AFC Championship Preview: Jaguars, a bad thumb, and a trip to the Super Bowl. Oh my.

AJ Spirito-Pats Militia

With a 7th straight AFC Championship set to be played at Gillette this week there has been an unfamiliar feeling spreading like a pandemic across the six states that make up New England.

Panic is that feeling and it has heightened to a near nuclear level the past few days as news has come out that Tom Brady has badly injured the thumb on his throwing hand.

At first everyone had thought he may have broken it or dislocated it but yesterday Michael Felger from 98.5 The Sports Hub said it was a deep cut he sustained on his thumb from accidentally hitting a running back’s helmet in practice.

It’s believed that the thumb is now stitched up and there should be no problem come Sunday. We shall see.

All thumbs aside there’s still a game to be played and the winner will head to Minneapolis to play in Super Bowl 52.

Fans out there should not get cocky for this game like they did for last week’s joke of a matchup with the lowly Titans. These are not your father’s Jacksonville Jaguars. Hell, they’re not even the Jags of just a few years ago that the Pats destroyed 51-17.

Think of this Jacksonville team as the 2007 Giants, 2010 Jets, 2012 Ravens, or even the 2015 Broncos.

Three of those teams won a Super Bowl with a smothering defense, a solid running game, and a mediocre quarterback (2015 Peyton Manning was a shell of himself).

The Jaguars have all of those things and Blake Bortles showed the world last week that he can make all the clutch throws in a big game on the road.

I’m not saying Pats fans should be worried but they should at least take the teal and gold Jaguars seriously. Boy are those uniforms hideous though.

Keys to the Game

1.) Offensive Line: The offensive line is going to need to play their best game of the season and there’s hope they can do that after having a stellar game last week against the Titans defensive front. The Jaguars have gained the nickname “Sacksonville” for a reason. The scariest thing is that they can bring serious pressure with just four guys. The traditional way to beat the Pats is to get to Brady often, Jacksonville has the defense to do that but it’s up to the New England o-line to give Tom enough time. Tom Coughlin (former head coach of the Giants) is the GM of the Jaguars and he has the blueprint on beating the Patriots, it’s just a matter of doing it.

2.) Gronk, Gronk, Gronk: The big man is going to need to have a big day for New England to have success. If there is a weakness on the Jaguars defense it’s in the middle of the field and that’s where Gronkowski thrives. Gronk has an unbelievable playoff stat line and I think he’s going to go off in this AFC Championship. No one on that defense (or in the NFL) can stop him. Tom Brady is just going to need time to get it to him.

3.) Get up quick and early: The Pats will need to get up early in this game unlike last week’s Titans game. Look for the classic “no huddle offense” to wear down the Jaguar defense. Jacksonville was able to get out to a quick lead last week against Pittsburgh and Leonard Fournette took the pressure off Blake Bortles, rushing for 109 yards and three touchdowns. If the Patriots get a quick, significant lead the Jaguars are less likely to use their rookie phenom runningback, putting pressure on Bortles to be the playmaker he isn’t.

Prediction:

I don’t think there should be much worry about Brady’s ability to throw the ball. If the reports are true and it’s just stitches on the knuckle of his thumb then there should be no reason to worry. If the cut/injury was on the palm side of his hand then there would be reason for concern. He’s played with much worse injuries in his 18 year career.

The Jacksonville corner tandem of Ramsey and Bouye should keep the New England receivers in check for most of the day. I’m thinking they’ll take Cooks and Hogan and that may leave Amendola loose in the slot for a big day. Once again though, the #1 key to this game is Tom Brady having enough time to make plays.

I don’t think Fournette will run over the Pats like he did with Pittsburgh last week. Belichick is the best there is at taking away the opponents best player. Bortles will probably complete some throws that will make New Englanders want to pull their hair out (just like Mark Sanchez and Joe Flacco have in the past) but when it gets to the red zone the Pats will force Jacksonville to boot a field goal. Field goals won’t beat New England.

JAX: 16
NE: 24