January 06, 2006

Stone Cold Lock: Jacksonville over New England: On Saturday, the Jaguars will end Tom Brady's perfect playoff record and leave the Super Bowl champs in the cold

Rogers Cadenhead

Rogers CadenheadBefore Super Bowl XX in 1986, all-pro defensive back Raymond Clayborn predicted that his New England Patriots would defeat the Chicago Bears.

I don't know who Clayborn likes in Saturday's wild-card playoff between the Patriots and Jacksonville Jaguars, but the visiting Jags will defeat the league champs and end Tom Brady's perfect 9-0 record in the postseason. Mark it down. Stone cold lock. Guarantee of the year. Clean out your 401K, steal grandma's retirement savings, max out the credit cards, rob your coke dealer and put all of that money on the 8-point underdog to win.

The Jacksonville media in the week leading up to the game has focused on the lack of respect nationally for the Jaguars, the least hyped 12-4 team in memory. "Please stop begging for the nation's affection," local sportswriter Vic Ketchman pleaded. "It shouldn't be necessary."

He's right.

The love train leaves the station for Jacksonville tomorrow night.

Head Coach Jack Del Rio has brought the Jags back from salary cap hell and five long years without the playoffs, a drought that began when the team angered Touchdown Jesus and the other football gods by releasing a Super Bowl song prior to the AFC Championship game against the Tennessee Titans in 1999.

You can't catch me, Super Bowl bound. Players don't catch me, touchdown. 82 in the end zone, I'm 'ancin', prancin', looking like I'm dancin'. 95 south to the Alltel. Go fans let me here y'all yell. So run tell your friends that we're bound. Jaguars gonna come to your town. -- Jimmy Smith, "Uh Oh -- Jaguars Super Bowl Song"

Uh Oh -- the Super Bowl Song, performed by Smith, Keenan McCardell and other players on the best team in franchise history, was leaked to the media and played all week long in Jacksonville on radio and television, ending up as billboard material for Titans Coach Jeff Fisher back in his porn 'stache days.

"Uh Oh," as it turned out, was an apt choice of name. The Titans steamrolled the Jags 33-14 at Alltel Stadium, the only team to beat Jacksonville during a 14-3 season.

I still have nightmares.

This year's Patriots aren't the team that flew out of Jacksonville International Airport 334 days ago with their third Lombardi Trophy in four years. The 2005 Pats had to win four out of their last five games to reach 10-6 and had a losing record against this year's playoff teams, beating Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay and losing to Carolina, Denver and Indianapolis.

With a schedule the entire league derided as soft, the Jags played one more playoff qualifier than New England and went 3-3, beating Seattle, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh while losing to Denver and being swept by Indy.

The Jaguars are not a stereotypical Florida team that can't play in the cold. Del Rio, a disciple of Brian Billick, has assembled a hard-hitting, defense-minded team that finished third in the league with 47 sacks and sixth overall on defense.

Opponents have to double-team defensive tackles Marcus Stroud and John Henderson, giving the rest of the line a chance to feast on quarterbacks. Brady had an unbelievable 4,110-yard, 26-touchdown season, but he's being protected Saturday by two rookies against Jaguars defensive ends whose treatment of quarterbacks violates the Geneva Convention: 27.5 sacks, 103 quarterback pressures and six forced fumbles.

Because they are strong up front and have a good secondary, this year's Jags haven't been lit up by quarterbacks. In a 10-3 road loss to Indy during week 2, they held Peyton Manning to 13-of-28 passing for 122 yards, a quarterback rating of 44.0 that was his lowest in four years. No one played him better this season on the Indianapolis speedway they call artificial turf.

The Patriots will have difficulty keeping Jacksonville honest with the run. Corey Dillon had a career-low 3.5 yards per carry this season and is recovering from a calf injury.

On offense, the Jags can pound the ball with either Fred Taylor or Greg Jones, though New England doesn't give up much ground on defense. Jacksonville should find success in the air even if Byron Leftwich has a slow start coming back from an ankle injury. The Patriots are 31st in the league in pass defense and have a much smaller secondary than the Jaguars receiving corps: Jimmy Smith (6-1), Ernest Williford (6-4), Reggie Williams (6-4) and Matt Jones (6-6).

Leftwich hits those big targets quickly and isn't afraid to stand in the pocket under a rush, a trait that will eventually get him killed but should hold him in good stead this weekend.

The forecast for Saturday night in Foxboro has a low of 21 degrees, but Del Rio's Jaguars have never been a team that finds itself under the weather. They went to Lambeau Field last December and beat the Packers in single-digit temperatures.

It's about to get a lot colder for the fans in New England.

Rogers Cadenhead is one of the founders of SportsFilter

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