|Maurice Jones-Drew Will Remain Sidelined This Week.|
Following a Week 15 that gave the New England Patriots the present of the San Francisco 49ers, along with a loss to bring their fans back down to earth, Week 16 offers the team a much less enticing, but also less challenging matchup with the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Jaguars have one of the worst records in the NFL with 12 losses already locked down, in fact nobody has a worse record but the Kansas City Chiefs do match their two wins all season.
The Jaguars' two victories this year were uninspiring also. A late Cecil Shorts' touchdown allowed them to sneak past the Colts in Indianapolis early in the year, while their only home victory all season came against the Tennessee Titans, who have had almost as underwhelming a season. The Jaguars haven't been helped my multiple losses of key players. Quarterback Blaine Gabbert and running-back Maurice Jones-Drew get most of the attention, but the early hits losing Laurent Robinson, Will Rackley and Daryl Smith all significantly hurt the team also.
None of those players will be on the field today and the product reflects that. The Jaguars have scored just 31 points in their last three games, while allowing 49. The three teams who put up those numbers? The Patriots' three division rivals. The Miami Dolphins, Buffalo Bills and New York Jets all made the Jaguars look less than average, which reinforces just how big the gap is between these two teams. Nevermind being made to look bad in a loss, the Patriots haven't even lost to those teams all season long and have made them look terrible on occasion. There is an undoubted gulf in class between these two teams.
Still, stranger things have happened in the NFL. Just last season a Kyle Orton-led Chiefs team beat the Green Bay Packers when they were at their very best. That Chiefs team did have a lot more talent than this Jaguars team, but the Jaguars do have some potential for big plays that could haunt the team's defense. With Montell Owens leading the rushing attack, after Maurice Jones-Drew's other replacements kept following him to the sideline, the Jaguars will likely put the ball in Chad Henne's hands over 40 times. That plays away from the Patriots' defensive strengths, but it also puts him in a shootout with the Patriots' offense, something the team will happily contend with.
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The Jaguars don't have much, but they do have two high quality, young receivers with the potential to make big plays in rookie Justin Blackmon and Cecil Shorts. Shorts is a smaller receiver with the explosion to test the opposition's safeties from anywhere on the field. He averages over 18 yards per catch and has scored seven touchdowns while leading the team with 925 receiving yards. Shorts can be type-cast as just a burner, but in recent weeks he has shown the ability to be an all-around wide receiver. Still, the Jaguars' biggest threat is Blackmon. Blackmon will likely draw the matchup with Aqib Talib as both are big, physically gifted players. The rookie would be able to bully any of the Patriots' other defensive backs, but not Talib.
Middle linebacker Brandon Spikes won't play today, which doesn't really hurt the pass coverage. The Patriots should play more of their nickel defense, which will make screens and draws a threat, while somebody has to handle Marcedes Lewis. Henne is a veteran quarterback who should be able to find Lewis against consistent zone coverage. Lewis has had a very quiet season, following on from an unusually quiet one the season before. While he may not be a good player anymore, there is still the potential for one big game from him considering his past exploits.
No matter how much success the Jaguars can have against the Patriots' defense, there is little chance that they can keep up with the Patriots' offense. Even without Rob Gronkowski, the Patriots should have no issues scoring against the Jaguars whenever they want to.
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