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The New England Patriots are headed back to the AFC Championship, and will await the winner of the Jaguars-Steelers Sunday afternoon matchup. The AFC Championship will be the early game next week kicking off on Sunday, January 20th at 3:05 p.m. Eastern on CBS. It will lead into the NFC Championship at 6:40 p.m. Eastern on Fox. The Patriots’ two potential opponents are the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Jacksonville Jaguars. According to OddsShark, the Steelers are favored by seven points over the Jaguars, despite Jacksonville dominating Pittsburgh on the road earlier this season.
Pittsburgh has the edge in experience along with the home field advantage. Florida teams have tended to struggle in cold weather during the playoffs, and the Jagaurs face an uphill battle against the Steelers. However, the Jaguars do have a strong running game and defense that could allow them to hang with the Steelers. Barring a Jacksonville upset, Pittsburgh is expected to prevail to square off with New England for the second straight season in the AFC title game.
The Patriots narrowly lead the head-to-head series over the Steelers 16-15. Pittsburgh has lost five straight games against New England, including a recent Week 15 matchup.
New England has also been dominant against Jacksonville, but the Jaguars look much different than when these two teams last played in 2015. The Patriots own a 10-1 lead over the Jaguars in the series.
There was some curiosity over how the Patriots would perform after ESPN’s Seth Wickersham’s in-depth story about the division within the Patriots organization. If the Divisional Round is any indication, the Patriots look to be just fine, but they will face a much more difficult opponent in the AFC Championship than a Titans team that backed into the playoffs.
In the Patriots opening playoff matchup against the Titans, Brady threw for 337 yards and three touchdowns. Danny Amendola had a monster game with 11 receptions and 112 yards. Rob Gronkowski also put up solid numbers with six catches for 81 yards and a touchdown.
New England has not played Jacksonville this season, but was victorious over Pittsburgh 27-24 in this season’s matchup. Tom Brady threw for 298 yards, one touchdown and an interception against the Steelers. Rob Gronkowski had a massive outing with nine receptions for 168 yards. Ben Roethlisberger threw for 281 yards, two touchdowns and an interception in a losing effort.
In addition to their win against the Steelers, New England has wins over the Saints, Falcons and Bills this season. Overall, the Patriots went 13-3 during the regular season, and performed almost as well in Vegas going 12-5 against the spread. New England went 6-3 against the spread at home, and was 12-5 as a favorite.
The Patriots have been favored in every game they have played in this season, and fans should not expect that to change in the AFC Championship. Regardless of their opponent, the Patriots will be favored over either the Steelers or Jaguars. The 2018 AFC Championship marks the seventh straight conference title game the Patriots have played in. New England was victorious in three of their previous six AFC Championship matchups.
Given the Jaguars-Steelers is the early Sunday game, the Patriots will know their opponent by late afternoon.