Patriots Reach Seventh Straight Conference Final
This isn’t the matchup everyone was anticipating. All signs pointed to New England-Pittsburgh Part 2, with the AFC championship on the line.
But the Jacksonville Jaguars had better ideas — dominate the Steelers on the ground and lean on their top-ranked defense. The game plan in the divisional round worked to perfection as the Jaguars raced out to a 28-14 halftime lead and then finished off the Steelers 45-42.
Now the Jaguars (12-6) head to Foxboro to meet the defending Super Bowl champions in the first of two conference finals on Sunday. The Patriots (14-3) are a heavy favorite once again this weekend (odds provided by bovada.lv).
Tom Brady and company, listed as 14-point favorites last weekend, eliminated the Tennessee Titans 35-14 and clinched a seventh straight berth in the conference final. They are 3-3 in the past six AFC finals, which led to two Super Bowl victories.
Brady threw for 337 yards and three touchdowns against the Titans. Seven different players had catches for the Patriots, who led 21-7 at the half.
The New England defense is often overshadowed by the superstars on offense like Brady and Rob Gronkowski, but this unit held Tennessee to just 15 first downs. The Titans scored on their second possession of the game. After that there was nothing but silence as Marcus Mariota was sacked eight times and the offense finished with 267 total yards.
“They played lights out,” running back James White said of New England’s defense. “They’re getting better each and every week.”
So are the Jaguars. Or so it appears.
Rookie running back Leonard Fournette rushed for 109 yards and three touchdowns, Blake Bortles added 214 yards passing and an emotional Jacksonville defense forced two turnovers as the Jaguars stunned the Steelers at Heinz Field.
Pittsburgh lost four games all season. Two of them were at home to the Jaguars.
This is the Jacksonville’s first appearance in the conference final since 1999 when it lost to Tennessee. It’s also just the Jaguars’ second trip in the history of the franchise. Jacksonville also lost the title game in the 1996 postseason to New England.
The Patriots are 12-5 against the spread (ATS) this season, while the Jaguars are 10-8. New England has been favored by nine points or more eight times this year. They are 4-4 ATS in those games, but 4-2 ATS at home. Jacksonville has not been an underdog by nine points or more this year.
Jaguars’ All-Pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey got an early start on trash talking when he guaranteed a victory over the Patriots at Gillette Stadium on Sunday while speaking to thousands of fans at EverBank Field in Jacksonville. It’s not like the defending Super Bowl champions needed any more incentive for a trip to Super Bowl VII. But Brady’s injury to his passing hand makes this line a tough call.
VGB’s pick — Jacksonville (+8), Over (46.5)
AFC Conference Championship Prop Bets
The Steelers put up 545 yards in total offense against the Jaguars last weekend. A lot of that had to do with the fact they trailed throughout the game. They also had six more first downs — 28-22. The Patriots had 16 more first downs than the Titans — 31-15. For the season, New England had 64 more first downs than their opponents — 389-325.
VGB’s pick — Jacksonville (+5)
There’s more early scoring in games involving the Patriots than the Jaguars. Points were scored in the first 6:30 of the opening quarter in nine of 16 games this season for New England. For the Jaguars, there were only six scores in their regular season games. Jacksonville scored early against Pittsburgh last weekend. It was scoreless for most of the first quarter between New England and Tennessee.
VGB’s pick — Yes (-105)
VGB’s Top 10 NFL Teams
(Current odds to win Super Bowl LII listed after team record. Odds provided by bovada.lv.)
- Minnesota (14-3) +225 — Vikings ride miracle in Minnesota to NFC final.
- New England (14-3) -105 — Earn spot in seventh straight AFC championship.
- Philadelphia (14-3) +675 — Eagles, Foles prove doubters wrong in victory.
- Jacksonville (12-6) +700 — Jaguars dominate Steelers as heavy underdogs.
- New Orleans (12-6) — Saints rally from 17-point deficit, lose heartbreaker.
- Pittsburgh (13-4) — Roethlisberger says he will return for 2018 season.
- Atlanta (11-7) — First-and-goal and don’t score, Ryan outplayed by Foles.
- Tennessee (10-8) — Dismal effort in loss to Patriots, QB sacked eight times.
- Los Angeles Rams (11-6) — From 4-12 in 2016 to NFC West champions.
- Carolina (11-6) — Star linebacker Thomas Davis to retire after 2018 season.