BUFFALO BILLS (9-7)
at JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS (10-6)
EverBank Field – Jacksonville, FL
Kickoff: Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET
Line: Jacksonville -9.0, Total: 39.5
Taylor v. Bortles has the whole football world buzzing.
Imagine the odds you could've gotten in Vegas before the year if you were willing to bet that Jaguars QB Blake Bortles would be starting a home playoff game this year as an 8-point favorite—you would be a very rich person right now. Of course, the total for Bills-Jags on Sunday might close below 40 points, giving you an idea of just how anemic the offenses are expected to be in this Wild Card matchup between the 3 and the 6 seeds. Bills fans lost their minds this past Sunday when an improbable Bengals victory over Baltimore propelled their team to the playoffs, ending the longest active playoff drought in the NFL. There's been a lot of talk about how the fans really are just happy to be here, but one hopes the actual Buffalo players have greater ambitions, for watchability purposes if nothing else. Jacksonville dropped its regular season finale in Tennessee by a 15-10 score against a backs-against-the-wall Titans team, losing the ugly type of game that many expect to see at EverBank on Sunday. It was the Jaguar's second straight loss, albeit a less concerning one than a 44-33 defeat in San Francisco a week earlier. Since 1983, games involving a team averaging 130-plus rushing yards on the season but coming off of two consecutive rushing performances of 99 yards or fewer (JAX) are 28-9 Under against totals between 35.5 and 42 points. Over the last five seasons, Bills QB Tyrod Taylor is 16-6 ATS in games with a total set between 36.5 and 43.5. Bortles is 11-16 ATS in home games over the same time frame. Star Buffalo RB LeSean McCoy is reportedly a game-time decision for Sunday's game.
Already a longshot, it is frankly difficult to imagine the Bills moving the ball at all against Jacksonville's defense if they're without McCoy, or with a hobbled McCoy. While not the touchdown monster that fantasy owners wanted in 2017, Shady was nonetheless an elite player, rushing for over 1,000 yards and gaining 448 yards through the air, making him the team's second-leading receiver. If he's out, carries will fall to bruising RB Mike Tolbert and little-known RB Marcus Murphy but, again, don't expect either to get anywhere against the Jags. Taylor's running ability is actually the second-best weapon this offense has, although his coaches have been obstinate in their refusal to release it this season. He's the team's second-leading rusher, and not much of a passer. He takes care of the ball, having thrown only four interceptions this year, but has taken the third most sacks in the league with 46. When he does get the ball off, TE Charles Clay and WRs Deonte Thompson and Kelvin Benjamin are his main options. He showed a spark with connections to Thompson and Benjamin in the first half against the Patriots two weeks ago, but has shown little sustained chemistry with any receiver over the course of the season. Remember, Bills brass traded away WR Sammy Watkins and let WR Robert Woods walk from an already talent-poor offense before the year began.
Bortles had a brief reign as King of December, going absolutely bonkers in the first three games of the month. Unfortunately, he crashed back to earth in his past two contests, scaring off any suckers he may have otherwise convinced to bet on his success in the playoffs. He has five total interceptions in his past two games. He was actually pretty explosive aside from three picks against the 49ers two weeks ago, passing for a season-high 382 yards but ultimately dooming his team with turnover after turnover. Still, if he can play with the confidence he showed after Thanksgiving, the Jags stand a good chance to get at least by Buffalo. He's had passing lanes opened up for him this season by the presence of rookie RB Leonard Fournette next to him in the backfield. Fournette, an absolute bruiser, rushed for over 1,000 yards this season and also surprised some folks with over 300 receiving yards. After Bortles' No. 1 target, WR Allen Robinson, tore his ACL in the season opener, Bortles learned to make due with other targets. WR Allen Hurns, a 1,000-yard receiver two long seasons ago, finished with almost 500 yards this year and highly touted rookie WR Dede Westbrook struggled through injuries. (Westbrook did have three 75-plus-yard games in December, showing he's now ready for serious targets.) Instead, it was WRs Keelan Cole and Marqise Lee who picked up the bulk of the slack, each topping 700 yards. Cole had a monster December, even bigger than Westbrook's, and you can expect those two to lead the team in targets as long as they stay alive.