The Spread and Total
Jacksonville Jaguars at New England Patriots (-9, 46.5 O/U), odds courtesy of Bovada. [Read full Bovada sportsbook review.]
The line opened at 9.5 at some books, and is now as low as 8.5 at a few, including SportsInteraction. [Read full SportsInteraction sportsbook review.] New to NFL betting? Not sure what those numbers mean? Learn all the basics of NFL betting in our beginner’s guide.
Jacksonville Jaguars: 12-6 (10-8 ATS) including playoffs; 1st AFC South
New England Patriots: 14-3 (12-5 ATS) including playoffs; 1st AFC East
RB Leonard Fournette (ankle), questionable; DE Dante Fowler (shoulder), questionable; S Tashaun Gipson (foot), questionable.
New England Patriots:
DT Alan Branch (knee), questionable; T LaAdrian Waddle (knee), questionable; RB Rex Burkhead (knee), probable; QB Tom Brady (hand), do you even have to ask?
- Sept. 27, 2015 (Gillette Stadium, Foxborough): New England 51, Jacksonville 17
- Dec. 23, 2012 (EverBank Field, Jacksonville): New England 23, Jacksonville 16
These teams have met four times in the postseason, with the Patriots holding a 3-1 edge. In fact, the Pats are 10-1 all-time against the Jags.
Significant ATS Trends
- New England has covered in 10 of its last 11 games.
- Jacksonville is 8-4 in its last 12 games as a road underdog.
- New England has covered in its last five home playoff games.
- Jacksonville has covered in 9 of its last 11 road games against AFC teams.
- The Patriots began the year going 0-4 ATS as a favorite of eight or more points. Since then, they’re 4-1.
- The total has gone UNDER in 9 of the last 13 Patriots games.
- The total has gone OVER in 6 of the last 7 Patriots playoff games.
- The total has gone UNDER in five of the last six AFC Championship Games.
Imagine if, before the season, you were told that the Patriots’ path back to the Super Bowl required them to beat the Tennessee Titans and the Jacksonville Jaguars. Is there a single penny you wouldn’t have put on them to win the AFC? Now that New England has easily dispatched of the Titans (35-14) only the Blake Bortles-led Jaguars stand in their way. So if you somehow did receive advanced notice about the Patriots’ 2018 playoff opponents and made a sizable wager on them, buddy with the clairvoyant friends, it’s time to hedge, because this Jacksonville team is scary!
It’d be easy to scoff at that notion before the playoffs, or even during Jacksonville’s uninspiring Wild Card win over Buffalo. But they say people fear the unknown, and after the Jags went into Pittsburgh and dominated a 45-42 shootout, nobody knows what they’ll do for an encore.
New England is still obviously favored in this matchup, as they should be. This is their seventh straight appearance in the AFC title game. While they’ve gone 3-3 in those previous six appearances, two of those losses came on the road. But Jacksonville has the type of defense that’s dished out the most memorable defeats of Tom Brady’s career. Like the 2015 Broncos, or Super Bowl foils the New York Giants, the Jaguars are capable of bringing consistent pressure with just a four-man rush.
Jacksonville ranked second in adjusted sack rate this season, with defensive lineman accounting for 46 sacks on the year. Constant hits will throw any quarterback off his game, and when that quarterback is 40 years old, no matter how legendary he is, you’ve got a real shot at generating turnovers. The Jaguars had the second-most takeaways this year (33), but the Patriots were once again near the bottom of the league in giveaways with just 12.
On Saturday, New England did an excellent job in pass protection against a Tennessee defense that ranked top five in sacks this season. Brady stayed upright all night, and had enough time to listen to an entire Pink Floyd song on third downs. Similar blocking will go a long way in helping the Patriots to victory, but even then, their receivers will have trouble getting open against the Jaguars’ top-rated secondary.
Jalen Ramsey was the no. 2-rated corner by Pro Football Focus, while A.J. Bouye allowed his first touchdown of the season last week (on a beauty play that few outside Antonio Brown could make). Along with safeties Barry Church and Tashaun Gipson, and a speedy linebacking corps, there’s only one really nice mismatch the Pats have in the pass game.
Whoever draws the coverage matchup with Rob Gronkowski could very well decide this game. Having a healthy Gronk in the playoffs is a bit of a luxury for the Patriots. He missed their postseason runs in 2012, 2013, and last year, and he was hobbled in a couple others. But after a season where he was underutilized and finished with (a less-than-coincidental?) 69 catches, he should be fresh and ready for plenty of targets from Brady. Whether the Jags use Ramsey to blanket him or ask Myles Jack to try to keep pace remains to be seen.
The Patriots are also in a good position to take advantage of this defense’s weakness against the run. New England finished third in rushing efficiency, and with Rex Burkhead likely back, they add another weapon to a stocked backfield. As we saw in the Pittsburgh game, the quick-swarming Jags don’t allow any runs to the outsides, but can be gashed up the middle. New England had their most success this season running to the left behind Nate Solder and Joe Thuney, but shifty Dion Lewis will need to bounce more runs inside to have success on Sunday.
For the matchup of Jacksonville’s offense and New England’s defense, I’ll refer to my earlier point: who knows? Perhaps Bortles — whose contract status was uncertain heading into this postseason — is on a 2012 Joe Flacco-esque run in search of getting paid. (That didn’t stop the jokes about Flacco, but our jabs will never take away his ring.) Granted, Bortles isn’t close to setting any postseason passing records, but he’s been strong in play-action and converted key third downs. Can he continue to not give games away? One more game without an interception would match a career-high streak of three pick-less performances set earlier this season.
Though the Jaguars surprised the Steelers by going pass-heavy early, catching Pittsburgh completely off guard, they will look to their ground game to win this one. That could be tougher sledding than you think. After looking completely lost to start the year, New England’s defense has had a resurgence in the second half. They rank 22nd in weighted DVOA, and have only allowed two opponents to score over 20 points since Week 5 (both times on the road). Their eight-sack performance last week was partly a result of the Titans being injured and trying to dig out of an early hole, but it also showed that there are some players in this front seven, especially after adding James Harrison. If Bill Belichick’s going to scheme to take away Leonard Fournette, he has enough talent up front to make that happen.
Which cliche do you buy into more: “defense wins championships” or “it’s a quarterback-driven league?” The better defenses came out of the Divisional Round. (Although some required more luck than others.) But no matter which side you fall on, there’s only one choice … the Jaguars!
Jacksonville has a talented enough team across the board to hang with the Pats. (I haven’t even mentioned how their offensive line held the league-leading Steeler pass rush to zero sacks.) This should be a close game throughout, and if New England does pull out to a big lead, then believe in the old Bortles, the one who was king of garbage time!
As for the total, both these teams will be trying to run the ball and a constantly running clock favors the UNDER.
Pick: Jaguars and UNDER (46.5).