NFL Expert Picks Against the Spread: Jacksonville Jaguars at New England Patriots
I had the Jacksonville Jaguars as my "it" team. Unfortunately, I was a year too early.
Last season, I thought the Jaguars could bust out and get to the playoffs with all the young talent they had, especially on defense. Alas, their running game lacked a Leonard Fournette type and Blake Bortles was still Blake Bortles. Oh, and Gus Bradley probably wasn't meant to be a head coach.
A year later, here the Jaguars are in their third all-time conference championship game and looking for their first-ever trip to the Super Bowl - I guarantee you that officials at NBC are praying Jacksonville doesn't advance - as they face the defending champion New England Patriots in Sunday's first game. Blake Bortles vs. Tom Brady. Hmmm. I'm not sure what the most lopsided quarterback matchup on paper has ever been in a conference championship game has been, but this has to be on the short list.
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Brady will go down as the best ever as he chases a sixth ring, and he'll win a third league MVP Award the night before Super Bowl LII. Bortles' future could be tied to this game. The Jaguars aren't here in spite of him, but I wouldn't say he's the biggest reason why. The team can walk away from his rookie option year this offseason, and I believe that decision will come down to how Bortles plays Sunday in Foxboro. If he lays an egg with a few turnovers and the Jags are steamrolled, I believe the team moves on. Can you imagine how good the 2018 Jaguars could be with someone like Kirk Cousins under center and surrounded by Fournette, Allen Robinson (lost after Week 1 to season-ending injury), Marqise Lee and Allen Hurns along with that monster defense? If Bortles plays well but the Jags lose close, he'll probably be back.
Know this: In the Super Bowl era, just one quarterback making his postseason debut has beaten the Patriots: Chicago's Jim McMahon on that historic 1985 Bears team in Super Bowl XX. Meanwhile, it's the seventh straight conference title game for the Patriots; their six in a row already were a record. The Pats are 3-3 in the past six, losing one of those at Gillette Stadium (to a red-hot Joe Flacco following the 2012 season).
Jaguars at Patriots Betting Story Lines
I'll flat out admit I was wrong twice on Jacksonville's 45-42 win in Pittsburgh last week. I recommended the Steelers giving a 6.5-point alternate line and the 'under' 41. I would have given any reader 10-1 odds for a $100 wager that neither team was reaching 40 points, much less the Jaguars scoring 45, a record for any team (including the Steelers) in a postseason game in Pittsburgh. Bortles was just fine, completing 14 of 26 for 214 yards with a touchdown and again gave an opponent trouble with his feet (five carries, 35 yards). Most important, he didn't turn it over, his bugaboo. The Jags are unbeaten this year when he doesn't throw a pick.
The real star and the biggest reason this offense has improved so much this year was Fournette. I thought the Jags were done when he limped off with an ankle injury in the second quarter, but he returned and didn't look bothered. Fournette finished with 109 yards and three touchdowns on 25 carries in becoming the youngest player in the Super Bowl era with a 100-yard, three-TD playoff game.
Fournette, who was in a minor car accident on Tuesday but is fine, is by far the key to this game. You might not see fewer than eight in the box once by the Patriots, who game-plan better than anyone defensively under Bill Belichick and DC Matt Patricia, who will be leaving for the Detroit Lions' top job whenever the Pats' season is over. New England was not great against the run during the season, 31st in allowing 4.7 yards per carry. It did allow just six rushing TDs, tied for second-best.
In last Saturday's 35-14 win over the Titans, the Patriots allowed just 267 yards and 65 yards rushing. Tennessee is a lot like Jacksonville offensively but not as well-coached (hence the decision to dump Mike Mularkey after the loss). Brady threw for 337 yards and three scores and wasn't sacked once. That's the key for Jacksonville defensively. When Brady doesn't feel pressure, the Patirots simply don't lose. In Brady's two Super Bowl losses, the Giants (coached by Tom Coughlin, who now runs the Jacksonville front office) were able to get pressure on him with just their front four and not blitzing much. The Jags were second in the NFL in sacks during the regular season but were among the least blitzing teams in the league. This year, Brady was sacked 35 times, which was the fourth highest in his career. The last time the Patriots lost in the playoffs, in Denver in the 2015 AFC Championship Game, Brady was hit 17 times and completely harassed by Von Miller.
Jaguars at Patriots Betting Odds and Trends
At 5Dimes , New England is a 10-point favorite (+110) with a total of 46.5. On the moneyline, the Pats are -430 and Jags +345. Some alternate lines: Patriots -14.5 (+180), -10.5 (+120), -7.5 (-120) and -3.5 (-233). The site currently has a total as high as 54 and as low as 39. Jacksonville is 10-8 against the spread (5-4 on road) and 9-8 "over/under" (4-5 on road). New England is 12-5 ATS (6-3 at home) and 8-9 O/U (6-3 at home).
The Jaguars are 12-5 ATS in their past 17 vs. the AFC. The Patriots have covered five straight home playoff games. They are 13-3 ATS in their past 16 following a win of at least 14 points. New England, though, has covered just two of its past eight conference title games. The under is 8-2 in the Jags' past 10 vs. the AFC. It's 5-2 in the Pats' past seven AFC title games.
Jaguars at Patriots Betting Prediction
For what it's worth, the Pats are 10-1 all-time vs. the Jaguars and 7-0 at home - the last six meetings in New England were all double-digit wins by an average of 21.0 points. They last played in Week 3 of the 2015 season at Gillette Stadium and New England cruised 51-17. Brady was great (358 yards, two TDs), Bortles was not (17-for-33, 242, 1 INT). I take less than nothing from that game because that Patriots team was better than this one in my opinion and this Jaguars team is night-and-day better.
The weather forecast for Sunday in Foxboro is a high of 46 and low of 29 with little chance of participation. The Jaguars aren't a typical warm-weather located team as they are smashmouth with their running game and defense. I don't think the Jaguars are ready to win in Foxboro, but they can hang within 10 - and watch out next season (especially with a QB upgrade). Take the 10.5-point alternate line and this should be the lower-scoring game we all expected last Sunday so go under.
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Read more articles by Alan Matthews
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