Buffalo Bills (9-7) at Jacksonville Jaguars (10-6)
Sunday, January 7 th , 1:05 pm EST.
I don’t want to say that it’s a surprise that these two teams are alive and kicking in the playoffs, but let’s be real. If I had told you during week one that the Jags would win the AFC South and the Bills, after trading away Sammy Watkins, would make the playoffs for the first time this millennium, you’d probably have me committed, and rightly so. These are two teams that have capitalized on momentum and made the best of opportunities all season long. The Jaguars defense has been a revelation. A secondary that locks down on top receivers and a front that gets after the quarterback is always a tough combination, but this unit, led by Calais Campbell is something special. They rank second, behind only the Steelers with fifty-five sacks this season, and those aren’t just splash plays. They’re shutting teams down. The Jags’ defense has allowed the second fewest yards and points in the league as well. It’s a smothering defense that hasn’t shown many weaknesses thus far. The Jags, however, have lost their past two games, and haven’t looked as confident on either side of the ball. Jimmy Garoppolo and the Niners hung forty-four points on them two weeks ago, and QB Blake Bortles has shown signs of regression late this season, throwing five interceptions and only two TD’s over the past two games. The injury to WR Marqise Lee might be one reason for Bortles problems. Lee has become a top target for Bortles and is averaging over twelve yards per catch. Lee is listed as questionable for this Sunday, but indications are that he’s on schedule to return, despite missing practice this week. The Jacksonville offense, however, is likely to rise and fall on the back of Leonard Fournette and their league-leading rush offense, which averages just over one hundred-forty yards per game. If that unit can get things rolling early, it might be hard to stop.
For Buffalo, a key injury could also have major consequences for their chances of advancing. LeSean McCoy is questionable with an ankle injury, and though he’s walking without the protective boot again, and attended practice, reports from NFL.com indicate that he stretched, but hasn’t taken any full reps. His fitness for duty might well decide which of these teams moves on. Jacksonville hasn’t been great against the league’s best rushers, and McCoy can certainly be counted among them. A strong performance by Shady would grind down the pass rush of the Jaguars and create more opportunities for Tyrod Taylor to create a few big plays. I don’t expect Taylor to sit in the pocket and pick them apart like Jimmy Garoppolo, but he’d do well to dive in to that game tape and take notes. Quick passes, not broken plays, will be the key to success against Jacksonville’s front. Defensively, the Bills have a somewhat easy task to accomplish, on paper at least. Their goal will be to simply stifle Leonard Fournette early and make Blake Bortles beat them. It’s easier said than done, especially for a Bills defense that ranks among the league’s worst against the rush. That being said, I foresee them loading the box and making life difficult for the Jags.
The outcome of this game is very likely to hinge on the two questionable players. Marqise Lee is a major factor for Jacksonville, extending drives on third down. If he’s unavailable, or ineffective, Buffalo is likely to take control. McCoy, if available, will be the Bills’ best weapon, by far, against the Jacksonville pass rush. Given Blake Bortles’ struggles under pressure and the consecutive losses, if McCoy can be effective for the Bills, I can see Buffalo keeping the party alive. Save me some hot wings.
Image source: twitter.com/buffalobills
Tom Capo writes about sports, parenting, food, wine and travel; but seldom all at once. He’s currently working on his first novel and collection of shorter fiction. He lives in the Bay Area with all of his girls; wife Allison, daughter Liliana and dog Artemis.