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NFL playoffs Panic Index 2018: The Jaguars trash-talked their way right into the Patriots’ hands

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The Patriots thrive on bulletin board material, but they’re also going up against arch nemesis Tom Coughlin. Plus, which scary defense will come out on top between the Vikings and Eagles?

NFL: AFC Wild Card-Buffalo Bills at Jacksonville Jaguars Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

No team in the NFL talks more shit than the Jaguars.

They did it after their win this weekend, thanks to the Steelers making them feel like Rodney Dangerfield. But really, it was all year, as if they had bottled up a decade’s worth of failure and unleashed it mercilessly as one season-long roast of the rest of the NFL. Their fight with the Seahawks was nearly a year in the making, like the two teams were a couple in the middle of an argument about who takes out the garbage more and the Jags suddenly pull out the ol’ “hey, remember that time nine months ago when you said I should go to the gym more often?”

They’re not the Joker here. They’re not taunting opponents simply to create mass chaos. Instead, it’s merely the sweet catharsis of when you stop being a punchline and start being a contender.

And bless them for it. The Jaguars’ attitude is not THE reason this year’s playoffs are so much fun, but it’s certainly a major contributing factor.

Now, all that stands in the way of Jacksonville making its first Super Bowl trip is ... oh yeah, the five-time champion Patriots, nbd. And I’m sure no one on the Jags would say to potentially rile them up — welp:

To be clear: This is just Jalen bein’ Jalen. There’s nothing wrong with what he said, and the Patriots have mostly shrugged it off — publicly, anyway.

Tom Bradypretty richly, considering his reputation — was asked about Ramsey’s Super Bowl prediction and told WEEI, “It’s how you play, it’s not what you say.”

But will the Patriots try to use it as motivation? Probably. When you’ve made so many Super Bowl appearances that winning starts to feel boring, you’ll likely cling to any excuse to feed the competitive beast.

Teams learned the hard way this season that you wouldn’t like the Jaguars when they’re angry. But teams have known for more than a decade not to piss the Patriots off. They have a frighteningly good record after opposing teams have baited them with inflammatory remarks.

If they make it to their, I dunno, 11 billionth Super Bowl, then you can be sure Ramsey’s words will be mentioned after.

Panic index: Brady was right about something: “The game is going to be decided by who plays the best, not who hypes the best or speaks the best.” The Jaguars can absolutely beat the Patriots. The Patriots can absolutely the Jaguars. Trash talk won’t be the deciding factor — it just makes things a little more interesting.

The Patriots have another playoff date with nemesis Tom Coughlin

Bill Belichick and Tom Brady are just two wins away from a sixth Super Bowl victory and all that stands in their way are teams led by Blake Bortles, Case Keenum, and Nick Foles.

What could possibly go wrong?

Insert their playoff archenemy, Tom Coughlin.

OK, so it’s not exactly the same as the two times Coughlin coached opposite Belichick in the Super Bowl with Eli Manning at quarterback. But many of the Jaguars’ current strengths mirror the ones that gave the Patriots trouble in Super Bowls 42 and 46.

Namely, Jacksonville has the talent on its defensive line and in its secondary to harass Brady and make him uncomfortable. The last time the Patriots lost in the playoffs, the Broncos sacked Brady four times and intercepted him twice in a 20-18 win. In the Patriots’ 35-14 win in the Divisional Round this weekend, the Titans didn’t have any sacks or interceptions.

There’s also the fact that the Jaguars and Patriots got a chance to peek at each other in August.

Coughlin’s experience against the Patriots and the postseason, in general, could prove valuable.

Panic index: If anyone could help Doug Marrone dial up a game plan to slow the Patriots offense and generate some points, it’s Coughlin. Will it be the deciding factor? Nah, probably not. But it takes a perfect storm to take down the Patriots and the Jaguars have some elements working in their favor.

Tom Brady has never lost to the Jaguars

Tom Brady and the Patriots are likely going to be favorites in whatever game they play. The NFL’s greatest dynasty can win its third Super Bowl in the past four years, and there’s no other quarterback in NFL history you’d rather have in this spot than Brady.

The next opponent standing in front of the Patriots is the Jaguars — a team that Brady hasn’t lost to in his career in seven tries, two of them being in the postseason.

The Jaguars and Patriots most recently played in 2015, when the Patriots won a 51-17 game at home. It’s safe to say that if history is any indication, Brady has little reason to be nervous.

If the same Jaguars team from this past weekend comes out on Sunday, however, it could be his toughest test against the Jaguars yet. While the Jaguars are known for their defense, they put up a much-needed 45 points in a three-point win against the Steelers.

And of course, the Jaguars play their best when nobody believes in them. There’s no question they’ll be a little bit extra pumped to go up against the defending champions.

Panic index: The Jaguars had the second-best defense in the NFL this season and the top-rated pass defense. If somebody’s going to stop Brady, it’s these guys. Plus, history has no bearing on Sunday’s game.

The Eagles have to start Nick Foles against the NFL’s best defense

You wouldn’t be able to tell just by Philadelphia’s record alone, but the downgrade from Carson Wentz to Nick Foles at quarterback has been palpable. While the Eagles have gone 3-1 in Foles’ four starts this season, their offense has had to deal with a major inhibitor with their backup behind center. After averaging a league-high 31.1 points per game in Wentz’s starts, Philly has been held to 17 per contest with Foles in the lineup — a mark that would rank 29th in the league.

While the team managed last week to hold on for a win over Atlanta, the stakes are much higher in the NFC Championship. The Eagles will stare down the league’s No. 1 defense Sunday; Minnesota gave up a league-low 280 yards per game and just 4.7 yards per play. Last week, those Vikings held Drew Brees and an explosive Saints offense to 24 points — nearly four points fewer than their season average.

Philadelphia has a deep backfield that should take the pressure from Foles’ shoulders, but that theory failed to pan out last week as the Falcons loaded up the box and forced the Eagles to throw the ball. If you take away two jet sweep-style tosses to wideout Nelson Agholor, the club gained just 76 rushing yards on 30 carries. That’s a rough harbinger before facing the NFL’s No. 2 rushing defense in the most important game of the season to date.

Panic index: Somehow Foles keeps winning, and his adjustments in the second half were a big part of his team’s comeback win over the Falcons. This hasn’t exactly been a season where quarterback play has made sense, and that could continue working in Philly’s favor Sunday.

The Vikings face the Eagles’ home-field advantage — and dog masks

The Vikings pulled off a last-second Minneapolis Miracle to beat the Saints and advance to take on the Eagles in the NFC Championship. But it’ll be a lot harder to win this week on the road in Philadelphia against one of the top defenses in the league.

Home-field advantage is a very real thing for the Eagles, especially on defense. The Eagles have allowed just 18.4 points per game on average this season, which puts them fourth in the league. That number drops to 13.4 points in home games.

The Eagles are also coming off a home game — the first one in history where the No. 1 seed was an underdog in the Divisional Round — where they limited the Falcons to season lows in points scored, offensive plays, and time of possession.

Mike Zimmer says his team isn’t focused on the way they won the last game. They’re looking toward the Eagles.

”I think like everything, that one is done and gone with, and we’re moving on to Philadelphia now,” Zimmer said, via the team’s website.

Panic index: It’s easier said than done to move on from a win that will go down in NFL history as one of the most thrilling playoff moments ever — especially to go on the road and face a stingy defense.

Plus, Eagles fans are apparently buying up those creepy underdog masks. The team is letting fans wear them into the game, so the Vikings will presumably be playing in a stadium full of them. That’s unsettling.


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