BUFFALO BILLS (9-7, Sixth Seed AFC) vs. JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS (10-6, Third Seed AFC):
Buffalo: First, let’s focus on the positive: The regular season is over, and the Bills are still playing. In fact, they come into the playoffs on a bit of a hot streak, having won 3 of their last 4, including a victory over Atlanta in Atlanta and a very close loss to the Carolina Panthers, two playoff teams from the very strong NFC South. Buffalo has also won 5 of their last 7. But with LeSean McCoy a game time decision and clearly not at 100% even if he does play, that’s about the extent of the good news. I won’t dwell on the bad too much, especially since it’s been pretty obvious all season. Buffalo has one of the lower rated offenses in all the NFL, and the Jags “Sacksonville” – yeah, that’s really what they call it – defense is top tier. Possibly even more important, the Bills rushing defense has been near the bottom for the second half of this season. That’s bad news when going against a Jacksonville team that loves to pound the ball, and does so successfully.
Jacksonville: Solid but not spectacular, the Jaguars are built like the successful Ravens teams from their Super Bowl runs: Defense, running, and more defense. Expect a very heavy dose of 1,000 yard rookie Leonard Fournette from them as their QB Blake Bortles has gone another year not really maturing from the “competent but inconsistent” tag he’s had for years and he’s going against a solid secondary. They do come into the game having lost their final two regular season games, but both were on the road and against solid opposition: playoff bound Tennessee and a resurgent San Francisco.
My Prediction: Jacksonville
Yes, Buffalo has the momentum and I don’t expect the Bills to self-destruct from lack of experience any more than the Jags might, and Jacksonville doesn’t present much of a home advantage. But they are going to be hard pressed to score without also winning the turnover battle (the good news there is the Jags are prone to turnovers) along with most of the other smaller ones as well like penalties and Special Teams. Jacksonville will look to do what they always do: run the ball to control the clock, and dominate defensively to control field position to help out their often anemic offense. With a fully healthy McCoy the Bills could have matched that strategy, especially since the only real weakness of the Jags defense is against the run, but the 20-30 successful carries needed just does not seem realistic. If I were a betting man, I’d take the points will Buffalo along with the unders, because I expect this to be a throw back, old school looking scrum (though I admit having Florida as the setting for it is a glaring Geographical Anachronism). But though it’s more up in the air than the odds makers see it, ultimately I still see it as Jacksonville 20 Buffalo 13