Why AFC Title Game Should Play Big Role In Patriots’ Prep For Jaguars

FOXBORO, Mass. — It’s not often two opponents meet again this soon after a postseason showdown. It’s also not often a team has as much continuity on defense as the Jacksonville Jaguars.

So, while the Jaguars may want to erase last season’s AFC Championship Game from their memories, New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick and his staff are watching plenty of tape from that January 2018 game to prepare for Sunday’s rematch in Jacksonville.

“Last time we played them, it was only a couple games ago, not counting the preseason games,” Belichick said Wednesday during a press conference. “So, it’s a pretty recent game. I think there’s some relevance.”

Making that game film more relevant is that 10 of the Jaguars’ 11 defensive starters from their 24-20 loss will be back on the field Sunday. Linebacker Paul Posluszny and cornerback Aaron Colvin are gone, with outside linebacker Leon Jacobs and slot cornerback D.J. Hayden replacing them on the depth chart.

Other than that, Belichick and Co. expect to see the same dominant defense that boasted six Pro Bowlers last season — as well as many of the same schemes it employed.

“They do the things that they do,” Belichick said. “They led the league in almost every category last year, so I wouldn’t imagine they’d be looking to make a lot of dramatic changes.”

Jacksonville’s offense remains relatively intact, too: There’s one new offensive lineman (guard Andrew Norwell), a new wide receiver (Donte Moncrief) and tight end (Austin Seferian-Jenkins), but the same core group, pending Leonard Fournette’s availability for Sunday.

“Well, they’ve only played one game,” Belichick said. “A couple new receivers, a couple new players on offense. Most of the defense is back. Hayden replaced Colvin. Not a lot to see. It’s only been five games, four preseason games.”

Of course, the stakes will be much lower in this highly anticipated rematch, and Belichick cautioned placing too much stock in a late-January game while prepping for the second game of the season.

“Teams are at two different points at that point,” Belichick added. “Teams have had a long time together, played a lot of games, and there’s a certain level of execution that I’d say at this point in the season, nobody’s at that point of execution that you’re at in January. So, we’ll see how it goes.”

Still, expect Belichick and the coaching staff to extract as many lessons as they can from that January thriller to use Sunday afternoon at TIAA Bank Field.

Thumbnail photo via David Butler II/USA TODAY Sports Images

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