Plenty of intrigue for when the Jaguars and Patriots meet in Sunday’s AFC championship game?
New England (14-3) Brandon Carr Jersey , the defending Super Bowl champion, is favored heading into its seventh straight conference title game. But the polished veneer it normally displays at this time of year is showing flecks of imperfection after Tom Brady injured his right hand during practice.
The injury kept Brady limited in workouts to begin the week and caused him to sit out practice entirely on Thursday.
Brady has never missed a playoff start during his 18-year career that includes four Super Bowl MPV honors. He said a bit contentiously only ”We’ll see” on Friday when asked if he would play Sunday.
He wore red gloves and responded to other questions about the hand’s status by saying ”I’m not talking about that.”
The Patriots’ top-ranked offense will need another signature performance from Brady against the Jaguars’ second-ranked defense .
Jacksonville (12-6), trying to earn a trip to its first Super Bowl, has scored eight defensive touchdowns this season, three more than any other team. That’s the most defensive touchdowns in a season by one team since the 2012 Bears.
Brady has faced a top-2 scoring defense in the playoffs three times, going 3-0 with a passer rating of 100-plus in each game.
Jaguars defensive end Calais Campbell said their respect for Brady is high. Then he dismissed the notion that anyone in Jacksonville felt like the Jags were simply playing with ”house money” after surprising Pittsburgh in the divisional round.
”We have earned the right to be here,” he said. ”We have put a lot of time and effort in, so this is an opportunity we feel like we deserve and we have prepared for. I can honestly say I expected to be here.”
Jacksonville also will be up against history: The Patriots have won the past seven meetings with the Jaguars and two straight in the postseason. Since Jacksonville entered the NFL in 1995, it is 1-10 against the Patriots, including playoff games.
”We are going to go out and there do everything possible to stay alive and earn the right to be in the Super Bowl,” Campbell said. ”They say you have to beat the best to be the best, so I can’t wait to get out there and try.”
Quarterback Blake Bortles, who has been the subject of criticism at times during his career , said Sunday isn’t about trying to prove anyone wrong.
”I don’t think so. Personally, I do not care,” he said.
Here are some things to watch for:
FOURNETTE’S HEALTH: Jaguars rookie RB Leonard Fournette said he is feeling “good” after he was rear-ended in what authorities say was a minor three-car crash early in the week.
Fournette ran for 109 yards and three touchdowns against the Steelers despite reinjuring his right ankle in the first half. It was his most productive game in three months.
”I feel good in spite of the ankle and stuff,” Fournette said. ”Just taking care of my body, but overall I feel good.”
BULLETIN BOARD MATERIAL? All-Pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey caused a stir when he told thousands of fans awaiting the team’s return after their win over the Steelers that the Jaguars ”are going to the Super Bowl and we are going to win that (expletive).”
Asked about Ramsey’s comment, Patriots special teams captain Matt Slater said Ramsey has reason to show confidence.
”He should be confident, because he is very, very good,” Slater said. ”The good Lord made that guy, and he said Tavon Young Jersey , `Let there be corner.’ And there he is. I’d be confident if I were him as well.”
CONTAINING GRONK: Coach Doug Marrone has seen plenty of Rob Gronkowski dating back to his stint as Buffalo’s head coach. His approach to trying to slow down a tight end he calls a ”nightmare” of a matchup hasn’t changed much.
”Hope they do not throw him the football. Hope he drops it,” Marrone said. ”There is no secret formula. I’d like to watch a game where someone has been able to do it. He is going to make his plays and you hope those plays don’t end up killing you.”
In his past six postseason games, Gronk has 512 yards receiving and seven touchdowns. He is looking for his seventh playoff game in a row with a TD catch.
SIZING THEM UP: Brandin Cooks is used to being underestimated because of his size. So the 5-foot-10 Patriots receiver isn’t worried about matching up against the taller players in Jacksonville’s secondary.
Both Jaguars starting cornerbacks, Ramsey and A.J. Bouye, are listed at 6-foot-1 and 6-0 respectively.
”I mean, you go and play,” Cooks said. ”We’re not talking measurements at this point in the season, you know?”
Cooks said Bouye he’s gotten better since he faced him during joint practices this summer.
”At the end of the day, they’re physical. And that’s how they play,” Cooks said. ”And they use that to their strength. So we gotta be ready to be able to match that physicality.”
AP Sports Writer Mark Long in Jacksonville, Florida, contributed to his report.
MIAMI — The Arizona Diamondbacks are in first place in the National League West, and the Miami Marlins are last in the NL East.
Yet, this four-game series between Arizona and Miami — which started on Monday night with a 9-5 Marlins win — doesn’t have the feel of an elite juggernaut against a helpless loser.
The Marlins have won three games in a row and are 12-11 in June. They arrived home on Monday from their first winning road trip (5-4) of the season.
Miami on Tuesday will return right-hander Elieser Hernandez (0-4, 5.12 ERA) to the rotation after three weeks in the bullpen. He replaces Jose Urena, who is on the disabled list due to a shoulder injury.
Hernandez, a Rule 5 draft pick from the Houston Astros, had a 4.50 ERA during four starts in late May and early June.
The Diamondbacks, who have won four of their past five games, will start right-hander Zack Godley (8-5, 4.64 ERA).
Godley is 3-0 with a 2.95 ERA in his past three starts, striking out 21 batters in 18 1/3 innings.
His arsenal includes a low-90-mph sinker as well as a cutter and curve.
“Velocity is not a huge concern for me with Zack,” Arizona manager Torey Lovullo told The Arizona Republic. “He has so much deception Marlon Humphrey Jersey , spin and movement.”
Godley, who made his major league debut in 2015, is one win away from setting a single-season career high in wins. His career record is 26-19 with a 4.30 ERA. He averages 8.8 strikeouts per nine innings for his career as well as 9.0 in that stat this year.
Meanwhile, the Marlins are hoping to return their top player to the lineup — catcher J.T. Realmuto, who is batting .308 with 18 doubles, three triples, 10 homers, 32 RBIs and a .916 OPS.
Realmuto took a foul ball off his right wrist on Sunday and was rested on Monday.
“That last at-bat (on Sunday), he took a swing,” Marlins manager Don Mattingly said. “You could tell something was bothering him.
“We think it will just be for one day. Let’s see how he feels. He was really sore (on Monday).”
The Marlins managed to win without Realmuto on Monday, in large part because starting pitcher Dan Straily (3-3) allowed just four hits, no walks and three runs in 6 1/3 innings. He struck out six for his first win since May 18.
“It was a good day for me,” said Straily, who was also effective on offense, getting one hit, drawing one walk and scoring two runs.
The Marlins had lost his past five starts, before Straily reversed the tide.
On Tuesday, Hernandez will try to keep Miami’s surge moving forward.
The Marlins cranked out 11 hits and nine runs on Monday, and they would love to give Hernandez that type of support on Tuesday.
Arizona, meanwhile, has a dangerous offense of its own. The Diamondbacks usually start quickly — they have scored a first-inning run in six of their past seven games — and they can catch fire from there.