The New England Patriots won’t see a playoff-clinching win as easy as this, probably ever again. After fumbling away the chance to control the AFC East the rest of the way last week to the Bills, the Patriots are riding a two-game losing streak. Losing to the Colts two weeks ago on primetime, and then getting destroyed by the Bills offense on Boxing Day. The Pats are in desperate need of a return to form. Keeping the seven-game win streak rolling was unlikely, sure. But the losing has to stop here for Mac Jones and company.
Their opponent this week is a, for lack of a better term, pathetic Jacksonville Jaguars team. They’ve undergone one hell of a first year of the Trevor Lawrence experience. Firing head coach Urban Meyer less than a year after hiring him due to some major turbulence in his reign. From borderline physically assaulting his own kicker to belittling his hand-picked coaching staff, the Meyer era probably should’ve been concluded before it began.
New England has no excuses this week. A win shouldn’t elude them as they are fairly healthy on both sides of the ball, and Jacksonville is probably eyeballing a second consecutive first overall selection a whole lot heavier than a meaningless week 17 victory. So without further delay, set it up, Bailey. Let’s get this preview underway.
Three Keys To The Game
Key #1: Find Offensive Identity
These kinds of games are meant for struggling teams like the Patriots to take advantage of. In the last two weeks, the Pats have been forced to move away from their strengths. The Colts and Bills for the most part were able to bottle up the dynamic duo of Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson. Which forced Josh McDaniels to put Mac Jones in some unfavorable situations. The Pats will be without Nelson Agholor this week, so I doubt this is the game they develop the deep ball.
If the Patriots can just re-invent themselves offensively, they should be able to set themselves up for success. The Jaguars probably won’t be putting up too much of a fight after a couple of drives if the game gets out of hand early. So this game is really about getting back into the groove as a offensive unit.
Key #2: Don’t Let Trevor Lawrence Get Hot
Don’t get it twisted, this Jacksonville team is miserable. They’re dead last in scoring offense and 23rd in passing yards and rushing yards. They’re terrible. Trevor Lawrence has thrown just nine touchdowns to 14 INTs in his rookie season. It makes for a pretty awful year for a generational, first overall quarterback from Clemson. I’m willing to give Lawrence a mulligan on the year, I doubt he’ll be this statstically horrid his entire career, but the Patriots have the ability to make this ugly.
If Matt Judon, J.C. Jackson, and Adrian Phillips can continue to wreak havoc like they have all season, the Patriots offense should be on the field for a long majority of this game. Which as I said, is going to be what all Pats fans are going to be watching very closely. Turnover opportunities will be given, rookie mistakes will happen. Take advantage of them. The defense needs to be prepared for everything and anything if the post-season is to be in this team’s future.
Key #3: Don’t Let the Jags Make This A Trap Game
I don’t have to explain further, do I? For no reason should the 9-6 Patriots struggle versus a downright awful and in some cases inept Jaguars team. They’re already looking for new head coaching candidates for pete’s sake. If Bill Belichick loses this game to a rookie quarterback and a interim head coach? They might as well pack up the rest of the season as playoffs won’t be any easier for this squad. The only way New England is losing this game is if they beat themselves. The Jaguars aren’t going to play up to an extreme level.
X-Factor: RB Rhamondre Stevenson
I think we all know what workhorse back Damien Harris is capable of. He’s rushed for 857 yards and 12 touchdowns on the year, on pace to be the Patriots first 1,000 yard rusher since LeGarrette Blount in 2016. Harris is a beast and he’ll be a back no team wants to see in the post-season. But I’m more interested in what rookie rusher Rhamondre Stevenson is capable of.
In ten games, Stevenson has rushed for 468 yards and 3 scores, as well as adding 13 catches for 121 yards through the air. He had a standout game back in week 10 during the 45-7 domination of the cleveland browns, where he rushed for 100 yards on 20 carries and hit the endzone twice. He carried the ball 24 times earlier in the year versus Buffalo as well and posted a modest 74 yards.
In a game where Harris might benefit from taking some carries off, Stevenson has all the room to grow. I’d like to see him get the bulk of the carries versus a struggling Jacksonville team and continue his truly inspiring rookie campaign and give the Patriots a true two headed monster as they march into the post-season.
When asked about his new year’s resolutions, Bill Belichick didn’t hesitate to shut down the reporter’s non-football question and basically give her the death stare of a lifetime. Sure, they’re a personal thing. But I have one suggestion for him as the Patriots just a win away (plus a Raiders/Dolphins loss) from a playoff berth; stop digging yourself into impossible holes.
I wrote extensively about how stupid mistakes have done the Patriots in the past two weeks. From spotting the Colts 20 points two weeks ago, to not forcing Josh Allen and the Bills offense to punt even once last weekend. The Patriots have been playing some undisciplined and sloppy football since returning from the bye week. It’s very anti-Belichick. And beating the hell out of Jacksonville could be just what the doctor ordered for a team with great ambitions and all of the talent to get it done.
If all goes well, the Jacksonville Jaguars don’t stand a chance versus New England. Belichick SHOULD have this team motivated to get back on track after getting embarassed two weeks in a row by two of the AFC’s playoff contenders. It won’t get any easier than this the rest of the way. After this they look forward to a regular season finale trip to South Beach versus a red hot Dolphins team that’s holding onto the last spot in the AFC playoff picture. They do not want to go into that game fighting for their playoff lives if they can avoid it.
Final Score: 33-6, New England (10-6)