FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) - The Jacksonville Jaguars are a very competitive team. Really.
At least that's what the New England Patriots say.
Just because the Jaguars are tied for the worst record in the NFL doesn't make Sunday's matchup a breather for the AFC East-champion Patriots after consecutive games against two of the best.
"If you give the other team a chance, they're going to take it," Patriots wide receiver Brandon Lloyd said Wednesday. "They're going to make you look bad, too, while they're doing it. So you have to prepare the same way for every opponent."
Coach Bill Belichick spends the days leading up to games praising the upcoming opponent, no matter how weak it may be, in front of his players and the media. He even found plenty of good things to say about the Jaguars (2-12):
- "Offensively, they have real good firepower," Belichick said.
The Jaguars' 219 points are the second fewest in the NFL.
- "They're a very good, competitive football team," Belichick added.
Five of their six home losses were by 17 points or more.
But recent games don't always indicate how the next one will go.
The one between the Texans and the Patriots on Dec. 10 was expected to be close. After all, Houston came in with the NFL's best record at 11-1, while the Patriots were 9-3. But New England cruised to a 42-14 win for its seventh straight victory.
So the Patriots rolled into their next game, against San Francisco, an inspired team in their own right that was 9-3-1 at the time. The latter won out, as the 49ers charged into a 31-3 lead and hung on for a 41-34 victory over the Patriots (10-4).
"I don't think you can really look at records in this league," safety Devin McCourty said. "Teams have talent across the board, so on any given Sunday, they can beat you. So we've just got to focus on fixing things that we messed up. ... We have to come out and play a better game than we played last week."
They'd probably win in Jacksonville even if they played worse, especially with Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew likely to miss his ninth game with a sprained left foot.
But the Patriots, who had won seven in a row before the 49ers game, want to storm into the playoffs. And an all-around effort in Florida would help that theory.
Barring a bunch of upsets, they'll be seeded no better than third in the AFC behind Houston (12-2) and Denver (11-3) and have to play on the postseason's first weekend.
To snag one of the top two spots, New England would have to win its remaining games against Jacksonville and Miami and hope Houston loses to Minnesota and Indianapolis.
The Broncos would have to lose one of their last two regular-season games against Cleveland or Kansas City - an unlikely prospect - for the Patriots to have a chance to overtake them.
"I'm not smart enough to understand the 80 different things that can happen," Belichick said. "I don't really care. There's nothing we can do about any of them. I think what we need to worry about is the New England Patriots."
With the league's highest-scoring offense (36.1 points per game), they have a very good chance of moving the ball well. The Jaguars have allowed the NFL's fourth-most points (27.4 per game).
Tom Brady said he probably remembers all his losses. He certainly doesn't want to add the Jaguars to that group.
"There are important games like this that you see how tough you are, to put things behind you and to move forward," said the Patriots quarterback, who threw two interceptions against the 49ers. "We had a pretty good streak there going of wins and it feels pretty good when you're on those winning streaks. And then when you lose, it feels like you haven't won a game in three years."
The Jaguars have won just once in three months.
They did push the Texans into overtime before losing, 43-37, Nov. 18, then beat Tennessee, 24-19. They've lost all three games since then, but Brady doesn't see any quit in the Jaguars, and doesn't expect to see that this week, either.
Either way, the game is shaping up to be an effective elixir for New England after a tough two-game homestand that didn't end the way it began.
"As any competitor, you hate when you lose, no matter when it is," McCourty said. "This team hates losing, so guys are anxious to get back out there and that's the only thing that kind of fixes it, is when you get back out on the field and you get to play again."