How the Patriots and Jaguars match up
When: Sunday, 3:05 p.m.
Where: Gillette Stadium, Foxborough
TV, radio: CBS, WBZ-FM (98.5), WEEI-FM (93.7).
Tom Brady turned in a classic Tom Brady performance last week, spreading the ball all over the field and to all his pass catchers. Brady has superior presnap recognition skills (if there’s a mismatch, he’ll identify and exploit it), a strong, accurate arm (he delivers it where his guys can catch it), and deceptive mobility (he can step up in the pocket and slide from pressure). Brady has adapted seamlessly to New England’s increased vertical attack this season but can still dink and dunk an opponent to death if need be. There’s not a defense Brady hasn’t seen or a situation the 40-year-old hasn’t been in before. He is a true field general and his performance level rises when the stakes are at their highest. Blake Bortles is a big, athletic quarterback (6 feet 5 inches, 236 pounds) who can stand in the pocket and deliver darts but is equally comfortable abandoning it and throwing on the run (his accuracy most definitely suffers here) or scrambling for the sticks. He’s very streaky; good Blake and bad Blake can show up on the same drive.
The Patriots have excellent depth here, but make no mistake: Dion Lewis is the lead horse in this stable. A ridiculously quick and deceptively powerful runner, Lewis can turn the corner or pound it up inside. He has a lightning-quick first step and an amazing array of spin and stutter-step moves. Wrap him up quickly or wave to him in the end zone. Rex Burkhead should be back in action, and he can give Lewis a rest and the offense a boost. Burkhead is a tough, instinctual runner who can push the pile a little and also dart through cutback lanes. James White is a slippery runner with good vision, decent acceleration, and improved toughness. Jacksonville’s Leonard Fournette is a monster truck back. The rookie has tremendous size (6 feet, 228), speed, and power. He can flat-out run over defenders on inside carries and has the elusiveness to avoid others. He likes to dip his shoulder and deliver some punishment. Fournette can wear a defense out. T.J. Yeldon (6-1, 223) is another big back with good athleticism and speed. He can get skinny and squirt through narrow creases and has great burst onto the second level.
Last week, Rob Gronkowski dubbed Danny Amendola “Playoff Danny,” but “Mr. Clutch” may be just as fitting. Amendola has speed, versatility, and a knack for getting open and making big catches — particularly on third down. Chris Hogan is back and healthy, and he’ll get more than one catch this week. The speedy Hogan can play any spot, run any route, and make any catch. Brandin Cooks has elite quickness and enough speed to blow the top off any defense. Gronkowski is the platinum standard at tight end. He has gargantuan size and strength, and nobody on the Jaguars roster can cover him one-on-one. All of New England’s backs are accomplished receivers. Jacksonville’s Allen Hurns (6-3, 201) has excellent length and hands, but isn’t a fan of the rough stuff. Marqise Lee has a lightning-quick first step, and he can sustain that speed all the way down the field. Rookies Keelan Cole and Dede Westbrook are a tad raw but they’ll surprise. Tight end Marcedes Lewis is old but he’s reliable. Leonard Fournette and T.J. Yeldon are excellent options out of the backfield.
New England’s front was stout last week, allowing zero sacks and just four hits on Tom Brady’s 53 dropbacks. It was a balanced effort as well, as the Patriots piled up 101 rushing yards. Nate Solder is an athletic tower of strength at left tackle while LaAdrian Waddle and Cam Fleming held it down on the right. Smart center David Andrews has good quickness and plays with balance and leverage. Andrews and guards Joe Thuney and Shaq Mason work well together on stunts and double teams. The trio has enough athleticism to get outside, set up convoys, and cut down defenders at the second and third levels. Jacksonville’s interior three are tough hombres. Center Brandon Linder has a nice combination of smarts, toughness, and crankiness. Left guard Patrick Omameh is athletic and strong while right guard A.J. Cann is quick off the blocks and can manhandle defenders with upper-body strength and powerful hands. Left tackle Cam Robinson (6-6, 320) has awesome size and athleticism; he’ll wall off and engulf edge rushers. Right tackle Jermey Parnell (6-6, 326) is big but plays a little stiff.
Malcom Brown (he’s big and quick), Lawrence Guy (he’s stout and strong), Adam Butler (he’s relentless), and Ricky Jean Francois (he has plenty of gas in the tank) have formed a nice inside quartet for the Patriots. If big and burly Alan Branch returns, the run defense becomes all the more formidable. Trey Flowers’s versatility can’t be overstated. He can man the edge or bump inside, and his combination of power and closing burst is impressive. In pass-rushing packages, Butler will move to the edge with fellow rookie Deatrich Wise to create pressure. Wise has excellent length and surprising speed. The Jaguars’ front four is terrifyingly terrific; these guys will get to the quarterback. Malik Jackson (he’s quick off the snap) and Abry Jones (he’s tough to move) man the middle, and run stuffer Marcell Dareus will sub in. Off the edge, Calais Campbell (6-8, 300) is as destructive and versatile a force there is. He’s quick, powerful, and relentless. Yannick Ngakoue is a freakish force. He’s athletic and anticipatory and has awesome closing burst. The speedy Dante Fowler is another gifted pass rusher.
There are no big names in New England’s group, just guys that make big plays. Kyle Van Noy is versatile and valuable. He can line up everywhere, and just as important, he gets everyone else lined up correctly. James Harrison is versatile, too. He has the strength to dig in and set the edge and also the explosiveness to get after the quarterback. Elandon Roberts is instinctive and athletic. His engine is always revving high, and he’ll run through a wall to get to the ball. Marquis Flowers has excellent athleticism and impressive acceleration. Jacksonville’s talented trio of Paul Posluszny, Myles Jack, and Telvin Smith is active and engaged. Posluszny is an old-school mauler in the middle. He has excellent recognition, can fight through traffic, and will explode into ball carriers. An 11-year vet, he has lost a half-step but still will make a ton of tackles. Smith (6-3, 215) is long, lean, and athletic. He glides effortlessly to the ball, can stifle the run, and also backpedal and cover effectively. Jack is ferocious. He’s tremendously athletic and fast and has big hands and long arms. Jack is good for a few gasp-inducing tackles per game.
New England has a deep defensive backfield. The safeties are smart and tough, and the corners will drape their guys up and down and across the field. Devin McCourty sets the tone. He’s instinctual, intelligent, and impactful. He hits much harder than a 5-10, 195-pound man has a right to. Ditto for Patrick Chung (5-11, 215), who is having another unsung season. The versatile safety can bang in the box and effectively cover receivers and tight ends of varying shapes and sizes. Duron Harmon is the closer. Enough said. Corners Stephon Gilmore, Malcolm Butler, and Eric Rowe form a solid triumvirate. Gilmore (he’s sneaky quick) and Butler (he’s a scrapper) man the edges while Rowe (he’s fast) will be on the inside. Jacksonville’s corners are gamers. Jalen Ramsey has the size and strength to suffocate receivers. A.J. Bouye is a sticky ballhawk and Aaron Colvin will get physical. Safeties Barry Church and Tashaun Gipson are no slouches, either. Church is physical and athletic. He can support the run and has good range in coverage. Gipson is a converted corner with good cover skills. Both collected four picks.
The Patriots suffered a big blow when Jonathan Jones was lost with an undisclosed injury last week. Jones is a heat seeker who often landed the first hit on punt coverage. New England does have other standouts, however, in Matthew Slater, Brandon King, Brandon Bolden, and Johnson Bademosi. All can fly and excel at sliding through creases and landing big hits. Stephen Gostkowski consistently lands his kickoffs in the sweet spot (forcing returns) and his field goal attempts between the uprights. Ryan Allen is adept at both booming and placing his punts. Dion Lewis is an electric — and smart — kick returner, while punt returner Danny Amendola has some of the surest hands in the business. Josh Lambo has been a model of consistency (19 of 20) since taking over Jacksonville’s field goal duties in Week 7. Can he handle Gillette’s frozen tundra? Brad Norman averaged 44.1 yards per punt. Jaydon Mickens is a top-notch punt returner, averaging 10.6 yards on 27 attempts, including a 72-yard touchdown. On kickoffs, Corey Grant averaged 24.9 yards on 19 returns. Rookie Donald Payne can deliver some big open-field thumps.
With Brandin Cooks and Chris Hogan out on the edges, Amendola will see a lot of slot action, where he’ll see a lot of Colvin, who excels as a nickel corner. Amendola is a wily veteran coming off yet another strong playoff performance (11 catches, 112 yards). He is super smart and speedy, runs precise routes, and makes clutch catches. Colvin is slick and sticky. He’s physical, has long arms, and has a knack for arriving at the last nanosecond to bat away sure completions. Amendola, who has Tom Brady’s trust, must get free quickly, because his quarterback won’t have much time to scan the field in this one.
Bortles has prototypical size (6-5, 236), a big arm, and excellent athleticism. The fourth-year veteran has made a huge leap this season; he was the fifth-best QB on the fields at those joint practices back in August. Now he’s playing with poise and confidence. He can make all the throws but where he really kills teams is his ability to run, whether it’s on a broken play or a designed scoot. Both Van Noy and Flowers have exceled in the “spy” role this year. Van Noy is sturdy, strong, and smart. He has good recognition skills, moves well laterally, and will explode into ball carriers. Flowers is patient and athletic. He can sift through the traffic, blast through a lane, and close on quarterback quickly.
Jaguars’ key to victory
1. Jack be nimble: Bring the Florida heat (hello, Calais Campbell) after Tom Brady — without blitzing. The front four have to create the pressure. Bringing extra bodies leaves a mismatch elsewhere, and Brady will find it.
2. Jack frost: Limit the big plays. The Steelers had four passes of 40-plus yards (two for touchdowns) in last week’s matchup. Getting into a shootout in Foxborough doesn’t usually end well for visitors.
3. Jack in the box: Leonard Fournette and T.J. Yeldon are a pretty potent 1-2 tailback punch. Both have excellent size, can pound it up the middle, and wear down opponents. They can catch the ball, too.
Patriots’ keys to victory
1. Handle with care: Protecting an already ailing Tom Brady must be priority No. 1 at all times. Spy Calais Campbell (this beast moves around an awful lot) and get multiple hats on him.
2. Hand in the till: The Jaguars run a ton of their offense off play-action, and that help sets up the deep shots. Don’t get lulled into thinking this is solely a dink-and-dunk offense. Blake Bortles averaged 11.7 yards per completion.
3. Hand shake: Get the ball into the hands of Dion Lewis (out of the backfield or out in the flat) and let him sizzle and shake his way through the defense to lessen Brady’s workload.
PREDICTION: Patriots 27, Jaguars 14