The two teams that will take the field in Sunday’s AFC Wild Card Game are both great stories. The Buffalo Bills are in the playoffs for the first time since 1999. The Jacksonville Jaguars are in the postseason for the first time since 2007 and are hosting their first playoff game since 2000. Former Buffalo Bills head coach Doug Marrone faces his former team as the Jacksonville Jaguars head coach. Early Monday morning, we saw some initial investment on this game, as the juice increased on Jacksonville at -7 and some shops moved up to -7.5.
The Bills needed a miracle and they got one. Buffalo took care of business against Miami, but needed a late touchdown from Cincinnati to get the Baltimore upset that punched a ticket to the playoffs. Buffalo went 9-7 straight up and 8-6-2 against the number this season. It was just good enough to sneak into the postseason and sent the Bills Mafia into a frenzy that certainly carried over well into the New Year. The Jaguars went 10-6 and had one of their best seasons in franchise history, but things have been rocky of late. The Jaguars have dropped two straight after a blowout win over a Texans team that seemed to have quit. This is a young team in the spotlight for the first time and there are a lot of questions going into this weekend. The Jaguars wrapped up the regular season at 9-7 ATS.
Whether the Bills or the Ravens grabbed the last AFC playoff spot, one of the worst offenses in the NFL was going to be one of the final 12 teams standing in the quest for Super Bowl LII. The Bills only managed 4.8 yards per play this season, which ranked tied for 27th. Even the Cleveland Browns had more yards per play. Quarterback Tyrod Taylor took good care of the football with a 14/4 TD/INT ratio and a 62.6 percent completion rate, but there weren’t a whole lot of explosive plays for this passing offense. Even with one of the lowest interception totals in the league, the Bills were 22nd in adjusted net yards per pass attempt. The saving grace has been LeSean McCoy. Unfortunately, McCoy’s services are in question this week. He had 11 carries for 10 yards against the Dolphins and left on a cart after suffering what is believed to be a sprained ankle. McCoy accounted for 1,586 of the 4,482 yards gained by the Bills this season. He’ll tough it out as best he can, and he has a favorable matchup against a Jacksonville defense that allowed 4.3 yards per carry, but this is a big worry for Buffalo going forward. You’ll want to stay up-to-date on the latest injury news with him.
Defensively, the Bills lived on takeaways early in the season and struggled for large portions of the season. Through Week 8, the Bills were 5-2 and had 17 takeaways. Over the final nine games, the Bills bobbed and weaved to a 4-5 record and only had eight takeaways. The Bills had one of the worst rushing defenses in the NFL with 4.3 yards per carry allowed and 22 rushing touchdowns against. That is not a good sign against a Jacksonville ground game that has been among the league’s best for most of the season. Since their Week 6 bye, the Bills defense has only held four opponents under 350 yards. With an offense that lacks big play potential, this is not a good sign. However, the Bills rallied to win three of their last four by any means necessary.
Jacksonville’s offense was just barely above average from a yards per play standpoint. With a defense like this, that was all that the Jaguars needed. The Jags wound up with 5.4 yards per play and actually got better play late in the year from Blake Bortles as Leonard Fournette’s production took a tumble. The problem for Jacksonville is that they have trailed a lot and have had to rely on Bortles. Prior to Week 17, the Jaguars had over 420 yards in four straight games and three games with well over 320 passing yards. The blueprint doesn’t include that much Blake Bortles, especially with injuries to Allen Robinson and Marqise Lee. Since Week 6, when Fournette got hurt and missed three straight games, he has only averaged more than four yards per carry in a game once. This is a growing concern for the Jaguars, as he simply doesn’t appear to be healthy. With a big number to cover in what projects to be a low-scoring game, Fournette is the most important piece of this offensive equation for the Jaguars.
Jacksonville’s defensive strengths are mitigated a bit in this game. The “Sacksonville” defense racked up a ton of pressures and 55 sacks. There aren’t many quarterbacks in the NFL more mobile than Tyrod Taylor. Furthermore, another strength of this Jacksonville team was forcing turnovers. They had 33 takeaways, second only to Baltimore. The Bills only turned it over 16 times because Taylor takes care of the football in the passing game and the Bills run the rock a lot. Perhaps the loss of McCoy will make it harder to avoid those fumbles, but what Jacksonville does well doesn’t translate to this matchup quite as effectively as it would have to other matchups. The Titans, who have a mobile quarterback and focus on the run, beat Jacksonville twice. The Jets also ran the ball a lot and had a veteran quarterback that took care of the ball. That was also a loss.