The Jacksonville Jaguars are the only team standing between the New England Patriots and another Super Bowl appearance.

Who would have thought that?

How many of you smiled when the Jags upset the Pittsburgh Steelers last Sunday? How many of you are happy that the Steelers aren’t taking on the Patriots at Gillette Stadium at 3:05 p.m. Sunday?

Well, be careful for what you wish for. The Jaguars are every bit as dangerous as the Steelers would have been.

Yes, the Patriots are facing Blake Bortles and Marqise Lee and Allen Hurns instead of Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown and Martavis Bryant. But they’re also facing the NFL’s second-ranked overall defense and top-ranked pass defense.

Don’t get me wrong. I think the Patriots are going to be celebrating another AFC championship Sunday evening. I just think it’s going to be closer than a lot of people expect.

Jacksonville presents a ton of challenges for the Patriots, especially if Tom Brady’s injured right hand hasn’t completely healed. The Jaguars get after the passer (55 sacks, second in the NFL); they don’t give up many touchdowns (29, third fewest in the league); and they force turnovers (33 takeaways, second in the NFL, with a league-high seven defensive touchdowns).

They have the ability to make Brady human. And although he’s 7-0 lifetime against the Jaguars (completing 72 percent of his passes with 17 touchdowns and two interceptions), Brady has struggled at times in the AFC championship game:

In a 21-12 win over San Diego on Jan. 20, 2008, Brady threw three interceptions and had a quarterback rating of 66.4 (more on that game later).

On Jan. 22, 2012, in a 23-20 win over Baltimore, he threw two interceptions with no touchdowns and had a quarterback rating of 57.5.

The next year, in a 28-13 loss to the Ravens, his quarterback rating was 62.3 after he threw two interceptions and one touchdown pass.

Two years ago, in a 20-18 loss in Denver, he again threw two interceptions and one touchdown pass, with a rating of 56.4.

Will the hand injury affect Brady’s throwing on Sunday? And if he can’t play or is hindered, how confident are you in Brian Hoyer? His only career playoff start, with Houston on Jan. 9, 2016, included four interceptions and a rating of 15.9 in a 30-0 loss to Kansas City?

The fact is, it was going to be hard enough to throw against the Jaguars even with a healthy Brady. Facing cornerbacks Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye, the Patriots wide receivers might be an afterthought, with running backs and tight ends demanding most of Brady’s attention. That would mean fewer deep passes, with Rob Gronkowski, Dion Lewis and James White taking lead roles.

You don’t want to give the Jags time to pressure the quarterback. Calais Campbell had an AFC-leading 141/2 sacks, and Yannick Ngakoue had 12 sacks and six forced fumbles. This is a huge game for New England’s offensive line.

I think the Patriots can run on the Jaguars, especially if Rex Burkhead is healthy. He gives New England another multi-dimensional back to put pressure on Jacksonville’s defense. The Patriots will look to exploit the matchups with their backs and Gronkowski.

But don’t sleep on Jacksonville’s offense. They can run the ball with rookie Leonard Fournette, who rushed for 1,040 yards and nine touchdowns in the regular season. He’s rushed for 166 yards and three touchdowns in the playoffs. And the Jaguars convert in the red zone. Including the playoffs, Jacksonville has had 56 red-zone trips and has scored 40 touchdowns, an NFL-best 67.9 percent. New England is third at 62.7 percent (47 touchdowns on 75 chances).

Yes, Bortles was ranked 21st among quarterbacks in the regular season (84.7 rating) and was even worse in clutch situations – 26th in third-down passing (67.7) and 39th in fourth-quarter passing (54.1).

While Bortles is maligned by the Jacksonville fan base, though, he has the ability to come up big. In last week’s 45-42 win at Pittsburgh, Jacksonville was 7 for 16 on third down and Bortles was responsible for all seven first downs: 6 for 11 passing for 88 yards and a 16-yard run on a third-and-8.

The Patriots know they have to contain Bortles. He rushed for 88 yards in Jacksonville’s wild-card win over Buffalo. Like Tennessee’s Marcus Mariota, he might be more dangerous on the move than in the pocket.

Bortles and Fournette will put a lot of pressure on a Patriots run defense that has consistently improved. Last week, the Patriots held Tennessee’s Derrick Henry to 28 rushing yards, and the Titans to 65 as a team. New England is going to have to duplicate that effort against the Jaguars and force Bortles to throw the ball.

This game really reminds me of that AFC title game against San Diego. The Patriots were 17-0 going into the game; the Chargers pulled an upset on the road against Peyton Manning and Indianapolis to advance to the AFC final.

New England was a 14-point favorite over the Chargers. But San Diego, despite losing running back LaDanian Tomlinson to an injury, hung tight behind a defense that intercepted Brady three times. New England led only 14-12 entering the fourth quarter, its own defense forcing Philip Rivers into a miserable passing day.

I think this one will be similarly close. I think the Jaguars have that chip on their shoulders to push the Patriots to their limit.

But I also think that the Patriots have their own statement to make. It sure looks like they’re going to be losing their top assistants, offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, defensive coordinator Matt Patricia and maybe linebackers coach Brian Flores, to other head coaching jobs in the offseason. So this could be the last go-round for the old gang. And there’s no way the Patriots are going to let it end in Foxborough.

The final score? New England 23, Jacksonville 14.

And then it’s on to Super Bowl LII.