Patriots

Patriots

FOXBORO -- How the Patriots will try to match up with Chargers receivers isn't clear at the moment, but wherever J.C. Jackson ends up, he'll be confident.

It's how he's been all season, and it's worked. He's worked into the starting lineup in one of the best secondaries in the league, and he's performed above and beyond his draft position. (He, uh, wasn't drafted.) Why change now?

"I feel like nobody could catch a pass on me, that's my mindset," Jackson on Wednesday. "Whoever I'm guarding, whoever's in front of me, that's my job. Make sure he doesn't catch the ball."

Who's our best guess as to which Chargers receiver that will be?

Philip Rivers has a receiving corps at his disposal that has the potential to be among the most dangerous the Patriots have seen this year.

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Keenan Allen is the team's clear-cut No. 1, as he sees a whopping 26.4 percent of throws sent in his direction. At 6-foot-2 and about 210 pounds, he has the size to be able to play outside, but he sees almost half of his targets (47 percent) from the slot as one of the sport's best route-runners.

Mike Williams is the Chargers' big-play threat, and has looked the part over the course of the last few weeks with eight catches on 14 targets for 114 yards (14.3 yards per catch) since Week 16.

Allen returned from injury that week against the Ravens and since then has caught 13 passes on 18 targets for 159 yards (12.2 yards per catch).

If the Patriots want to handle the duo the same way they handled Minnesota's back in Week 13, then maybe Stephon Gilmore will live outside the numbers with Williams (as he did, for the most part, with Stefon Diggs) while the Patriots double Allen inside with Jason McCourty or Jackson and a safety. 

 

Tyrell Williams is L.A.'s No. 3 and Jackson could find himself in a one-on-one matchup there as well.

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If the Patriots feel good about Jackson on Mike Williams one-on-one -- and there's reason to believe they should -- then they could have Gilmore follow Allen. 

Jackson has taken over the No. 2 corner role in the Patriots defense in recent weeks, he's cemented himself as among the league leaders in quarterback rating against, and Bill Belichick sang his praises last month for the improvement he's shown in his rookie season.

"Steady," Belichick said. "Steady grinder. One day at a time, just trying to get better. If he makes mistakes, try to correct it. He works at it, usually shows some improvement in that area, go on to something else. 

"But, his durability, his consistency and just being out there every day practicing, doing things, getting corrected, getting better, working on them the next day. I mean, that’s really how you improve. So, practicing and being durable and being consistent, it goes a long way."

As far as he's come, and as confident as he is, Jackson admitted there will be butterflies Sunday. There already are.

"Of course I'm nervous; it's my first playoff game," Jackson said. "I'm nervous but I'm ready. It's a 'ready' nervous."

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