Jacksonville is the only contestant in the NFL’s championship games that is not supposed to be here.

Philadelphia and Minnesota needed dramatic finishes to post victories in the NFC divisional round, but they were playing at home as top-two seeds. Jacksonville had to survive the wild card round and then visit the Pittsburgh Steelers. Nearly everyone anticipated an AFC title game between New England and Pittsburgh.

But the Jaguars shockingly took a 21-0 lead and held on for a 45-42 win over the Steelers. In advance of the franchise’s first AFC championship game appearance in 18 years, here’s a closer look at the Jaguars.

Team’s theme

In his first full season as Jacksonville’s coach, Doug Marrone has brought toughness to the Jaguars. They have the strongest statistics of any remaining team in the playoffs, ranking in the top six both offensively and defensively, in terms of yardage, although few observers are taking them seriously as championship contenders. In the franchise’s 23rd season, Jacksonville joins Detroit, Cleveland and Houston as teams that never have played in the Super Bowl.

How they got here

They were easily overlooked coming into the year after not having won a playoff game since the 2007 season, but the Jaguars went 10-6 to win the AFC South title and earn the No. 3 seed in the AFC playoffs. Jacksonville beat Buffalo 10-3 in the wild card round before upsetting Pittsburgh.

The quarterbacking matchup of New England’s Tom Brady vs. Jacksonville’s Blake Bortles is viewed as one-sided, but Bortles passed for 214 yards against Pittsburgh. A secondary led by All-Pro cornerbacks Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye will have to play better Sunday, after allowing Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger to pass for 469 yards and five touchdowns.

Local connections

Hunter Dimick, a Syracuse High alumnus and the University of Utah’s career leader in sacks, has spent the entire season on the Jaguars’ practice squad. That’s unusual, amid the NFL’s roster turnover, and appropriate, considering Utah was known as “Sack Lake City” during Dimick’s tenure and the Jaguars call themselves “Sacksonville.”

Dimick has practiced as a fullback, in addition to his usual defensive line position.

Eric Price, an Ogden High graduate who played quarterback at Dixie State and Weber State, is an offensive researcher for the coaching staff.

Moment in BYU/Utah opponent history

As a UCLA linebacker who also played offense occasionally, Myles Jack clinched the Bruins’ 34-27 victory at Utah with his last-minute interception as a freshman in 2013. The Utes had recovered an onside kick and driven to the UCLA 26-yard line. On fourth down, Utah quarterback Travis Wilson threw his sixth interception of the night.

Best player

Calais Campbell, defensive lineman. After spending nine years with Arizona, Campbell joined the Jaguars this season and has lifted their defense to a No. 2 ranking in yards allowed. He made the AP All-Pro first team as an edge rusher and the second team as an interior lineman.

Best player you’ve never heard of

Telvin Smith, linebacker. The second-team All-Pro pick returned a fumble 50 yards for a touchdown against Pittsburgh, although his taunting penalty after the score gave the Steelers good field position. Smith has made 27 tackles in two playoff games.

Reasons to cheer for them

The Jaguars are new and appealing enough on their own merits, but being matched against New England’s dynasty makes them even more endearing. The anti-Patriots sentiment around the country will give Jacksonville a strong following Sunday.


ABOUT THE SERIES

Tribune columnist Kurt Kragthorpe introduces the four teams in the Sunday’s NFL championship games. This installment: Jacksonville Jaguars.