The Patriots look to rebuild some momentum and keep their slim hopes for a playoff bye alive on Sunday when they visit Jacksonville, which has one win in three months. While New England is likely to be seeded no better than third in the AFC, it can still claim the top spot with wins over Jacksonville and Miami, and with Houston (12-2) losses to Minnesota and Indianapolis. The Patriots (10-4) could also pass Denver (11-3) with two wins and a Broncos loss to either Cleveland or Kansas City.
The Patriots are averaging 39.5 points with a 6-0 record against teams with losing records, while Jacksonville is 0-6 against opponents with winning records. Still, the AFC East champions appear to be guarding against a letdown after splitting consecutive contests against top-tier clubs Houston and San Francisco. Brandon Lloyd had a season-high 10 catches for a career-best 190 yards to help New England rally from a 28-point deficit and draw even in the fourth quarter Monday night. The Patriots, though, ran out of gas as San Francisco answered with the next 10 points en route to a 41-34 victory that snapped the team's seven-game winning streak.
Tom Brady completed 36 of a career-high 65 attempts in the loss with one touchdown and two interceptions. He has thrown three picks in his last three games after going five straight contests without one. The league's most potent offense (36.1 points per game) could be even stronger Sunday if tight end Rob Gronkowski returns from a broken forearm. He is tied for third in the league with 10 touchdown catches despite missing the last four games.
The Jaguars (2-12) have lost three straight and 10 of 11 after Sunday's 24-3 defeat at Miami on Sunday, and are guaranteed of at least a tie for the worst record in franchise history. Chad Henne performed well against Houston and Tennessee in November, throwing for six touchdowns, but the fifth-year quarterback has gone 58 for 119 (48.7) with one TD and three interceptions during the three-game skid. Cecil Shorts has been one of the few bright spots, finishing with six catches for 101 yards against the Dolphins for his fourth 100-yard effort in seven games. The Jaguars have totaled 13 points in their last two games, and 219 on the season - the second fewest in the NFL.
On the surface, this has blowout in New England's favor written all over it. The Jaguars are fighting for jobs in 2013 and need to come out strong and show they can play against the big boys in New England. Still a huge game for top seed purposes, but even with the mismatch on paper and on the field, don't expect Bellichek to let up even with the game well in hand.