Adam Chernoff: Conference Championship Sunday

6 min

It is so easy to make a case for New England.

Tom Brady vs Blake Bortles. Bill Belichick vs Doug Marrone. Eight times the amount of playoff experience. The most significant home-field advantage in the NFL. A healthy Gronkowski (80% win percentage with Brady/Gronk together).

How could a bettor go wrong?

The narratives are compelling, but the value of this handicap is in the matchup.

The best version of the New England Patriots is the one we saw against Atlanta earlier in this season. I have said it many times before and I will keep saying it because I believe they are waiting to use this maximum potential game plan for when the matchup calls for it most.

I am not going to hide the fact that I have been burned by the Jaguars defense this season (they have won me a couple of bets too). The issue they cause for New England is a similar issue the Ravens, Broncos, and Giants (twice) caused New England in critical playoff games in recent years. They can get pressure with four guys and play physical man coverage.

The advantage New England has this year they did not in years past is the ability to run the ball with multiple backs. The one weakness the Jaguars defense has is defending the rush up the middle. It annoys me so much that Pittsburgh did not even attempt to exploit it because they would have had so much success. Bill Belichick is without a doubt the smartest coach in the league and won’t make the same mistake.

Where this becomes interesting is for the first time in several games, the choice is on Jacksonville. The Jaguars either have to play Gronkowski with Myles Jack or bring in corner Jalen Ramsey. Myles Jack gets held to a high coverage standard, but when looking at the numbers, it is pretty grim. In plays where Jack covers the tight end, opposing QB’s have completed 77% of their passes for a 138 passer rating. Jalen Ramsey can put physical coverage on Gronkowski.

When a corner has covered the Patriots TE, Brady’s QB rating drops from 134 to 54 – a crazy 80 point difference.

The problem is, if the Jaguars bring Ramsey in from the outside it offsets the natural formation and Brady gets Brandin Cooks (one of the best deep threats in the league) or Dion Lewis (one of the best rushers in the league) in awkward situations. Damned if they do, damned if they don’t.

Any time the Jaguars have been forced to make a decision or deal with adversity, they have crumbled this season. Jacksonville has yet to win a game when giving up the first touchdown and has only won when they score first. Blake Bortles passer rating when playing from behind is just 66 compared to 100 when playing with the lead. There is a lot of talks this week about Tom Coughlin getting his third crack at New England in the playoffs thus providing an advantage for Jacksonville. What there is little talk of is how close Belichick is with Saban.

Every bettor knows, in big games, no team is better at taking away weapons like New England. Nick Saban erased Leonard Fournette twice in big games in college. If one is contemplating backing Jacksonville because Coughlin is sharing ideas, don’t think it is a one-way street.

New England at 12-5 ATS has exceeded point spread expectations all season. The Jaguars are coming off the biggest win in franchise history in Pittsburgh – a tough place to play. Sunday is their fourth road game in the past five weeks. I can not see a scenario in my mind where they get out and take control of this game early. I think New England gets an early jump and eats them alive three to four yards at a time while holding the ball for over thirty-five minutes. Pittsburgh choked on the game plan; New England will not.

I will bet both, New England -8.5 and Under 46 ½.

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