't too bad.
 
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Special Teams
Josh Scobee made the kick that counted last week: a 25-yard game winner against the Steelers. Couple that with a veteran in Dennis Northcutt returning punts and Jones-Drew returning kicks, and you've got a pretty darn good special teams unit. Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski only attempted 5 kicks from beyond 40 yards this season. Is that a liability? Not a chance. I think it's fair to look at what Gostkowski did in the postseason last year. He went 8-for-8 in three games, including 3-for-3 from beyond 40 yards.
 

FINAL PREDICTION:
New England Patriots 34, Jacksonville Jaguars 20.
The Jaguars have had a fantastic run. As much as I'd love to see a game as exciting as the Steelers/Jaguars contest from a week ago, I can't imagine the Patriots letting their guards down now. They don't have to worry about a perfect regular season anymore: all they need to think about is getting to the Super Bowl again. Having a bye last week, plus not really having had any serious injuries to players all season, and playing all their starters against the Giants, should mean that New England's chemistry will remain perfect (at least for this week). The Jaguars inability to have a true No. 1 receiver will prevent them from keeping pace in points with the Patriots in this game, as New England will load up against the run and force some critical punts to start off the second half.
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