Every time Jacksonville makes the playoffs, ESPN gives them the distinction of being "the team nobody wants to face." I guess Peyton Manning's Colts and the 16-0 Patriots are teams people would rather face than the Jags?
Coach of the Year Bill Belichick, and NFL MVP Tom Brady host the 12-5 Jacksonville Jaguars, who edged Pittsburgh in a 31-29 debacle. The Jags are led by their runningback tandem: Maurice Jones-Drew and veteran Fred Taylor. These two combined for 390 carries, and 1,970 yards (5.1 yards per carry).
The Jaguars were 4-3 against playoff teams. Each victory was won through defense and clock controlling rushes. Bill Belichick put it best: "They play well from ahead." They squeeze out a lead, hang on to the ball, don't make many mistakes, grind long drives, tee off on the opposing QB, and come out on top.
When the Jaguars get ahead early, they are 10-0. When they fall behind early, they are 2-5. The biggest deficit they've overcome this year was 6 points. In other words, the nature of this game will be determined in the first quarter.
If the Patriots get out to a 10-0 or 14-3 lead, then the game will be over. Jacksonville simply does not do well playing from behind. David Garrard is a solid mistake-free passer, but he and his receivers aren't good enough to be the centerpiece of a drive.
The Patriots defense is renowned for its ability to take away the best part of an opponent's attack. Although they've been maligned for struggling to stop the run, when all an opponent has is a running game, the Patriots have stifled it, or at least minimized its affects. Jacksonville may be able to mount some long drives with a few first downs, but once they get close to the end zone, I think they will be stopped and forced to try field goals.
The Jaguars defense rushes the passer well, but it's a simple pass rush. Moreover, the Jags have some injuries in their front 7, weakening their ability to put pressure on Brady. Tom will get hit and sacked a few times, but I don't think Jacksonville will be able to pressure him with any consistency. And as we've seen, it only takes the Patriots one play to put up points from anywhere on the field.
I predict that the Patriots will get out to a 14-0 lead, and continue to pile up the points. If the Patriots score 28, they will undoubtedly win, because Jacksonville simply cannot put up that many points against our defense. My prediction: Patriots win 31-13.