PATRIOTS PRESENT CHALLENGE FOR JAGS: The Patriots defense has pitched back-to-back home shutouts for the first time in team history. It has not allowed a point at home in 10 quarters and hasn't allowed a touchdown in its last four home games -- a feat that has not been accomplished in 65 years dating back to the 1938 New York Giants. That touchdown-less span includes 52 drives, 20 of which ended in Patriots territory and seven of which ended in the red zone. It has outscored opponents at Gillette Stadium by a 111-55 count this season and is 11-3 at its new home since it opened last season.
The Jaguars have averaged just 14.3 points per game on the road compared with 20.4 per game at home. But forget it all. Statistics should be rendered meaningless in this game since Jacksonville has both outgained New England and allowed fewer yards than the Patriots while sitting a full seven games behind them in the standings.
Perhaps the stat that negates Jacksonville's advantage in offensive and defensive ranking is turnover ratio. The Patriots enter Week 15 with a plus-9 turnover differential compared to Jacksonville's minus-2. The Patriots have intercepted at least one pass in each of their nine straight wins and have 20 on the season -- two more than they had all of last year. Meanwhile, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady has thrown none of his 12 interceptions at home while Byron Leftwich has thrown seven of his 12 picks on the road. The Patriots are 8-0 when recording a positive turnover ratio.
What does it all mean? It means that Jacksonville should have its hands full offensively when it flies to frigid Foxborough trying to pin the first home loss of the season on the Patriots, who have never made it through a season with an undefeated home record.
OLD RIVALS: New England and Jacksonville quickly developed a rivalry after the Jaguars joined the league in 1995. In only their second year of existence, the Jaguars visited Foxboro Stadium in September and nearly pulled off a dramatic win, scoring on one Hail Mary before the half to get on the board before rallying to tie and force overtime, but only after a second Hail Mary was caught just shy of the end zone at the end of regulation. Patriots rookie kicker Adam Vinatieri saved his job that day, the fourth game of his career, when he booted his first career game-winning field goal and hit 5-of-6 to give New England a 28-25 win after missing four of his first seven attempts to start the season.
The teams met again that season in the AFC Championship Game in Foxboro with New England securing a 20-6 win, but only after Willie Clay intercepted Mark Brunell in the end zone with the Patriots clinging to a late 13-6 lead. Otis Smith returned a fumble for a touchdown to close it out and send New England to Super Bowl XXXI. The Patriots also won in Jacksonville in 1997 before the Jags finally got a measure of revenge in the 1998 playoffs, ousting the Patriots with a 25-10 win in a game Drew Bledsoe missed with a broken finger.
EAST VS SOUTH: New England is 3-0 against the AFC South this season, winning 38-34 at Indy, 23-20 in overtime at Houston and 38-30 vs. Tennessee. New England is 62-41-1 (.601) against the teams that make up the AFC South and it is the only division in which New England owns a winning record against each of its member teams. The Patriots are 19-16-1 against the Titans/Oilers, 39-24 against the Colts, 1-0 against Houston and 3-1 vs. the Jags.
FROM THE NOTEBOOK:
- Brady has never played the Jaguars in his four-year career, which might just be a good thing for the Patriots. Brady is 17-7 (.708) when facing an opponent for the first time, including a 4-1 mark this season. His 31-12 (.721) record as a starter is the best among active quarterbacks.
- Since Belichick took over the Patriots, the team has saved its best football for late in the season, posting a 9-4 December record. They are 1-0 so far this year, were 2-2 last year, 4-0 in 2001 and 2-2 in 2000. After Nov. 1, Belichick's Patriots teams are 22-4.
- The Jaguars line coaches both spent three seasons coaching in New England under Pete Carroll from 1997-1999. Offensive line coach Paul Boudreau is a native of Arlington, Mass., and a Boston College graduate while defensive line coach Ray Hamilton was a fixture on the Patriots defensive line from 1973-1981. Hamilton actually began his coaching career in New England (1985-1989) before returning in 1997.
PLAYOFF PICTURE: The Patriots need just one win and one Colts loss to clinch a first-round playoff bye or just two wins in the final three weeks. Three more wins to finish the season would secure home field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs. The Colts host Atlanta and Denver before visiting Houston in the season finale while the Patriots host Jacksonville, visit the Jets and host Buffalo to end the season.
BY THE NUMBERS: 6 -- the number of opponents the Patriots have held to below 30 percent on third down conversions. They are 5-1 in those games and are fifth overall on third down defensively, limiting opponents to a 30.9 percent conversion rate.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "It's a one-game season. It is every week. If you think of it any other way, you're obviously not doing your job well enough because there are plenty of things we all have to learn about Jacksonville since we haven't faced them and we don't know that team very well. So if you're thinking about anything else, you're not putting yourself in position to win." -- Patriots left tackle Matt Light on playing for home field advantage in the playoffs