By Matthew Geagan, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — The Patriots are once again in the AFC Championship Game, and once again find themselves healthy favorites.
But that doesn’t mean things are going to be easy against the Jacksonville Jaguars, who bring a powerful defense to Gillette Stadium with a trip to Super Bowl LII on the line. The New England offense is a juggernaut with Tom Brady slinging the football to the likes of Rob Gronkowski, Danny “Playoff” Amendola and Dion Lewis, but as the QB said earlier this week, this is going to be the Patriots’ biggest challenge all season. Apologies to any Jags players who may find that to be insulting.
The Jags finished the year 10-6, an impressive turnaround following a 3-13 finish in 2016, and did so because of their collection of dynamic talent on defense. They bring one of the league’s best defenses to Foxboro, which has forced four turnovers already this postseason. The Jaguars scored seven defensive touchdowns during the regular season, most in the NFL, and had another last weekend in Pittsburgh.
Here are a handful of defenders Brady and company will have to worry about, along with the most important duo on the Jags’ offense, come Sunday afternoon in Foxboro:
The 6-foot-1, 225-pound Jack is ridiculously fast and can get off blocks quickly, so containing Jacksonville’s strong-side linebacker will be a big problem for the New England offensive line.
Jack was the Jags’ second-leading tackler during the regular season with 90, and he’s racked up 12 more during the playoffs. He’s got a nose for the ball, and showed of some stellar pass-catching skills and fancy footwork on a first-quarter interception against Ben Roethlisberger last weekend.
The way to beat Brady is to apply the pressure and make him feel uncomfortable. The 6-foot-8, 300-pound behemoth can do that.
Coming off the right end, Campbell finished with the second-most sacks in the NFL during the regular season with 14.5 (three behind old friend Chandler Jones in Arizona). Though it’s been five weeks since he’s gotten to the quarterback, the Jags wouldn’t be known as “Sacksonville” without Campbell.
Ngakoue will be coming from Brady’s blindside on Sunday, which will make Nate Solder’s life difficult. He caused the fumble that Telvin Smith returned for a touchdown Sunday in Pittsburgh, and had an NFL-leading six forced fumbles during the regular season.
What’s really scary about Ngakoue is that eight of the 20 sacks he has in his career have been strip sacks. He had four multi-sack games during the regular season (though two were against the Colts and Browns, teams with turnstile offensive lines) and finished the year with 12 sacks.
A man of bold predictions and a knack for swatting the football, Brady is going to have to really thread the needle against this second-year corner. And he’s just one of Jacksonville’s two lock-down corners.
On the other side of Ramsey is Bouye, whom the Patriots are familiar with after seeing him in their Divisional Round win over the Texans last season. In that game, the corner had an interception and stripped Dion Lewis (New England was able to recover the ball, so no damage on that one).
Bouye finished his first season in Jacksonville with six interceptions and a team-high 18 passes defended.
The running back had a phenomenal rookie season, which has carried over into the playoffs. He absolutely torched the Steelers last weekend with 109 rushing yards and three touchdowns.
Fournette is the force that makes the Jags’ offense go, and is going against a New England run defense that has been iffy at times during the season. But they held Derrick Henry to just 28 yards in the Divisional Round, and if they can keep Fournette from breaking free, the Jags will have to rely on an extremely unreliable quarterback.
The scouting report on Bortles is that he isn’t very good. While he’s had a pretty decent season, that scouting report is accurate.
You’ll notice the absence of a wide receiver on this list, and that’s because no Jags pass-catcher jumps off the page. Bortles does a good job spreading it out, at least when he isn’t throwing the ball to the other team.
But as long as he doesn’t turn the ball over and Fournette can set up the play-action, the Jaguars will have a chance at another upset on Sunday.
You can catch Sunday’s Patriots-Jaguars AFC Championship Game on WBZ-TV — the flagship station of the New England Patriots. Pregame coverage begins at 11:30 a.m. with a special 90-minute edition of Patriots GameDay, kickoff is set for 3:05 p.m., and after the game tune in to myTV38 for all the reaction and analysis on Patriots 5th Quarter.