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Jacksonville Jaguars vs. New England Patriots Point Spread - Pick

Jacksonville Jaguars (12-6 SU, 11-7 ATS) vs. New England Patriots (14-3 SU, 12-5 ATS)
AFC Championship Game
Date/Time: Sunday, January 21, 2018 at 3:05PM EST
Where: Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Massachusetts
TV: CBS

By Loot, NFL Football Handicapper, Lootmeister.com

Point Spread: JAC +9.5/NE -9.5
Over/Under Total: 46.5

The Jacksonville Jaguars take on the New England Patriots on Sunday in the AFC Championship game. The winner of this game will represent the AFC in Super Bowl LII. New England, the top-seed in the conference, smashed Tennessee, 35-14, last week in the divisional playoff round. They now look for their 8th Super Bowl berth in the Brady/Belichick era. The Jaguars scored the road-upset on Sunday with a huge 45-42 win over the favored Steelers, the conference's second-seed. They have shown some grit in their two playoff wins to get to this spot. This is the franchise's third conference championship game, as they look to get to their first Super Bowl. Let's see what we can come up with in this AFC title game preview.

The Patriots' big win over the Titans on Saturday was a typical of many New England's wins. The grip tightened over the course of the game and before long, the Titans were struggling to keep their noses above water. By the last quarter, it was effectively a wrap. We see all parts of the Patriots' football machine clicking now and doing so on an automatic basis. A defense that looked rocky to start the season is dialed-in now, holding opponents to very little. In the last 13 games, they have allowed over 17 points just twice. And on offense, the balanced approach has been giving opponents fits for the last 3+ months. In addition to the elevated personnel that makes this team great is an extreme amount of championship experience on this team. Simply, they know how to get it done in settings like this. Big playoff games at Foxborough is almost old-hat for this bunch.

Tom Brady was big again on Saturday, with yet another big postseason showing. He threw for 337 yards with three touchdowns against Tennessee. A healthy Rob Gronkowski, something they lacked last postseason, helps make this offense hard to stop. Danny Amendola, who has helped make the loss of Julian Edelman more-tolerable, had 11 catches for 112 yards on Saturday. WR Chris Hogan is working his way back and caught a Brady TD pass, with RB James White hauling in the other Brady TD strike, while also running in a touchdown. The run-game was again productive, as Dion Lewis gained 62 yards on the ground and added another 79 yards receiving on 9 catches. RB Brandon Bolden also scored on the ground. Running backs Rex Burkhead and Mike Gillislee have been useful this season and are listed as questionable for this game. There is room for a lot of guys to thrive with the way this offense is playing.

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The New England defense is pretty strong from a points-allowed standpoint. It's been really hard for opponents to find any offensive continuity lately. The pass-defense has gotten stronger throughout the season. On Saturday, they were all over the field, as Eric Rowe, Malcolm Butler, Devin McCourty, Stephon Gilmore, and Patrick Chung were all making plays. The pass-rush was immense against the Titans, with Geneo Grissom and Deatrich Wise each recording two sacks, with the team having eight of them against Marcus Mariota. Granted, the Tennessee offense is a pretty hit-and-miss unit. Things could get a little tougher this Sunday.

The Patriots' path to the Super Bowl might not be as easy as some think. The hungry Jaguars have shown a certain wherewithal through the regular season and postseason that makes them an interesting X-factor in this matchup. From the beginning of the season, the defense has been special. Mistakes by opponents this season have led to massive point-swings and momentum-shifts in games. They have a special young back in Leonard Fournette. And despite a lot of naysayers and a very dicey game the previous week, QB Blake Bortles showed on Sunday in the win against Pittsburgh that he has what it takes. The Jacksonville offense plays with a wide range of form, as going off for 45 points in Pittsburgh in a playoff game was not expected.

Granted, he didn't play well against Buffalo in the wild card round, but there is no reason to think Blake Bortles can't do this. He has never been in this spot before. After cultivating a grinding win over the Bills, he was able to commandeer a fireworks show against the Steelers. Even with a gimpy ankle, Leonard Fournette was big-time with 109 yards and 3 rushing TDs on Saturday. When Fournette was out of the game, TJ Yeldon did well and ran in a score, while adding 57 receiving yards. Keelan Cole caught a 45-yard pass, but they were able to see an offensive explosion without guys like Cole, Marqise Lee, Allen Hurns, and Dede Westbrook really making their presence felt. This would be a good time to start yielding more out of their receiving corps. But on Sunday, guys like tight ends Ben Koyack and James O'Shaughnessy, along with fullback Tommy Bohanon were key to the Jacksonville win. There are guys on this offense who can sneak up on you.

How well this Jaguars' defense copes with the New England offense is a key aspect of this matchup. They are deep and really hit the ground running this season. Everyone has spelled-out roles. Granted, the body of work isn't that big, but they sure look to be one of best-constructed defenses in recent seasons. They bring stoutness and an acute knack of playmaking-ability to each level of the defense. Difference-makers litter this side of the ball. Up-front, they are fierceā€”a pass-rushing group that has gotten better at the run-stop. DE Yannick Ngakoue's strip-sack led to LB Telvin Smith returning a fumble 50 yards for a score, as he had a tremendous game on Saturday. LB Myles Jack had an interception. Granted, they did give up a lot of points and Ben Roethlisberger had a massive 469 yards, but they made it so the heavily-favored home team never looked the part of a winner in that game.

Sometimes, people are a little slow to come around to the fact that a team has made an about-face. The Jaguars have been mired in a long run of losing seasons. Heading into this season, they were 17-63 over the previous 5 years. Add to that an offense that didn't always fire this season and some bad results toward the end of the season, it's easy to see why a lot of people didn't think the Jaguars would be in this spot. And it's also easy to see why people might think the Jaguars will hit a wall here. After all, there was always something tenuous about the Steelers' success this season. The Pats won't be thrown off-course as easily. Still, people who continue undervaluing the Jaguars at this point could be making a mistake. I'm going to say the Jags make a game of this and hang in there respectably enough to cover the number.

Loot's Prediction to Cover the Point Spread: I'm betting on the Jacksonville Jaguars plus 9.5 points. Tired of your credit card not working for sportsbook deposit? End that problem today and bet on the Jaguars vs. Patriots game from the comfort of home by signing up at Bovada Sportsbook where your credit card WILL work and where you'll receive a generous 50% sign-up bonus!

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