Gridiron Experts Staff Wild Card Preview
Buffalo Bills at Jacksonville Jaguars -8.5 | O/U 40.5
Andrew Erickson – Playoff experience is huge for teams as NFL football moves to January, but this matchup features two teams that have not sniffed the playoffs in a long time. That being said, the Jaguars have shown vulnerability over the past two weeks. I think that if LeSean McCoy plays and with Tyrod Taylor at quarterback they will be able to move the ball on the Jaguars. Mobile quarterbacks such as Marcus Mariota and Russell Wilson had success running the ball versus Jacksonville this year, so I figure Buffalo will employ a similar strategy. Leonard Fournette will most likely run wild on the Bills porous run defense, but if the game goes down to the wire, I am taking the Bills defense over Blake Bortles. Bills win by a field goal. Pick: Bills
Anthony Cervino – The Buffalo Bills will travel to EverBank Field Sunday to face the Jacksonville Jaguars in the AFC Wild Card Round of the NFL Playoffs. This intra-conference matchup will feature two teams that are not accustomed to playing January football — unless it’s a meaningless Week 17 contest. However, 2017 was different for these teams. For Buffalo, they earned a playoff berth for the first time since Rob Johnson and Doug Flutie were the top two quarterbacks on their roster, ending an 18 year postseason drought. For Jacksonville, primarily led by their stout defense, they steamrolled opponents for most of the 2017 campaign, until losing two straight to close out the year, albeit they were meaningless games since the Jaguars had the three seed already locked up.
As far as picking a winner, I’m all over the Jaguars here. Not only do I believe they will win this week, but I believe they are built to win in New England. The league’s No. 2 ranked defense in total net yards allowed (4,578) and points (268), the fierce Jacksonville unit is poised to shut down a Bills offense that finished the year ranked 29th in total net yards gained (4,842) and 22nd in points for (302).
If Buffalo has any chance of winning, it will be on the shoulders of LeSean McCoy, who is dealing with an ankle injury but is expected to play. While the Bills’ passing attack finished 2017 ranked 31st in yards gained (2,825) — the Jaguars defense concluded the season as the top-ranked unit against the pass, allowing 2,718 yards — their ground game was the bread and butter of their offense. Finishing the year ranked sixth in team rushing yards (2,017), they’ll attempt to run over the Achilles heel of the Jacksonville defense, which is defending the run. Although they are the No. 2 ranked defense overall, they finished the season ranked 21st in rushing yards allowed (1,860). As a result, the Bills have a fighting chance.
The key to this game is a player who played for both the Bills and the Jaguars this season, Marcel Dareus. At the trade deadline, Dareus was traded to the Jaguars where he was reunited with head coach Doug Marrone — with whom he played his best football under while he was the Bills’ HC from 2013-2014. In the wake of the Dareus deal, the Bills’ run defense mightily regressed while Jacksonville’s was, for the most part, tightened up. In the end, I believe the Jaguars will come out victorious, ending the Bills magical run, and perhaps Tyrod Taylor’s career in Buffalo. Pick: Jaguars 24, Bills 16
Michael Hauff – The popular belief amongst NFL fans is that the Jacksonville Jaguars are the team best suited to defeat the New England Patriots. So between that and the infectious swagger that a name change like ‘Saxsonville’ brings, the Jaguars represent this year’s NFL internet darling. Opposing them is the now feel good Buffalo Bills whose playoff drought dramatically came to a close in week 17. The biggest variable is LeSean McCoy’s ankle which as of Tuesday has him listed as a game-time decision. Even if McCoy can go, his availability will be murky at best. With the Buffalo Bills having the second-fewest passing yards in the NFL, a limited McCoy may be too much for Tyrod Taylor to endure. Literally, all Blake Bortles needs to do is not screw this up. The Jaguars will roll on to the divisional round and will cover the spread in the process. Pick: Jaguars
Brad Castronovo – Gosh, I wish I could pick against the Jaguars here. I just don’t see the Bills as a team that can beat them. The only chance I think the Bills have is if LeSean McCoy plays, and plays well. If he does, the Jaguars run defense has shown holes this year. With that said, Tyrod Taylor will have fits with the Jaguars secondary, and I could see the Jacksonville defense forcing multiple turnovers in this one. Leonard Fournette might be able to control the game here, as the Bills have allowed the 4th most rushing yards in the NFL this year. Doing so would reduce the Jaguars’ reliance on Blake Bortles to win the game with his arm… which improves their chances tenfold. I like the Jags to cover, and for the game to stay under the 40.5 total. Pick: Jaguars[the_ad id=”72096″][the_ad id=”69556″]
Graham Hackney – I genuinely think that the first quarter will decide the victors of this game. If the Bills can establish a lead then the Jaguars will struggle. If Jacksonville can pull away, then it could be hugely one-sided. Despite not even sniffing the playoffs for years (this is the first season they have won more than 5 games since 2010) the Jaguars should be confident of success. They have a defense that could take them all the way. It is, of course, their offense that is a concern, well more specifically Blake Bortles is. He has reminded us of his glorious inconsistency at the wrong time. In weeks 13-15 he threw no interceptions and seven touchdowns and had a passer rating of over 119 for three successive games; in weeks 16 and 17 he threw five interceptions, two touchdowns, and his passer rating in the final week of the season was 33.7.
In contrast, we should remember that Tyrod Taylor does not give the ball away easily; he has given up only four interceptions all season. The Jaguars defense is elite, and if anyone can snag a turnover or two it is them. But turnovers or not, I think this defense will be able to do enough to shut down the Bills, even with McCoy active, and take the Jaguars to Pittsburgh next week, where they won convincingly earlier in the season. Pick: Jaguars
Jason Willan – Buffalo’s return to the playoffs for the first time in 18 years has been a great story… but I think the Bills’ stay will be short-lived. A matchup of the leagues’ best pass defense (JAC) against one of the worst passing offenses (BUF) puts a ton a pressure on Buffalo’s running game. And while I think LeSean McCoy will play through his ankle injury, I don’t think he can do enough to keep the Bills in this game. On the other side of the ball, however, the Jaguars have seemingly been teeing up Leonard Fournette for this moment, and I think the rookie will run all over the league’s 29th-ranked rush defense, which allowed an NFL-high 22 rushing touchdowns in 2017. I’m looking for Jacksonville to win 27-13. Pick: Jaguars
Other NFL Playoff Matchups
- Tennessee Titans at Kansas City Chiefs
- Atlanta Falcons at LA Rams
- Carolina Panthers at New Orleans Saints
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