On Sunday afternoon the New England Patriots (10-4) will travel south to take on the Jacksonville Jaguars (2-12). Coming off of their two toughest games of the season, the Patriots are ending their season against two considerably weaker teams.
The Jaguars this season have been one of the worst teams in the NFL. On both sides of the ball the Jaguars rank second to last in the league. This should be a game where the Patriots take a big early lead and are able to rest some of the key players throughout most of the second half. This game comes at a good time for the Patriots who have suffered some key injuries late in the season and cannot afford to lose any more.
While the Patriots defense won’t have their strongest possible team on the field, it’s not as bad as the Jaguars offense. Starting quarterback Blaine Gabbert was recently placed on injured reserve making his backup, Chad Henne, starting quarterback on Sunday. They are also on their fourth starting running back Montell Owens, as they desperately miss their one star offensive weapon Maurice Jones-Drew. The two main targets for Henne Sunday will be Cecil Shorts who leads the team with 925 yards and rookie Justin Blackmon who leads the team with 51 receptions. It should be a field day for Patriots defensive ends Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich as the Jaguars have allowed 42 sacks this year. The only offensive lineman who could stop Jones or Ninkovich is left tackle Eugene Monroe but the other side should be relatively free.
This should be a pretty easy task for the Patriots defense to stop the Jaguars and it’s a good week for it. While the Patriots defensive line and linebackers have been solid all year and stayed considerably healthy, the defensive secondary hasn’t. But with rookie Alfonzo Dennard and safety Steve Gregory regaining health and the acquisition of cornerback Aqib Talib, the Patriots secondary has played at a higher level recently. Unfortunately Dennard was injured in Sunday night’s loss to the San Francisco 49ers which could create problems. The Patriots have been best this year with Dennard and Talib as the outside corners with Kyle Arrington in the slot and Gregory and Devin McCourty at safety. The Patriots will now have to make a change. Either they can move Arrington back outside where he struggled earlier this year or they can move McCourty back to his original position of cornerback and start rookie Tavon Wilson or Patrick Chung at safety. Both Wilson and Chung have been limited this year which makes that choice a risk.
Like the offense, the Jaguars defense has been the second worst in the league this season giving up 394.1 yards and 27.4 points per game. While the passing defense hasn’t been the worst in the league this year, the rushing defense has giving up an astounding 148 yards per game on the ground. The Jaguars did recently pick up veteran defensive end Jason Babin who has been their best defensive linemen joining Jeremy Mincey and John Chick. The Jaguars secondary features rookie Mike Harris who is starting instead of veteran cornerback Rashean Mathis. Mathis will, however, play nickel and sometimes outside with Harris in the slot.
It should be a pretty easy day for the Patriots offense who will continue without star tight end Rob Gronkowski who continues to recover from a broken forearm. The Patriots do have to win the game as they only lead the Baltimore Ravens by one game for the third seed and the Ravens have the tiebreaker having beaten the Patriots earlier this year. But likely stars such as Tom Brady, Wes Welker, Stevan Ridley, and Aaron Hernandez won’t play the entire game as the lead should be large enough to preserve their health.
The Patriots currently sit in the third seed of the AFC with a game lead over the Ravens and Indianapolis Colts and two games to go. The Jaguars are one of the worst teams in the league this year which should make Sunday’s game easy work for the AFC East champions. This game comes at a good time for the Patriots, as they will be able to experiment on defense and rest key starters on offense as they stroll to their 11th win of the season.