The 10-4 Patriots find themselves jockeying for seeding in the AFC playoff race.
Their next opponent, the Jacksonville Jaguars, are in a different sort of race, as they stand at 2-11, tied for the worst record in all of football. That puts them in line for the first overall pick in next year's draft, which would be a first in franchise history.
The top pick isn't yet sealed for Jacksonville, with Kansas City (2-11) also in the mix. The next two weeks will decide exactly where the Jaguars select, but while the team is severely struggling this season, there is some talent on both sides of the ball.
Here's a brief introduction to the Jaguars, with some names and faces of note:
Record: 2-11 (last in AFC South)
Head coach: Mike Mularkey (first season, 2-11)
Offensive coordinator: Bob Bratkowski
Defensive coordinator: Mel Tucker
THREE PLAYERS TO KNOW, OFFENSE
1. QB Chad Henne. With second-year signal-caller Blaine Gabbert on injured reserve, the veteran Henne has taken over under center. It's hard to argue against the notion that he's outperformed Gabbert, as Henne has injected some life into a Jacksonville offense that has struggled massively with its best player, running back Maurice Jones-Drew, missing eight games (the team announced he is questionable to play this weekend). Henne threw for more than 350 yards and four touchdowns against the Houston Texans back in Week 11 and has developed a decent rapport with his wide receivers.
2. WR Cecil Shorts III. Numbers of note: Over his past eight games, Bengals star wide receiver A.J. Green has 580 receiving yards, five touchdowns and one 100-plus yard receiving game. Over his past eight games, Jaguars wide receiver Cecil Shorts III has 720 receiving yards, five touchdowns and four 100-plus yard receiving games. We certainly prefer Green as a player, but those numbers demonstrate the type of player Shorts has developed into. He's the top target in this offense and a very good athlete who can work both the underneath and vertical routes. He has three catches of 50 yards or more this season, his second in the NFL.
3. WR Justin Blackmon. While Shorts has been the top receiver in Jacksonville this season, Blackmon is the player the team traded up for in the draft to take fifth overall this past April. Blackmon's rookie season has been a bit of a mixed bag, as he's had one catch or fewer in three separate games, but has shown progress in recent weeks. His athleticism has never been his forte, but Blackmon has very good competitive catch skills and is growing as a route runner. At 210 pounds, he's not an easy player to drag down.
THREE PLAYERS TO KNOW, DEFENSE
1. LB Paul Posluszny. The former Bills linebacker has continued his productive ways since signing with Jacksonville during the 2011 offseason. He leads all Jaguars with 112 tackles, and is tied for the team lead in both interceptions (3) and forced fumbles (2). Posluszny has a stout build and can defend both against the pass and the run, and has quickly developed into the quarterback of the Jacksonville defense. In his final game with the Bills against the Patriots, the veteran 'backer totaled 13 tackles.
2. DE Jason Babin. Waived by Philadelphia last month, Babin landed in Jacksonville with the Jaguars, who claimed the balance of his lucrative contract. It wasn't hard to figure out the Jaguars' interest in Babin, as the team ranks dead last in the NFL with just 15 sacks on the season. Although his production has severely tailed off from 2011, Babin remains a capable pass rusher with very good speed and quickness off the edge. The Patriots have largely held up well against top-tier pass rushers in 2012 and will be tested again by Babin.
3. CB Derek Cox. A fourth-year player out of William & Mary, Cox has developed into a solid cornerback for the Jaguars and is tied with Posluszny with three interceptions. He was under the radar upon entering the league, as he was not invited to the combine, but the Jaguars saw enough in his college film to take him in the third round of the 2009 draft. He made a splash in his NFL debut with an interception of Peyton Manning and fumble recovery from Reggie Wayne. He is a good athlete with dependable ball skills.
2012 RECAP THROUGH 14 GAMES
Head coach Mike Mularky was hired away from the Falcons this offseason, and the hope was for him to serve as the same quarterback tutor that he was to Matt Ryan in Atlanta. Blaine Gabbert, a first-round pick in 2011, was playing poorly prior to his injury, and it's not too soon to bring up the question as to whether or not the team must look for a new answer at quarterback. With a weaker quarterback class in the upcoming draft than the one witnessed this past year, it's unclear if the answer for Jacksonville is available at the top of the first round. The Jaguars have had massive offensive struggles without running back Maurice Jones-Drew (foot), and have scored just 16 touchdowns all season -- tied for the fewest in the NFL. Though the Jaguars have just two wins this season, they've lost three overtime games and kept close in a number of others. New owner Shad Khan appears to have brought a vision to Jacksonville, and it will be interesting to see how this franchise transitions moving forward.