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Predictions & Projections
David Dorey
The Huddle
~ 2007 ~
Season Ticket
4:30 P.M. EST
8 P.M. EST
1 P.M. EST
4:30 P.M. EST

Prediction: JAX 24, NE 34

This is likely the biggest watched game of the weekend if only because the Patriots are "the team" in the playoffs and the Jaguars play such a different and yet effective game that there could be many possible outcomes. Certainly the Pats are the most heavily favored team of the weekend and with good reason but the Jags present a very physical team that cannot be defended like most teams and that can cause problems for opposing offenses. While the Pats are obviously 8-0 at home this year, the Jaguars are just 6-3 in road games.

Jacksonville Jaguars (11-5)
Homefield: J'ville Municipal Stadium
  Opp Score Spread Over/Under
1 TEN 10-13 -6.5 37.5
2 ATL 13-7 -10.5 34.5
3 @DEN 23-14 +3 35.5
4 BYE - - -
5 @KC 17-7 -2 35
6 HOU 37-17 -7 37
7 IND 7-29 +3.5 45
8 @TB 24-23 -4 32.5
9 @NO 24-41 +3.5 40
10 @TEN 28-13 +4 35
11 SD 24-17 -3 41
12 BUF 36-14 -7.5 36
13 @IND 25-28 +7 44.5
14 CAR 37-6 +10.5 38
15 @PIT 29-22 +4 39
16 OAK 49-11 -13 40
17 @HOU 28-42 +4 41
P1 @PIT 31-29 PK 38.5
P2 @NE   -13 49
JAX at NE Rush Catch Pass
QB David Garrard     190,2
RB Fred Taylor 80 10  
RB Maurice Jones-Drew 40,1 40  
TE Marcedes Lewis   30,1  
WR Dennis Northcutt   20  
WR Ernest Wilford   40  
WR Reggie Williams   50,1  
PK Josh Scobee 1 FG 3 XP  
Pregame Notes: It would be easy enough to explain the Jags 11-5 regular season mark by noting that they played a number of below average teams this year but they did sweep the Steelers in two meetings - both in Pittsburgh. They also beat the Chargers and almost took down the Colts in Indianapolis. More than that, they have been playing better as the season progressed with an offense that is starting to rise to the level of the already dominant defense. Playing in New England is the biggest test for any team this year and the Jags are going to need more than just standard play to take this game.

Quarterback: David Garrard has now led his team to two wins over the Steelers and the normally mistake free quarterback has slipped at least slightly. After only throwing one interception in his first ten games, he has thrown at least one in the last three weeks and had two in Pittsburgh. Nothing major but for a quarterback who was error free, it presents a small problem this week when Garrard cannot afford to make any mistakes. But he has an undeniable intangible effect on the offense and showed last week that he could get the job done no matter what by rushing for a season high 58 yards on five runs. Last week was also the first time in six games that Garrard failed to throw for at least two scores.

Running Backs: Fred Taylor didn't have nearly the success in his second trip to Pittsburgh when he only gained 48 yards on 16 carries but he scored for the fourth consecutive game and had over 100 rushing yards in each of his five previous games. Maurice Jones-Drew also scored a rushing touchdown last week and added a another via a 43-yard reception. Last week in Pittsburgh wasn't as successful rushing as it was in week 15 when they combined for 216 yards but that was against the toughest rushing defense in the league. No doubt that Jones-Drew and Taylor are central to the game plan this week and the only way the Jaguars can hope to keep Brady and company off the field.

Wide Receivers: The Jaguars wideouts were not that productive in Pittsburgh and in most games this year they have only had a few individual performances of note but within that is the strength of the Jags passing attack - there is no one player that can be shut down and have a big effect on the passing numbers. The weaker side with CB Ellis Hobbs only matches up against Reggie Williams or Ernest Wilford on most plays so the Jags can put together a credible passing attack if needed by using multiple receiver sets. The reality is that the Jaguars are going to run the ball as much as possible to help control the game so no individual receiver is likely to have a big game unless the Pats take a very early, and very big lead that forces the Jags to abandon the rushing game. Dennis Northcutt will mostly face Asante Samuel and should have a more quiet game than usual, but that's not saying much anyway.

Tight Ends: Marcedes Lewis can contribute as a receiver when the need arises but that is dependant on the game situation. He rarely has more than 40 yards in any game but his biggest efforts of the year came in games against the Colts and Steelers. He only factors in when the Jags rushing game is held at bay.

Match Against the Defense: The Patriots rank well against the run for a simple reason - few teams have had the luxury of rushing much against them. In New England, no visiting running back has ever had more than 21 carries and that was Willie Parker who gained a healthy 124 yards. The reality here is that the Pats rush defense is not as good as it seems, it just is rarely challenged for long. The Pats have allowed 1425 rushing yards on 324 carries against them for an average of 4.4 yards per carry. This gives at least some hope for the Jaguars if their defense can hold the game score down enough to let Taylor and Jones-Drew get enough carries to matter. The Pats have only allowed five rushing scores this year and most games have featured the opposing runner turning in less than 60 yards. But there have also been three runners with more than 100 rushing yards so it can be done - it is just a question if they get a chance. With the Jags coming in fired up and battle-tested, I like the first half to look very even and get decent rushing yards by halftime but then for the Pats to yet again pull away in the fourth quarter.

That will leave Garrard with lower passing numbers but should still see him pass for at least one touchdown and possibly two as have seven opposing teams this year. But that will be contingent on game situation.

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New England Patriots (16-0)
Homefield: Gillette Stadium
  Opp Score Spread Over/Under
1 @NYJ 38-14 -6.5 40.5
2 SD 38-14 -3 47
3 BUF 38-7 -16.5 41
4 @CIN 34-13 -7.5 54
5 CLE 34-17 -15.5 48
6 @DAL 48-27 -5 52.5
7 @MIA 49-28 -17 51
8 WAS 52-7 -16 48
9 @IND 24-20 -5.5 56.5
10 BYE - - -
11 @BUF 56-10 -15.5 46.5
12 PHI 31-28 -22.5 50.5
13 @BAL 27-24 -20.5 51.5
14 PIT 34-13 -10.5 51
15 NYJ 20-10 -24.5 50.5
16 MIA 28-7 -22.5 43.5
17 @NYG 38-35 -14.5 44.5
P2 JAX   -13 49
NEP vs JAX Rush Catch Pass
QB Tom Brady     280,3
RB Laurence Maroney 50,1    
TE Ben Watson   40,1  
WR Randy Moss   90,1  
WR Donte Stallworth   30  
WR Jabar Gaffney   30  
WR Wes Welker   80,1  
PK Stephen Gostkowski 1 FG 4 XP  

Pregame Notes: The Patriots produced the perfect regular season and all that won't be more than a mere footnote in history if they do not continue to win for the next three possible games. Striving for that 16-0 mark meant that the team never rested players in the final weeks but that could work out to their advantage in keeping the players sharp. No doubt that the Pats were hoping to get the Chargers who they have already handily beaten this year but the Jaguars will present a new challenge with arguably the best defense they will have faced this year other than the Steelers. Then again - they beat the visiting Steelers 34-13 so it may not matter.

Quarterback: It's not enough that Tom Brady set the single season scoring record (50 TDs) or that he had eight games over 300 yards. It's not so much that he has at least three scores in 12 games. It's that his most productive games have typically come when he faced the best defenses. In Dallas, Brady threw for 388 yards and five scores. Against the Steelers he had 399 yards and four touchdowns. In Indianapolis, he threw for just 255 yards but had three scores. The reality with Brady is that he has turned in the biggest game allowed by most of his opponents this year. The Jaguars primary game plan is to keep Brady off the field as much as is humanly possible.

Running Backs: Laurence Maroney may have proven to be a colossal waste of a fantasy draft pick last summer but the last three games were everything those fantasy team owners were expecting - just 14 weeks later than they hoped he would start. Maroney has scored in each of the last three games and had two scores against the Giants. But two of those games both featured over 100 rushing yards but were home efforts against the Jets and Dolphins - not exactly a huge accomplishment. Against the Giants, he only gained 46 yards on 19 carries. But he was the short yardage guy at the goal line and ran strong during his two scores.

Wide Receivers: With Randy Moss, Wesley Walls, Donte Stallworth and Jabar Gaffney, facing the Patriots is like boxing with someone that also can kick you. With either leg. Randy Moss is the obvious big gun here with his NFL record 23 touchdowns on the season but the other three combined for 16 touchdowns as well. Maroney has played well against a couple of soft teams but the wideouts here are what Brady will continue to use to win - particularly in the playoffs against the best defenses in the league. Consider too that facing two of their toughest opponents still wasn't enough to keep Moss at bay. Against the Steelers, Moss caught seven passes for 135 yards and two scores and in Indianapolis he had nine receptions for 145 yards and a touchdown. 16-0 says that no one yet has figured out how to stop all these wideouts - if they can even stop any of them.

Tight Ends: Ben Watson missed two weeks but returned in the season finale against the Giants. He had what has become his standard game of four catches for 38 yards. He hasn't scored since week 11 but with six scores on the year, Brady can rely on him if needed.

Match Against the Defense: It's unlikely that Maroney has a big game here though he could certainly score once or even twice. The Jaguars rushing defense has been solid with very few players gaining more than 70 rushing yards against them. Where they fall down a bit is in allowing eight rushing scores in road games. The yardage is not going to be high for Maroney and it just depends on how close the Pats come to the goal line as to whether Maroney will score at all.

Brady has been above merely matching up against a defense because so often he has outperformed anything any other quarterback was able to do against a defense. Half of their road opponents scored at least twice via the pass and Peyton Manning had four touchdowns. I like the yardage here to be slightly depressed by the Jags who will give a good game for the first half but by the time the dust all settles, there is no reason to expect anything less than three scores by Brady with an obvious chance for more. Where this game could hinge is if the Jags are able to reach Brady with the pass rush as they did last week when they sacked Roethlisberger six times and forced three interceptions. That is definitely possible but that doesn't make it very likely.

The solid play by the Jaguars secondary against wideouts is a big reason why so many teams went to their tight ends against them this year. Here is a very good chance that Ben Watson can score again.

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