Well, folks, I’m sure everyone is shocked by the Pats’ blowout win against Tennessee; looks like we’re one step closer to another Lombardi. Okay, so maybe it wasn’t as strong of a start as we would’ve liked, but the Pats are a ‘second-half-team.’ We know these truths to be self-evident… We also know that most NFL fans nationwide, were eager to see Pittsburgh steal a win from the Pats next week– but the Jags proved to be a stealthy and formidable opponent for the Steelers. Some of Pats Nation would prefer to face Bortles over Roethlisberger for the AFC Championship game– but Jacksonville’s explosive performance tonight definitely changed a few of those opinions. We’ve gone up against Pittsburgh before and the Patriots coaching staff must have a real grasp on the Steelers’ playbook by now. Whereas, the Patriots find a relatively unpredictable opponent in the Jaguars. As a seasoned New England fan, I’ve learned to never underestimate the level of preparedness that the Patriots maintain in stressful matchups. Never the less, I believe the Jaguars are an intimidating opponent for the AFC Championship.

The Steelers v. Jacksonville game was not entirely a walk in the park for the Jags, let’s not forget that they let up 42-points to Pittsburgh. Yet, Pats fans watched with jaws agape tonight as Leonard Fournette connected flawlessly with Bortles for three touchdowns– racking up a whopping 25 carries and 109 yards. Yeldon looked pretty good too, as he topped a 79-yard drive with a 4-yard run. The strengths of the Jacksonville offense rests in guys like; Fournette, Yeldon, and Keelan Cole– who keep the passing game strong by their ability to become open in precarious situations. The Jaguars offense is well-trained against strong defenses. It’s possible that Jacksonville’s most daunting offensive opponent is their own defense, which they face daily in practice. The Jaguars have the second-best defense in the league, and it’s clear that the Patriots’ offensive line will face a sizable challenge next week. Rest assured that Matty P is committed to expecting the unexpected, and I’m sure we will see the Patriots defense pull out their best tricks next Sunday.

The Patriots are ultimately a more flexible team, with Tom Brady’s ability to think on his feet and call upon the unique skills of each offensive player as they become open. In recent games, Cooks has struggled to connect with Brady in the same consistent fashion that we are used too. Next Sunday’s matchup of Cooks and Ramsey, Jacksonville’s star shut down Corner, will be interesting to watch. The success of Brady’s long-passing game will also rest in Gronk’s ( very large ) hands. It’s important that Gronk does what he is best at– pull off game-changing catches with two or three guys covering him. We saw Jacksonville’s, Myles Jack, intercept the ball at the 18-yard line– allowing Fournette to complete a touchdown on the following play. It’s evident that Gronk is the guy to thwart threats of defensive players like Jack, next week. However, Gronk had a bit of trouble consistently connecting with Brady during their matchup against Tennessee. Yet, I’ve learned to never sleep on Gronk’s ability to complete a catch in high-pressure situations. Belichick once said that Gronk is always open, and has an incredible ability to catch a ball far away from his body. So, as long as Gronk is playing like his quintessentially dependable self, the Pats offense will be in good shape.

The Patriots offensive success next week doesn’t entirely fall on Cook and Gronk’s shoulders, thanks to Hogan and Amendola’s ability to become open and make crucial mid-field connections with Brady. Nobody can truly replace a guy like Edelman, but Dola had a kick-ass game this week, with over 100 receiving yards. There is always a certain ‘X-Factor’ to take into consideration as players return from injuries, and Rex Burkhead may become a secret weapon for the Jags to contend with. Rumors circulated that Burkhead would return for the Tennessee matchup this week, but he did not play. Let’s face it, the Pats are a cunning team, wouldn’t it be shrewd to bring Burkhead back when he is really needed? There is far less footage of Burkhead for the Jags to study than there is for Dola and Hogan. It’s evident that Rex is a multi-talented running back, but he’s still a bit of a mystery as he hasn’t been on center stage for as long as guys like; Lewis, Dola, and Hogan. If Burkhead does return next week, he may be a mysterious opponent for Jacksonville to contend with. As opposed to Lewis, who will be covered very closely by the Jags’ defense. It’s necessary that the Patriots unleash a wide variety of unexpected routes by versatile players, in order to come out on top.

New England’s ability to rack up first-quarter points against the Jags will be pivotal for a win next week. The momentum of Matt Patricia’s defense will need to soar to an all-time high if we want to disconnect Bortles from his star offensive players, most notably– Fournette. Brady’s offensive lineman will need to be as steadfast as ever, in order for Brady to stay safely in the pocket. We pray to the football gods that TB12 stays securely on his feet against the ‘Sacksonville’ Jaguars. The Patriots have an elite awareness of the fluctuating circumstances on the field and have a varied arsenal of players with unique talents to call upon as those conditions shift. I have faith in the Patriots’ remarkable ability to maintain composure and stamina in the depths of competition, and I truly believe they can come out with a W next week.

Casey Grace Murtagh