Editor’s note: NESN.com’s Mike Cole, Ricky Doyle and Andre Khatchaturian deliver their against-the-spread NFL picks every Thursday of the season, and here’s who they like in this Sunday’s Jacksonville Jaguars vs. New England Patriots AFC Championship Game, with the line from OddsShark.
Jacksonville Jaguars at (-9) New England Patriots, 3:05 p.m.
I picked the Jaguars on “The Spread” this week, and that was before we learned about Tom Brady’s hand injury. I still think the Patriots ultimately win, but this is the best defense Brady and the Patriots have faced all season, and that’s a big enough reason to believe Jacksonville can keep it within the number. All of Brady’s biggest playoff losses have come when he’s been put on the ground, and the Jaguars have the ability to do that, and they don’t need to blitz to make it happen. As pointed out by ESPN, Jacksonville finished second in the NFL in pressure rate despite blitzing an NFL-low 17.8 percent of the time. If the Jaguars create some pressure and maybe get a takeaway, they can make this a game.
So, we’re just going to throw out the Jaguars’ 10-3 slopfest against the Bills, a game in which Blake Bortles — the man tasked with going toe-to-toe with Tom Brady this Sunday — had more rushing yards (88) than passing yards (87)? Listen, I understand Jacksonville’s defense is legit. But the Patriots are so experienced, so prepared and so well-coached that it’ll be surprising if they don’t find ways to move the football, likely in short increments rather than relying on deep plays. Of Brady’s 35 completions against the Tennessee Titans in the divisional round, 20 were to running backs or tight ends and 11 were to slot receiver Danny Amendola. The Patriots should deploy a similar attack against the Jaguars, who ranked 15th in defending running backs in the passing game and 20th in defending tight ends (according to Football Outsiders’ DVOA), much like Jimmy Garoppolo and the San Francisco 49ers did en route to scoring 44 points against Jacksonville in Week 16. On the flip side, New England’s defense — allowing just 14 points per game over its last 13 games and 12.6 points per game over its last six home games — will come up with a big play against Jacksonville’s inconsistent offense. And don’t discredit special teams — New England ranked third and Jacksonville ranked 24th, per Football Outsiders — or that the Jaguars are playing their fourth road game in five weeks, while the Patriots have been sleeping in their own beds for more than a month having last played on the road against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Dec. 17.
The Jaguars statistically match up well against the Patriots’ strengths. While Rob Gronkowski is a threat and likely will get his fair share of receptions and yardage, the Jaguars have allowed the fourth-fewest receiving yards to tight ends this year. As Mike mentioned, the Jaguars are successful at getting to the quarterback without blitzing. This means they can put a man on Gronk. The Patriots also utilize pass-catching running backs. Well, the Jaguars are good at defending them, too, allowing the 10th-fewest receiving yards to running backs. The Patriots’ offensive line isn’t all that great, either. Tom Brady has taken at least two sacks in 12 of his 17 games this season and the Jaguars definitely can get pressure up the middle. Brady has an 85.2 winning percentage since 2008 when he’s sacked zero or one times in a game. That winning percentage falls to 61.9 percent when he’s sacked four or more times. Finally, the Patriots allowed the third-most yards per carry this season and the Jaguars led the league in rushing yards. There’s just too much statistically stacked up against New England in this one, and Jacksonville should be able to cover this large spread.
Thumbnail photo via Greg M. Cooper/USA TODAY Sports Images
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