The Patriots and the Jaguars are set to battle this Sunday in Foxborough, the first meeting between the two teams since 2012. A lot has changed over the three years, but the Jaguars are still in rebuilding mode while the Patriots remain perennial contenders, so as much as things may have changed, where the teams stand is still the same. Jacksonville does have some young talent and they're coming off a huge win over the Dolphins, but coming to Foxborough and earning a win is the toughest task in football. Let's take a look at the matchups and see who has the advantage on Sunday.
When the Patriots Run: We might finally get to see LeGarrette Blount as a big part of the game plan. Blount was suspended for Week One and he just wasn't the right back to attack the Bills with, but Jacksonville is a different story. In 2014, the Jags were 27th against run, allowing over 2,000 yards and 15 touchdowns on the season. New England is always trying to maintain balance in their offense, and even though they threw the ball almost 60 times last week, it won't have any effect on the Jackonville gameplan. The Dolphins ran for 123 yards last week in their loss to Jacksonville, so expect the Patriots to study what the Dolphins did and use it to their advantage. Dion Lewis should have between 7-12 carries and expect the see New England run the ball at least 25 times.
When the Patriots Pass: It doesn't really matter who the Patriots are playing, they're going to be able to throw the ball successfully. The Jags have allowed 502 yards through the air over the first two games versus the Panthers and the Dolphins. Jacksonville was 22nd against the pass in 2014 and they are on the same pace this season, so although they aren't terrible, they aren't good either. The Jags should be double teaming Gronkowski, but even double teams don't seem to slow him down nowadays, and doubling any Patriots weapon is basically a "pick your poison" situation. Double Gronk? Ok, get ready for a steady dose of Edelman, Amendola, Dion Lewis, and Scott Chandler. The Patriots offensive line is doing a good job even after the major changes and injuries on the inside, and they're going to improve every week. Throw in the fact that New England is at home and there is a good chance Tom Brady has another 300 yard, three touchdown performance.
When the Jaguars Run: The Jaguars are giving the bulk of the carries to rookie T.J. Yeldon, who's rushed for 121 yards on 37 carries, just 3.3 yards per rush. Denard Robinson is the most dynamic back on the roster, but he hasn't been used a lot in the first two games. Yeldon is the type of back the Patriots can contain, but if Robinson is the type of quick, shifty back that New England has trouble with. Because Jacksonville has a young quarterback, it should allow the Patriots to use more defenders to stop the run and force the Jags to beat them through the air. The Jaguars are going to be fired up to prove that they can play with New England, and establishing the run would go a long way to help them defeat the Patriots, so I fully expect to see Patrick Chung coming up to help against the run.
When the Jaguars Pass: If you go by the 2014 stats and rankings, Jacksonville would appear to be in major trouble Sunday. They finished 31st, with just over 3,000 yards and only 15 touchdown passes to go along with 18 interceptions. Granted, Blake Bortles was a rookie and he SHOULD so growth in 2015, but that isn't a guarantee. He's thrown for 442 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions over his first two games against the Panthers and the Dolphins. Wide receiver Allen Robinsonhas proven to be a legitimate threat for the Jaguars passing game. Tight end Julius Thomas is out for at least a month, a big hit for an offense that needs as many healthy weapons as possible. Bortles is a handful to take down, so if the Patriots are going to get sacks, they better tackle well.
Special Teams: The advantage typically goes to the Patriots, and Week Three is no different. Ryan Allen and Stephen Gostkowski always give the Patriots an advantage in the kicking, especially since Jacksonville traded Josh Scobee to the Steelers. Punter Bryan Anger is one of the better punters in the league, so that is one bright spot for the Jags kicking unit. The Jaguars coverage units struggled a bit in yards allowed, but they don't give up touchdown returns. The Patriots coverage units have been excellent for the last few seasons due to the focus they put on the special teams and the personnel they dedicate to the area.
Coaching Matchup: Bill Belichick vs. Gus Bradley...not the hardest choice on who has the edge, but Bradley is no slouch and his team plays hard for him. As with most coahces, it comes down to Jimmy's and Joe's, not X's and O's, so Belichick not only has the experience and coaching ability edge, he also has the edge as far as roster talent. With Tom Brady playing like he's intent on destroying the league and the Patriots pass rush looking dominant, it is most likely going to be a long day for Bradley and the Jags coaching staff.
Prediction: Patriots 38, Jaguars 17
Tom Brady will have another huge game and the young Jaguars will be overwhelmed in Foxboro by the more talented team, plain and simple. Jacksonville is going to be good eventually, but they just aren't ready to compete with the best team in football, especially when they're on the road.
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