If there’s ever going to be a changing of the guard in the AFC, the Patriots’ visit to Jacksonville on Sunday would seem a perfect time.

Except when you look at the numbers that say Tom Brady doesn’t lose to the Jaguars.


Jacksonville had a 10-point lead at New England in the second half of the AFC championship game last January before Brady worked his magic. It shouldn’t have been a surprise in this matchup: Brady is 8-0 against the Jaguars, the only AFC team without a win against the five-time Super Bowl champion and three-time league MVP. He has 19 TDs and two interceptions against Jacksonville while completing more than 70 percent of his passes for more than 1,800 yards.

So solving Brady is a must for Jacksonville in this battle of opening-game winners that could wind up pivotal for the AFC playoffs.

“It’s going to be an emotional environment,” Brady said. “I think everyone, whenever you play some of the best teams, you want to see where you’re measured up to, and that defense has been ranked very high all last year, and I could see why. We practiced against them. They were very good. They’ve got a lot of very talented players – some of the guys that are probably the best at their position. So it’s going to be a great environment for football.”

Brady has 224 career wins, one shy of the NFL record held by kicker Adam Vinatieri, whose Colts are at Washington.

Jacksonville could be short- handed in a key area: running back Leonard Fournette has hamstring issues and the Jaguars need a strong running game to keep Brady on the sideline.

T.J. Yeldon would get the start if Fournette can’t go.

“He’s always been good,” Coach Doug Marrone said of Yeldon. “I think he’s more explosive. He’s stronger. He’s elusive. I think he can carry a load of carries.”

Belichick said the Patriots’ defense would be challenged by the Jacksonville running backs whether it’s Fournette, Yeldon or both.

“It’s a tough combination,” Belichick said. “Both are really good – different but explosive. Tackling is going to be a big issue for us this week. Those guys are hard to tackle. They make a lot of yards on their own with their running skills, and so defeating the blocks and getting into position is half the battle, and then the other half of it is actually making the tackle and getting them on the ground. So it will be very challenging for us. These guys are good.”

During the offseason, Yeldon lost weight in preparation for the campaign, coming in at less than 220 pounds for the first time in his NFL career.

“I feel better, lighter, quicker, faster, more explosive,” Yeldon said. “I feel like it makes a big difference. I can cut better. I’m doing a lot of things better. I feel more comfortable this way.”

Marrone said Yeldon entered the season looking his best.

At Alabama, Yeldon ran for 3,322 yards and 37 touchdowns in three seasons before joining Jacksonville as a second-round pick in the 2015 draft.

SONY MICHEL hasn’t been officially activated for Sunday’s game, joining fellow running back Rex Burkhead – along with offensive tackle Marcus Cannon (calf) and defensive back Keion Crossen (hamstring) – as questionable on the injury report.

But the Patriots’ rookie knows what he will be up against if he gets a chance to make his NFL debut.

While Michel was churning out all-purpose yards for Georgia last year, Jacksonville was second in the NFL in total defense (286.1 ypg.), points allowed (16.8) and sacks (55). And the Jaguars opened as the third-rated defense in the AFC following their victory over the Giants last week.

“They have a great defense and they are fast,” Michel said after practice Friday. “They run to the ball well and they are trying to create turnovers. I’m excited about (the) game.”

The 5-foot-11, 215-pound first-round draft pick suffered a knee injury early in training camp, and missed the four preseason games and the regular seson opener against Houston.

The Patriots’ lack of depth at running back could dictate whether Michel plays. Jeremy Hill was lost for the season with a torn ACL and Burkhead suffered a concussion against the Texans. James White is primarily a third-down back so the Patriots brought in a former Eagle, Kenjon Barner to add depth.

“I’ll be excited whenever my day comes but it’s all preparation and our preparation the week for that game,” Michel said. “That’s going to matter how I play and how I feel about that game.

“As a football player you want to get that first hit out of the way but practice is the best way to simulate it all.”

LAWRENCE GUY has become a mainstay at defensive tackle for the Patriots, alongside Malcom Brown, and flanked by ends Trey Flowers and Adrian Clayborn.

Guy came to New England from the Ravens as an unrestricted free agent before last season and played in 16 games with 15 starts. He had 58 tackles and a sack, then added 14 tackles and a sack in the playoffs.

The 6-4, 315-pound eighth-year pro out of Arizona State picked up where he left off against the Texans last week, registering five tackles and putting the heat on quarterback Deshaun Watson.

“Lawrence is an experienced player,” said Belichick. “He does a good job recognizing all the little things that all good players do in those interior spots.

“He doesn’t get fooled often on the different types of plays that teams try to run. Good defensive linemen are able to figure out the differences and react properly.”

TIGHT END Jacob Hollister (hamstring), who missed the opener, was a full participant in practice on Friday and is expected to play.

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