The Jacksonville Jaguars were close to beating the New England Patriots in last year’s AFC title game, and they’ll get a chance at redemption in Week 2.
For three quarters of last year’s AFC Championship Game, the Jacksonville Jaguars were the better team and they took a 20-10 early in the fourth quarter. But Tom Brady engineered a comeback, with two touchdown passes in the final nine minutes, and the New England Patriots went on to Super Bowl LII in Minneapolis.
Blake Bortles was not the reason Jacksonville fell short in the AFC title game, as he had more passing yards than Brady (293 to 290) and did not turn the ball over. So he should carry some confidence into this Week 2 rematch in Jacksonville, for what it’s worth with lower stakes.
But the Jaguars clearly established their winning formula last year, as Bortles attempted just over 100 fewer passes during the regular season. To that end, running back Leonard Fournette left last week’s game with a hamstring injury and after not practicing for a second straight day Thursday he declared himself a game time decision for Sunday’s 4:25 ET kickoff.
T.J. Yeldon filled in solidly for Fournette against the Giants last week, with 14 carries for 51 yards, three catches for 18 yards (on seven targets) and a receiving touchdown. Fournette is sure to be limited if he is even active, so Corey Grant (three receptions of 59 yards against the Patriots in the AFC title game) should also see some touches.
New England also has a backfield in a bit of flux, with Jeremy Hill (torn ACL) out and Rex Burkhead suddenly placed in concussion protocol on Wednesday. But rookie Sony Michel (knee) is in line to play on Sunday, and his return will be welcome based on his upside alone.
Jaguars cornerback Jalen Ramsey tried to stoke the trash talk fire by calling Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski overrated last month, in anticipation of this Week 2 rematch. Gronkowski had just one catch for 21 yards in last year’s AFC title game, before leaving the game late in the first half with a concussion after helmet-to-helmet hit from Jaguars safety Barry Church. The Ramsey vs. “Gronk” individual matchup, whenever it occurs, will be well worth watching on Sunday.
Whereas the conference title game was in Foxboro last January, the Jaguars will have home field advantage on Sunday. While that may not ultimately be worth all that much against the Patriots, Brady’s poor track record playing in Miami could very well travel to northern Florida against one of the best defenses in the league. Jacksonville’s defense also has redemption on its mind, after ceding the fourth quarter comeback on the precipice of pulling an upset and reaching the Super Bowl.
If Bortles can hold up his end of the bargain, with or without Fournette on the field, the Jaguars will absolutely have a good chance to win on Sunday. But that’s the ultimate and biggest question mark in Sunday’s game, and with Brady on the other side New England has the advantage at the most important position on the field.