The New England Patriots take the field Thursday night against an opponent – specifically the Jacksonville Jaguars — for the first time since staging the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history. Just don’t expect to see Tom Brady much, if at all, in the Pats’ preseason opener.
Jacksonville Jaguars at New England Patriots
Point spread: Patriots -3.5
Date: Thursday, Aug. 10, 7:30 p.m. ET
Location: Gillette Stadium, Foxboro, Mass.
If this were a regular-season game, the Patriots would likely be double-digit favourites. They are the marquee franchise in the NFL this century. The Jaguars, meanwhile, are spared No. 1 laughingstock status this decade only because of the inept Cleveland Browns.
New England last played Jacksonville in Week 3 of the 2015 regular season, and the Patriots rolled to a 51-17 home victory. Brady threw for 358 yards and two scores, including the 400th TD pass of his career at the time. Blake Bortles threw for 242 yards, two scores and an interception for the Jags. New England is 18-6-2 ATS in its past 26 home games. The Jaguars are 1-5 ATS in their past six at the Patriots.
Jacksonville hasn’t made the playoffs since 2007 or finished with more than five wins since 2010. They fired Coach Gus Bradley late last season and replaced him with Doug Marrone. The team went 1-1 under Marrone and apparently showed enough for him to get the full-time job. Marrone previously was a head coach at Buffalo from 2013-14 and the Bills were 15-17 under him. The Jags also brought back former coach Tom Coughlin to run the front office.
This team has loads of talent. Running back Leonard Fournette, the No. 4 overall pick in this year’s draft, is the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year favourite. He was a monster at LSU but had some trouble staying healthy. Expect Marrone to use a bit of an old-school offense in terms of running the ball as much as possible.
This is also a make-or-break season for fourth-year QB Blake Bortles. He regressed in 2016 and leads the NFL with 63 turnovers since being selected No. 3 overall in the 2014 draft. If Bortles can simply be league-average and not give the ball away – like Chiefs QB Alex Smith – this can be a contender in the weak AFC South. The defense is especially full of good young players. One of those, cornerback Jalen Ramsey, remains on the PUP list and won’t play Thursday.
Marrone’s Bills teams were 3-6 overall in preseason play.
New England Patriots
Under Bill Belichick, the Patriots are 39-31 in the preseason. It would seem Belichick has little incentive to play Brady or any other key veterans Thursday. It could be a chippy game because the two teams have been practicing together this week. Brady did play more than usual in the 2016 preseason but that was due to his four-game Deflategate suspension to start the regular season. All players who are suspended for regular-season games can play in the preseason.
This could be the debut of several Patriots acquired this offseason, led by receiver Brandin Cooks (New Orleans) and cornerback Stephon Gilmore (Buffalo). Somehow, the Super Bowl champions look improved on paper. The salary cap is meant to prevent that. The Patriots have posted a winning record for 16 consecutive seasons.
New England is 10-1 all-time vs. the Jags in the regular season and playoffs. The clubs have split two preseason games, last playing in 2011 and New England winning 47-12.
Jaguars at Patriots Prediction
Marrone and Coughlin are trying to instill a winning attitude in Jacksonville, so I’ll take the points here. The Patriots should be largely going through the motions.