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Pregame: Sacksonville's pass rush vs. Tom Brady is the key

FOXBOROUGH, MASS. – Spend enough time analyzing teams, and you can convince yourself of anything. I heard the warnings when this AFC Championship Game matchup was set that no matter how you slice it, the Patriots weren’t going to blink. Too much experience. Too much Belichick. Too much Brady and Gronk, etc.

But the more I study Jacksonville, the more I like. It starts with the pass rush. The key to beating the Patriots is applying pressure on Brady, especially up the middle, and the Jaguars can get after you. Here’s Sacksonville’s starting D-line:

DE Yannick Ngakoue: 12 regular season sacks

NT Abry Jones: 1 sack

DT Malik Jackson: 8 sacks

DE Calais Campbell: 14.5 sacks

The Jaguars defense scored eight touchdowns this season. Ngakoue, in particular, is a force with his strip sacks. This has to be on Brady’s mind, especially with his right thumb injury.

Note: NFL Network showed Brady walking into Gillette Stadium with his right hand in his jacket pocket. Check back here for more pregame updates.

Follow me on Twitter: @JoeCStrib

Reports: Brady needed stitches on throwing hand but expected to play

FOXBOROUGH, MASS. – A little more than 24 hours before kickoff for the AFC Championship Game, here are three quick things to know:

1) More specifics have emerged on Tom Brady’s injury. According to NFL Network’s Ian Rappaport, Brady needed stitches to repair a cut on his right thumb, suffered during Wednesday’s practice. Tom Curran, a Patriots insider for NBC Sports Boston, reports that Brady had his thumb bent back badly, when it was smashed into by a running back, leaving the QB in pain. All signs still point to Brady playing, likely with a glove on his throwing hand, and it’ll come down to how good of a grip he can get on the ball.

2) The Jaguars have the NFL’s second ranked scoring defense, and they are loaded with talent on that side of the ball, including four Pro Bowlers – CB Jalen Ramsey, CB A.J. Bouye, DE Calais Campbell and DT Malik Jackson. But Jeff Howe, from the Boston Herald, wrote a good piece explaining how the Jaguars could still be susceptible to the Patriots. Jacksonville runs a similar scheme – the cover-3 – to the one the Seahawks and Falcons use, and Brady and Co. have shredded those defenses in recent years.

3) It’s going to be a warm one for the Vikings and Eagles in Philadelphia on Sunday, and it’ll be nice for January here in New England, too. The forecast on calls for a 45 degrees and partly cloudy for kickoff at Gillette Stadium, with temps falling into the high 30s.