Here are the five most important things to watch for.
First off, do not take this game seriously
Barring an injury, we should feel the same way about the Patriots on Monday as we do today, before this game against the lowly 2-12 Jaguars. Jacksonville is an atrocious football team filled with rookies and low-end veterans with absolutely nothing left to play for this season. If the Patriots come out and win 75-3, it’s not going to increase their title chances in anyone’s mind. And if they lose (intentionally?), as I’m going to tell you, they should, it really won’t be that big of a deal.
Does Brandon Lloyd continue his recent dominance?
Over the past two games – and against arguably the toughest two defenses the Patriots have played all season --, Brandon Lloyd has enjoyed his greatest success in New England. In those two games, No. 85 has caught 17 balls for a total of 179 yards receiving. His presence as a reliable playmaker in the offense is of the utmost importance for New England at it will be interesting to see if his role continues to increase as the season winds down.
Who gets the bulk of the carries?
Among the many things that the Jacksonville Jaguars aren’t exactly great at doing is stopping the run. In fact, the Jags sit dead-last in the NFL with over 148 average yards against per game. After Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen both fumbled against the 49ers, it was Danny Woodhead who stole the spotlight as the No. 1 New England running back. This week, ball control will be of paramount importance for each of the tailbacks for the Patriots. Perhaps the biggest wild card in this mix is recently suspended rookie Brandon Bolden. The former Ole Miss star hasn’t seen a whole lot of the field since returning from his four-week suspension for a violation of the league’s drug policy.
The debut of Ryan Mallett?
With next-to-nothing to gain by winning this football game, the Patriots would be wise to turn an eye towards the playoffs by benching star quarterback Tom Brady and other banged-up starters. There is no reason for the Patriots to risk a possible injury to the franchise quarterback in these final two regular season contests, so a benching after a couple of first-half series would be the route I would chose to go down.
The Patriots should lose this game
As I’ve been saying since last week, the Patriots would be much better off as the No. 4 seed in the AFC, as opposed to the No. 3 with the hope of avoiding Pittsburgh in the wild card round and Denver in the divisional round. As New England cannot possibly fall below the No. 4 spot – courtesy of their fourth straight AFC East championship -- they would be best-suited to make an attempt at falling behind the Baltimore Ravens (9-5) and into the No. 4 seed to set up a first round match-up against a team they’ve already beaten in convincing fashion, the 9-5 Indianapolis Colts.
Prediction: Patriots win. Big. 48-13.
Sunday, Dec 23, 2012, 1:00 PM EST
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