PREDICTION: Patriots 27-23
KEYS TO THE GAME: This is a difficult matchup for the Jaguars. Offensively, they need RB Maurice Jones-Drew to set the table for QB David Garrard to work off play-action. But while the Patriots are ranked ninth against the pass, it has been breakdowns in the secondary - and not the run defense - that has marked most of their defeats. Defensively, Jacksonville has mustered a league-low 14 sacks. Combined with disappointing play from DB Reggie Nelson and the Jaguars are allowing 244.4 passing yards per game as they prepare for the Patriots' spread passing attack.
FAST FACTS: The Jaguars are 0-5 all-time in Foxborough. ... The Patriots are 18-2 at home in December under coach Bill Belichick.
--WR Torry Holt could play a big role against the Patriots. He's a clutch player who is known for making clutch catches in games of this magnitude.
--LB Daryl Smith is likely to get some pass rushing duties Sunday as the Jaguars devise ways to put heat on Patriots QB Tom Brady.
--RB Maurice Jones-Drew will probably return some kickoffs in addition to his running back duties.
--CB Derek Cox, a rookie, will get a big assignment this week when he takes on Randy Moss.
--DT Terrance Knighton, who grew up in Connecticut a Patriots fan, will play a key role in trying to stop the New England running game and may drop in pass coverage on occasion.
--The Patriots signed OL Dan Connolly to a two-year contract extension this week. The versatile veteran will make $600,000 next year and $725,000 in 2011.
--LB Tully Banta-Cain missed practice Thursday, but his absence was not injury-related. Barring anything major, Banta-Cain should be in the lineup Sunday.
--RB Fred Taylor has participated in practice this week and has not missed any time, so this could be the week he returns to the lineup for the first time since the Denver game in October.
--WR Sam Aiken is still limited in practice due to a shoulder injury. He struggled last weekend and might be a game-time decision if his injury is affecting his performance.
--QB Tom Brady did not practice Thursday due to nagging rib and finger injuries, though he is expected to be the starter Sunday against Jacksonville. Brady's absence is more or less precautionary.
Quarterback David Garrard will get his chance Sunday to rebound from a 35-31 loss to Peyton Manning and the Colts last Thursday night.
But it doesn't get any easier because he'll take on Tom Brady and the New England Patriots.
The last time Garrard took on the Patriots was in the 2007 playoffs when the Patriots won 31-20 but Garrard wasn't helped by his receivers. Both Matt Jones and Dennis Northcutt dropped would-be touchdown passes.
The Jaguars have lost two consecutive games -- to the Dolphins and Colts -- by four points and Garrard had five chances for game-winning drives in the fourth quarter in the last two games. He didn't score a point on those drives.
Still, he hasn't lost the confidence of coach Jack Del Rio, who gave a spirited defense of him this week.
"It's amazing to me," he said. "When Fred (Taylor) was here, there were always questions about Fred. All I ever stood up and said (was), 'This guy is a stud. Why are you always asking me questions?' With a guy like David, this guy has been a very tough football player for us and he's stood in the face of some rush and delivered for this football team. David has done some really good things for this football team. Last week, one of the zero blitzes that hit him right in the mouth, he delivers for a touchdown to Mike Thomas. That was a great play. It wasn't a good play. It was a great play.
"So I think sometimes those things are, 'Yeah, yeah, that was good, but what about ...?' And they want to talk about something negative. I just think: appreciate the good part, we're working on the part that isn't as good as we need and the fact he's been tough and durable, the guy's got a big strong arm, he's made some plays for us. We'll find out if we can make a few more here down the stretch to give ourselves a chance."
If Garrard can win in New England and beat Brady -- the Jags have yet to do either -- he can validate Del Rio's confidence in him.
It has been an interesting week for Patriots' running back Fred Taylor. He is not only trying to make it back onto the field for the first time since October but is also trying to diffuse some minor controversy sparked by his possible return Sunday against his former team.
The 33-year-old veteran spent the first 11 years of his career in Jacksonville -- this week's opponent -- until the Jaguars cut him in February, citing his salary figure and their desire to get younger.
While in Jacksonville, Taylor became just the 21st player in NFL history to reach 10,000 yards in his career, but he also battled allegations that he was injury prone -- the result of playing 16 games just twice in those 11 years with the Jaguars.
Taylor was in hot water earlier this week after suggesting the Jaguars -- coached by Jack Del Rio -- weren't as prepared as the Patriots. He spent the next few days cleaning up the mess, all while trying to work himself back into the lineup for Sunday.
"He's done an outstanding job," Taylor said of Del Rio. "He's still a young coach and will get better. He's shown glimpses of being a very good coach. I would never take a shot at him. Why would I? My No. 1 thing is you never burn bridges.
"I plan on being around football for the rest of my life. Why would I burn bridges? I don't know if I run into that guy some day, or vice versa. So I would never say that, even if I felt that way, why would I? Business first. It's a business first."
Asked if he'd play this weekend, Taylor let his guard down a bit and took a more humorous approach.
"Can't ask that type of question. I control this interview; you can't ask that type of question," he said. "What you have to do now is grab one of those Staples 'Easy Buttons' and you need to press that 'Easy Button.' Take it easy. I'm questionable, 50-50 chance."
Whether he's on the field or not this weekend, Taylor plans on making an impact at some point for the Patriots.
"Unfortunately I hit a pretty big hurdle and I didn't expect it, but throughout my career I've learned how to deal with this like nothing," Taylor said. "I'm just trying to stay positive, trying not to be frustrated by it all. I'm still full-speed ahead. My goals are still in place. (I) definitely would love to play as long as I can -- try and win a championship as well as catch Jim Brown.
"Like I said, I respect him to the fullest. In regards to what people have said about my career, I think that's a great accomplishment. So I'd like to continue playing. I don't know what the future holds. Everything is in God's hands but I'm going to stay positive, keep grinding it out, like I always have and see what happens."