It’s not surprising that the New England Patriots are tied for first place in the AFC East.
Seeing the Jacksonville Jaguars in a tie atop the AFC South is definitely unusual, even this early in the season.
The Patriots are 6-0 in the regular season against the Jaguars and 6-0 at home all-time in this series heading into Sunday’s matchup in which Tom Brady seeks to notch his 400th career touchdown pass.
New England (2-0) is averaging an AFC-best 34.0 points behind Brady, who has thrown for a league-high 754 yards and is tied with Arizona’s Carson Palmer for the most TD passes with seven. One more and he will join Peyton Manning, Brett Favre and Dan Marino as the only players to throw 400 in the regular season.
"Anything that’s ever been achieved by me as an individual is just a reflection of what our team has been about," Brady said. "I’ve been blessed to be on, to me, the best team (and) organization in sports."
Unsurprisingly, the record also isn’t a major concern for coach Bill Belichick.
"Look, Tom’s a great player, we’ve all said that plenty of times," Belichick said. "I don’t really care about any records this week. We really need to beat Jacksonville. Whatever our team needs to do to beat them, that’s what we need to do."
That’s something Belichick has never failed to do with the Patriots, going 6-0 against Jacksonville including two playoff wins. The Jaguars (1-1) have lost all six visits to New England, with the last five defeats there all by double digits.
Jacksonville went 0-8 on the road last year heading into its first such contest this season, though it is eager for the challenge.
"Any time you get an opportunity, you know, I guess in 20 years, to say, ‘We played the New England Patriots the year after they won the Super Bowl,’ that’s something you’ll remember, I’m sure," quarterback Blake Bortles said. "But like I said, it’s about us and how we go about our business."
While the Patriots are tied the New York Jets in the East, the Jaguars are atop the South along with Tennessee. Jacksonville, which has endured four straight losing seasons, was impressive in last Sunday’s 23-20 win over Miami.
Beating the Dolphins, a team considered a threat to the Patriots in the East, certainly got New England’s attention. Belichick said that since these teams haven’t met since 2012 that he began preparations for this matchup in the offseason, and he gave the Patriots a quiz on the Jaguars’ personnel Wednesday.
"They got off to a better start this year than they have in the past," Brady said. "It was a big win last week over the Dolphins. I’m sure they’ll be fired up and ready to go."
Brady threw for 466 yards – the second-highest total of his career – and three scores in last Sunday’s 40-32 win at Buffalo.
Rob Gronkowski accounted for 113 of those yards with seven catches and one TD. Gronkowski has caught a league-high four touchdowns and is third in the league with 207 receiving yards for the best mark among tight ends.
"He just understands that he’s going to get the ball, all he has to do is catch it," Jacksonville linebacker Telvin Smith said. "That’s the biggest thing that he’s trained himself to, just to catch the ball."
Gronkowski isn’t even Brady’s favorite option, with Julian Edelman having been targeted a league-high 31 times. Edelman had 11 receptions for 97 yards and two scores against the Bills.
The Jaguars have an emerging receiving talent in second-year man Allen Robinson, who caught six passes for a career-best 155 yards and two touchdowns against the Dolphins.
"He has the ability to do that every week," Bortles said. "He is a big, physical player with unbelievable playmaking skills. When he sets his mind to it, he can go up and catch any ball."
Bortles was 18 of 33 for 273 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. More importantly, he wasn’t sacked after being dropped at least four times in eight straight games.
"Bortles creates a lot of problems for you," Belichick said. "I thought last week against Miami was another good example of the overall effectiveness of the offense, decision making, no sacks, no turnovers."
Avoiding the rush will be a challenge for Bortles since the Patriots have a league-best 11 sacks – 3.0 by defensive end Chandler Jones. Injuries to Jaguars left tackle Luke Joeckel and guard Brandon Linder — both of whom are game-time decisions — could present additional difficulties in slowing down the rush.
Neither team’s running game has been particularly threatening. T.J. Yeldon leads the Jaguars with 121 yards and Dion Lewis has 109 for New England, though he’s been a bigger factor out of the backfield with 10 catches for 149.