Jalen Ramsey Jacksonville Jaguars
Jalen Ramsey #20 of the Jacksonville Jaguars reacts to an interception during AFC Wild Card playoff game against the Buffalo Bills at EverBank Field on Jan. 7, 2018 in Jacksonville, Florida. Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

It’s easy to dismiss the Jacksonville Jaguars in their pursuit of reaching Super Bowl LII. As impressive as the team has been with a division title and postseason wins over the Buffalo Bills and Pittsburgh Steelers in the 2018 NFL playoffs, that’s nothing compared to what awaits the team in Sunday’s AFC Championship Game.

A trip to Foxborough, Massachusetts and a road game against the defending champion New England Patriots is what Jacksonville must overcome in order to reach the game that’s evaded the Jaguars during the 22 years of the franchise’s existence. Beating the Steelers in the divisional playoffs was one thing. Eliminating the Patriots from the postseason in front of their home crowd is an entirely different task.

These are the Patriots, after all.

They’ve got the greatest quarterback of all time in Tom Brady, who will likely be recognized as the NFL’s MVP in a couple of weeks. Bill Belichick is the best head coach in the Super Bowl era, if not ever, and several head-scratching coaching decisions that have been made this postseason only highlight how much better he is than everyone else.

Tight end Rob Gronkowski might be the most unguardable player in all of football. New England was fifth in scoring defense in the regular season, and they’ve allowed more than 17 points just twice in the last 13 games.

After winning their fifth championship in the Brady-Belichick era a year ago, New England has seemed destined to return to the Super Bowl. They’ve been the favorites for basically the entire season, and they cruised past the Tennessee Titans in their first playoff game.

By the time Sunday’s game kicks off, the betting line might be up to double-digits. New England is a nine-point favorite, via OddsShark, and the over/under is 46.5.

Are the lowly Jacksonville Jaguars actually going to be the team that stops the New England Patriots from winning a sixth title? Blake Bortles can’t walk into Gillette Stadium and beat Tom Brady in a playoff game, can he?

That seems to be the common theme among NFL fans, but it’s one that ignores what Jacksonville has been able to accomplish this season. Few thought the Jaguars would actually leave Pittsburgh with a victory last weekend, and they’ve got a real chance to surprise even more people with a win Sunday afternoon.

It isn’t just that the Jaguars are a dangerous team, though that’s a fact that can’t be ignored. Jacksonville’s win in Pittsburgh was hardly a fluke, considering they won at Heinz Field by an even bigger margin in Week 5. Before putting up 45 points last weekend, the Jaguars were sixth in total offense and fifth in points scored. They have the AFC’s best defense by a wide margin, ranking second in the NFL in both yards and points allowed.

Jacksonville presents a difficult matchup for New England. Excelling at what the Jaguars do well is the way to beat the Patriots in the postseason.

The Jaguars aren’t going to try and keep pace with the Patriots in a shootout like the Steelers might have. That’s not how you defeat Brady and Belichick. New England has scored more than 21 points in 13 playoff games over the last decade, and they’ve won every single one of those contests. The Patriots are 1-7 when scoring 21 points or fewer during that time.

Since Super Bowl XLII when the New York Giants ended New England’s bid for a perfect season, the Patriots are 3-7 when Brady posts less than a 95.0 passer rating. If anyone can hold the MVP favorite below that number, it’s Jacksonville, who led the NFL in the regular season by limiting opponents to a 68.5 rating.

When Brady has time to throw, he picks defenses apart. The greatest quarterback of all time isn’t nearly as dangerous when under constant pressure, something that the Giants, Broncos and Ravens have proven on multiple occasions in the playoffs.

Getting to Brady, of course, is easier said than done, though the Jaguars have the players to get that accomplished. Led by All-Pro defensive end Calais Campbell, Jacksonville was second in the regular season with 55 sacks.

Ben Roethlisberger put up big numbers as the Steelers scored 42 points against the Jaguars in the second round, though that was an aberration. Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell might be the league’s two best playmakers, and they made some incredible touchdown catches to keep Pittsburgh in the game.

Let’s not forget about Jacksonville’s ability to run the ball. No team had more yards on the ground in the regular season than the Jaguars, and only the Los Angeles Chargers allowed more yards per carry than the Patriots. Leonard Fournette appears good to go for Sunday after aggravating an ankle injury against Pittsburgh.

Reaching the AFC Championship game is a given for New England--they’ve done so in each of the last seven years. Winning it, however, isn’t always as easy.

The Patriots haven’t made consecutive Super Bowl appearances since 2004 and 2005. New England lost the AFC Championship Game on the road against the Denver Broncos in both 2014 and 2016. In the 2013 AFC Championship Game, Joe Flacco and the Baltimore Ravens walked out of Gillette Stadium with a win.

Mark Sanchez even won in Foxborough in 2011 when the New York Jets stunned the Patriots. With the league’s No.1 rushing attack and one of the best defenses the league has seen in years, Bortles and the Jaguars just might do the same.

Prediction: Jaguars over Patriots, 20-17