The New England Patriots and Jacksonville Jaguars will square off Sunday afternoon in a rematch of last year’s dramatic AFC Championship Game.
Here’s everything you need to know ahead of that matchup:
Time: 4:25 p.m. ET
Location: TIAA Bank Field, Jacksonville
The Patriots are pegged at 1-point road favorites. They’re 11-1 all-time against the Jaguars, with their lone loss coming in the wild-card round of the 1998 playoffs.
Both teams enter with 1-0 records after the Patriots defeated the Houston Texans 27-20 at home in Week 1 and the Jaguars scored a 20-15 road win over the New York Giants.
Jacksonville is the only AFC team never to beat a Tom Brady-led New England squad.
For Jacksonville’s vaunted defense, not much. The Jaguars return 10 of 11 defensive starters from last year’s team, including all six Pro Bowlers. Rookie Leon Jacobs took over for retired starting linebacker Paul Posluszny, D.J. Hayden replaced Aaron Colvin as the slot corner and third-round draft pick Ronnie Harrison is the new third safety when the Jags go big nickel.
On offense, the Blake Bortles-led Jaguars added wide receiver Donte Moncrief, tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins and All-Pro left guard Andrew Norwell. Wideout Allen Hurns (six catches, 80 yards in the AFC title game) left in free agency, and Marquise Lee (four catches, 41 yards) suffered a season-ending knee injury in the preseason.
Both teams enter this game with big questions at running back. Jacksonville’s Leonard Fournette (hamstring) and New England’s Rex Burkhead (concussion) and Sony Michel (knee) all are listed as questionable, with Fournette telling reporters this week he’ll be a game-time decision.
If Fournettte can’t go, T.J. Yeldon will be Jacksonville’s starting running back. If Burkhead and Michel are unavailable, the Patriots might need to promote a running back from the practice squad to join James White and Kenjon Barner on the depth chart.
Right tackle Marcus Cannon (calf) and cornerback Keion Crossen (hamstring) also are listed as questionable for the Patriots. Tight end Jacob Hollister was removed from the injury report and will play after missing Week 1 with a hamstring injury.
(UPDATE: It sure sounds like Michel will play. Cannon, meanwhile, likely is out, according to a report from The Athletic’s Jeff Howe. The Patriots promoted offensive tackle Cole Croston from the practice squad Saturday to add depth at the position. LaAdrian Waddle, who will start if Cannon can’t go, had been the team’s only backup tackle.)
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Chris Hogan, Patriots wide receiver
Hogan is New England’s No. 1 receiver until Julian Edelman returns from his four-game suspension, but he was quiet in Week 1, catching just one pass on five targets for 11 yards while Phillip Dorsett enjoyed a breakout performance (seven catches on seven targets, 66 yards, one touchdown). Hogan traditionally has struggled when matched up against an opponent’s No. 1 cornerback, which could mean tough sledding for the wideout of the Jaguars opt to have All-Pro Jalen Ramsey follow him around Sunday. Speaking of …
Jalen Ramsey, Jaguars cornerback
In addition to being a world-class trash talker, Ramsey also is one of the NFL’s top cover men. We’re especially interested to see whether he’ll match up at all against Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, whom he called overrated in an ESPN interview this summer. Jags safety Tashaun Gipson suggested that could be the plan.
Dante Fowler, Jaguars defensive end
Fowler, who’s in a contract year after the Jaguars opted not to pick up his fifth-year option, was Jacksonville’s most effective pass rusher against the Patriots in January, providing two of the Jags’ three sacks and three of their seven QB hits. He was suspended for Week 1 but will be back in action this Sunday.
Trent Brown, Patriots left tackle
Brown, who replaced Nate Solder this offseason, did an admirable job against Texans pass rusher Jadeveon Clowney last week, allowing just one total pressure in New England’s season-opening victory. He’ll have his hands full again Sunday against another of the NFL’s elite front sevens. Brown should see some of Fowler and Calais Campbell but likely will spend most of the afternoon matched up against 2017 Pro Bowler Yannick Ngakoue, who had a career-high 12 sacks last season.
BY THE NUMBERS
13 of 17, 141 yards, one touchdown: Brady’s passing stats when targeting Jaguars linebackers Myles Jack and Telvin Smith in coverage in the AFC Championship Game, per Pro Football Focus.
First or second: Jacksonville’s NFL rank in scoring defense, yards allowed, interceptions, sacks, takeaways, defensive touchdowns and defensive DVOA last season.
41 yards: The yardage Bortles gained on his read-option keeper against the Giants. Patriots coach Bill Belichick this week compared Bortles’ mobility to that of Cam Newton and Deshaun Watson.
Thumbnail photo via Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports Images