The New England Patriots and Jacksonville Jaguars are familiar with one another. Back in January, the two faced off in the AFC Championship Game. The Patriots prevailed with a 24-20 victory after outscoring the Jaguars 14-3 in the fourth quarter.
Both teams coming into this game after earning narrow victories in Week 1. New England beat the Houston Texans 27-20 despite being outscored 14-6 in the second half. Meanwhile, Jacksonville went on the road to hand Tom Coughlin’s former team, the New York Giants, a 20-15 loss.
Despite being 41 years old, Tom Brady looked as sharp as ever with three first-half touchdowns. Blake Bortles wasn’t nearly as efficient (18-of-33 for 176 yards, one touchdown, one interception), but he didn’t have to be with another strong performance from the Jacksonville defense.
New England at Jacksonville
Kickoff: Sunday, Sept. 16 at 4:25 p.m. ET
Spread: New England -1
Three Things to Watch
1. Any matchup between Jalen Ramsey and Rob Gronkowski
Back during the summer, Ramsey went on a tear regarding other players around the NFL. Included in that rant were some strong statements about the Patriots' star tight end, who Ramsey called overrated.
Gronkowski responded to those comments during an interview on the NFL Network last week.
Both guys are considered some of the best players at their respective positions in the league, so it’ll be fun to see how they respond on Sunday. They won’t line up across from each other on every snap, but they’ll see each other enough to make things interesting.
2. Who emerges with Jeremy Hill out for the year?
After parting ways with LeGarrette Blount, the Patriots decided to sign Hill, a 2014 second-round pick who played his first four seasons with the Bengals, during the offseason. It had looked like the correct call after Hill had impressed in training camp, but a knee injury ended his 2018 season after only four carries (25 yards).
Rex Burkhead saw the largest increase in workload following that injury, but will that continue to be the case? Rookie first-round pick Sony Michel could end up making his season debut after dealing with a knee injury of his own.
Michel excelled in a rotation during his career at Georgia. In four seasons, he rushed for 3,613 yards and 33 touchdowns while also hauling in 64 receptions for 621 yards and six touchdowns. It’ll be interesting to see how offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels works the 5-foot-11, 215-pound running back into the game plan.
3. Leonard Fournette’s availability
Fournette’s 2018 season was off to a decent start last Sunday. On nine carries, the second-year running back had gained 41 yards (4.6 yards per carry) while adding 14 more on three receptions.
Unfortunately, a hamstring injury forced him to leave the game, and now he’s questionable for Sunday’s matchup as a result. Not having him in the lineup could be a major blow to Jacksonville’s offense.
Two other former SEC running backs, T.J. Yeldon (Alabama) and Corey Grant (Auburn), have both shown flashes. The issue is that they combined for only 54 yards on 15 carries (3.6 ypc) against the Giants.
As good as the defense should be, it’s hard to see the Jaguars’ offense having much success against the Patriots without Leonard Fournette. Sure, he only had 76 yards on 24 carries (3.2 ypc) during the AFC Championship Game, but having that sort of threat in the backfield takes a lot of pressure off of Blake Bortles.
It wouldn’t be a surprise to see both defenses force the opposing team’s offense into a mistake that allowed for easy points. Otherwise, this could be a relatively low-scoring affair.
At the end of the day, the Jaguars aren’t ready to threaten the Patriots without their star running back on the field.
Prediction: Patriots 24, Jaguars 14
— Written by Clint Lamb, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @ClintRLamb.