AFC Championship preview


Mark Labak

Patriots fever is running high around HBHS, Scott VanCoughnett even peruses the internet looking at scores and highlights during class. VanCoughnett is thrilled for championship weekend, saying he “absolutely” will be watching the games.

Mark Labak, Assistant Sports Editor

Sunday, January 21st

AFC Championship

3:05 PM EST, Jacksonville Jaguars at New England Patriots

Jacksonville boasts the best defense in the NFL, and they’ll go head to head with the best offense in the NFL, the New England Patriots, on Sunday. Blake Bortles and Leonard Fournette will surely look to do their thing against the likes of Stephon Gilmore, a struggling Malcolm Butler, and a lackluster run defense, but the matchup everyone’s waiting to see is the Pats offense vs. the Jags defense. Their defense has been outstanding all season, but they’ll have to be on their game if they want to shut down Tom Brady and the Patriots this Sunday. Here’s a brief look at each unit and how they will match up against New England.

Jaguars Defense

Aaron Colvin, Tashaun Gipson, Jalen Ramsey, A.J. Bouye, and Barry Church wave goodbye to the fans still left in Pittsburgh after their 30-9 win in Week 5. Although the score was close in the divisional round, it was a dominant performance last week.


The Jaguars have had their way on defense this season, boasting two all-pro corners in Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye. Prior to his matchup with Antonio Brown last week, Bouye had not allowed a single touchdown in man coverage all season, and 2nd-year man Jalen Ramsey can make a pretty good case for best corner in the NFL. Aaron Colvin compliments the pair nicely, and the nickel corner had a nice interception against the Bills early in the wild card game. Tashaun Gipson and Barry Church level out the secondary, both standout safeties have had excellent seasons.


Their linebacking core is solid as well, with veteran Paul Posluszny leading his young counterparts Telvin Smith and Myles Jack to a fine season, allowing just nine rushing touchdowns. Smith is the postseason leader in tackles by a large margin this season, and managed to earn second team all pro in his 4th season. Jack recorded a very athletic interception in the divisional round against the Steelers which helped the Jags swing the momentum their way early in the game.


Perhaps the scariest part of the Jaguars’ all star defense is their pass rush. Calais Campbell is the star of the unit, earning first team all pro and tying for second in sacks during the regular season. Young standouts Yannick Ngakoue and Dante Fowler Jr. compliment Campbell as the other edge rushers, but it’s Marcell Dareus and pro bowler Malik Jackson on the inside that really wreak havoc for opposing lines.


New England’s Offense

Rob Gronkowski gives Brandin Cooks a piggyback ride after Cooks’ touchdown against the Dolphins in Week 12 of the NFL season. Cooks finished just outside the top 10 in touchdowns and receiving yards this season, posting solid numbers for his first season in New England.

On the other side of the ball, the Patriots offense has been one to fear this season. Tom Brady has lead the team this year; he’s 40 years old and not slowing down anytime soon. The offseason acquisition of Brandin Cooks has proved to be a helpful asset to combat the loss of Julian Edelman during the preseason. Cooks and the receiving core will have their work cut out for them, and expect to them utilize breakaway speed in order to gain the edge against a physical corner such as Ramsey. Chris Hogan and Brandin Cooks have certainly shown an ability to take the top off the defense, but it won’t be easy Sunday.

Dion Lewis has taken over as the trusty starting running back for the Pats, and his shifty running style combined with occasional power has earned him a solid role in the offense.

Rob Gronkowski has continued to show why he’s the best tight end in the NFL this season, earning first team all pro alongside his quarterback Tom Brady. “Gronk” managed top 10 in receiving yards and touchdowns among all offensive players, and is a force to be reckoned with for opposing defenses.


Here’s how the Jaguars and Patriots stack up, position by position.

Quarterback- New England

Tom Brady is the greatest quarterback of all time. Not much to be said here.

Running Back(s)- Jacksonville

Rookie Leonard Fournette has been a standout all season for the Jaguars, and gave them the identity they were looking for as a run first team. Lewis has been excellent, but this one leans toward Jacksonville.

Receivers and Tight Ends- New England

The loss of Allen Robinson early in the season gave the Jags’ young receivers a chance to shine, but even with breakouts like Keelan Cole and Dede Westbrook, the Pats have the advantage here.

Defensive Line- Jacksonville

Deatrich Wise Jr, Trey Flowers, and Malcolm Brown are the young leaders of the Patriots’ d-line, but they pale in comparison to what the Jaguars have to offer in Campbell, Jackson, Ngakoue, and Fowler.

Linebacking Core- Jacksonville
The aforementioned duo of Myles Jack and Telvin Smith has been a solid one-two punch for the Jags all season. The loss of Dont’a Hightower to a pectoral injury for the season doesn’t help the Patriots’ case.

Secondary- Jacksonville

There’s no denying the Jaguars have the best secondary in the NFL, and the combination of speed and physicality has haunted opposing teams all year. To say the Patriots cornerbacks have struggled would be an understatement, so this one has to go to the Jaguars.

Special Teams- New England

Matthew Slater earned first team all pro yet again, and Stephen Gostkowski’s kicking has not disappointed Patriots fans this season.


My Prediction

Patriots 24, Jaguars 21

Despite all of the hype surrounding the Jaguars’ defense, I think the Patriots take this one at home.


I asked 30 students and teachers alike what their super bowl prediction was going into the divisional round last Sunday, January 14th. Patriots vs. Vikings was the clear favorite, and Kyle Simpson ‘19 was confident that was going to be the matchup from early on in the season, “The Vikings have such a complete team. Not to mention they’ll have home field advantage in the Super Bowl so I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s a real close one.”

English teacher Laruen Girolimon admits she’s not one for football, but has heard a lot about the Vikings through the news, “They’re pretty good, right? I haven’t really been keeping up this season but I’ll go with the Vikings to play the Patriots.”

Felix Yang ‘19 wouldn’t be surprised if there was an upset looming. “Obviously I’m rooting for the Patriots, but [The Jaguars] have a very good team. If they can overcome [Blake Bortles] I could see them in the Super Bowl.”