Jaguars assistant coaches favor New England and Philadelphia in this weekend's AFC and NFC championship games. Pittsburgh will host New England and Atlanta will play at Philadelphia this Sunday and, of course, the winners will advance to Super Bowl XXXIX in Jacksonville.
"That's going to be a great game between two teams with great defenses and efficient offenses," wide receivers coach Ken Anderson said of the Patriots-Steelers matchup. "I'm going to go with New England. Roethlisberger struggled a little bit in the last one."
Anderson's remarks on the AFC title game match were echoed by the majority of Jaguars assistant coaches. Anderson was joined by defensive line coach Ray Hamilton, defensive backs coach Alvin Reynolds, tight ends coach Alfredo Roberts, running backs coach Anthony Lynn, offensive line coach Paul Boudreau and special teams coordinator Pete Rodriguez. Hamilton played for the Patriots.
Defensive coordinator Mike Smith offered the minority opinion. "I'm going with Pittsburgh because they're going to be able to run the football on New England," Smith said.
Assistant offensive line coach Andy Heck went with the home teams in both games, defensive assistant Todd Howard predicted an "All-Keystone State Super Bowl," and assistant special teams coach Bob Ligashesky succumbed to "hometown" feelings.
"Can I speak from my heart? Who do I want or who is my pick? I'm just going to be a hometown fan," said Ligashesky, a Pittsburgh native.
"New England is going to be looking for revenge. The QB is one of the most underrated guys. He'll be the big difference. Corey Dillon didn't play in the first game, so that should help. I look for the Patriots to win that game. Pittsburgh doesn't do as much as New England does on offense. They try to keep it pretty simple," Hamilton said of his thoughts on the AFC game.
"It'll be one heckuva game," Reynolds said. "You've got two of the best coaches in the league and one of the toughest defenses in the league from a mentality standpoint in Pittsburgh. It'll be a chess match between the two coaches. Who wins? In overtime, New England."
Boudreau's forecast differs dramatically from Smith's.
"I like New England. I think Brady in the playoffs is going to be hard to beat. Pittsburgh is a really good team and their quarterback had a good run but last week was a good indicator of how things go in the playoffs; things change. I think New England shuts down the running game and the Steelers become one-dimensional," Boudreau said.
"I'm kind of rooting for Pittsburgh but I kind of feel Brady gives New England the edge," said Rodriguez, who says each of the four teams has outstanding special teams and doesn't see a distinct advantage for anyone in the kicking game.
"It's going to be a tall task for New England to go to Pittsburgh and win but right now they look like the best team in the league. The distractions haven't bothered those guys. I like New England's chances," Lynn said.
Philadelphia got the nod from eight of the Jaguars' 11 assistant coaches.
"If they can frustrate Michael Vick early on, the Eagles should win it. If Vick gets started early, running and having success, it could be a different story. The Eagles have to protect McNabb. I'll pick Philadelphia," Hamilton said.
"You have the x-factor on both sides, and that's the quarterback. One of them will make the key play. I say Falcons. I say Vick will make the play," Reynolds said in representing the NFC minority opinion.
"Philadelphia has lost three championship games. They're due. I think number four is the charm for them," Anderson said.
"The quarterbacks are very athletic. They create so much with their feet. Atlanta is going to have the nod in the running game. I like Philly because they've been there before. I think they'll find out where they came up short and fix it, and they're at home," Roberts said.
Boudreau referred to Vick as "Barry Sanders at quarterback. I think Atlanta flies in under the radar and sneaks up on Philly."
"If Michael Vick is held under 100, Philadelphia wins. I'm going with Philly," Smith said.
"Michael Vick is fun to watch. You'd kind of like to see Philadelphia get over the hump," said Howard, who will be rooting for two Eagles assistant coaches with whom Howard coached while at Texas A&M.
"Great defenses, smash-mouth football, cold weather; I think it's everything a fan could want. It's beautiful," Heck said in previewing this weekend's action.