The NFL is full of surprises around every corner. Nothing can be truly expected as the season progresses. The Raiders were predicted to make a deep playoff run, and they fell flat on their faces instead. Carson Wentz was prophesied to be this season’s MVP, and an ACL tear ruined those hopes for this year. More recently, the Baltimore Ravens were slated to make the playoffs. All they had to do was beat the seemingly uninspired Bengals and they would secure a playoff berth in Week 17. But the NFL can be a wicked mistress. The final offensive drive for the Bengals just so happened to be the dagger to secure a late win. The Ravens got knocked out the playoffs after their disappointing loss, and the Buffalo Bills were inserted in their place.
In Week 17 the biggest fans of the Bengals were the Bills. They had just secured a win in Miami, and awaited the conclusion of the game going on in Cincinnati. They did their part to get into the playoffs; the rest fell in the Bengals’ hands. The Bengals were eliminated weeks ago, but like they did with the Lions the week before, they aimed to crush the Ravens’ playoff hopes. A late touchdown from the Bengals sent the Ravens home early, and ushered the Bills into the playoffs for the first time since 1999.
— Buffalo Bills (@buffalobills) January 1, 2018
The Bills don’t want to just make a playoff appearance, they want to win a playoff match-up. That’s something the team hasn’t done since 1995. Their odds to make Super Bowl 52 has gotten a lot better from December to now. This Saturday the Bills will play their first game in January in over a decade in Jacksonville, home of the also playoff-starved Jaguars. Here’s how the Bills can upset the best defense and third seed this weekend:
Strike Early, Strike Often
The only way for the Bills to dismantle the Jaguars defense will be through running an up-tempo offense. On all cylinders the offense has to be no less than perfect. Tyrod Taylor needs to do what he does best: keep the defense guessing. He needs the green light to roll out of the pocket as much as he can. Taylor is a huge threat when he leaves the pocket. He can pull linebackers out of the play to become fixated on him and can fire over his head to a receiver left open on a drag route. If the linebacker plays back on the receiver, Tyrod can tuck the ball and punish the defense with a run. Extend the drive and tire out the defense, and in turn pressure Blake Bortles with less time to answer.
This game will come down to which team can cause a defensive breakdown. Both the Bills and Jaguars are defensively minded teams, so scoring early will set the tone of the game. Expect this game to be a low-scoring affair, so the Bills can capitalize by catching the opposing defense off guard early.
It’s Always Shady in Buffalo
There’s no question that the Bills would not be the same on offensive without their workhorse running back. Shady McCoy is a difference-maker in the Bills’ offense, and could make a splash against the Jags. McCoy is making progress with coming back early from an ankle injury he suffered in Week 17. Dr. David Chao claims McCoy can play through his injury, but worries about his production level:
Good sign that @CutonDime25 was dressed and out of boot.
Still slight hitch in gait walking.
Not impossible to play but effectiveness will be the question.
He is where I thought he would be from Sunday when carted off.https://t.co/7DImpOYqs7 https://t.co/oRWYYCWvEn
— David J. Chao, MD (@ProFootballDoc) January 4, 2018
If LeSean McCoy is active this week, it will be a huge plus for the Bills to have him in the backfield. It not only opens up room for Tyrod Taylor to operate, but it alleviates the need for the Bills to use their 23rd-ranked air attack. On the other end of the field, the Jaguars may be 1st in pass defense, but are 26th in stopping the run. McCoy is the team’s leading rusher at 1,138 yards. He is also Tyrod Taylor’s favorite passing target. If LeSean McCoy plays on Sunday, the Bills’ chances to trounce the Jaguars’ playoff run early increases.
Stop the Run
On defense, the Bills have to run rampant on Blake Bortles and the Jaguars. If the big guys up front can keep Leonard Fournette from having his usual productive game, then the Jags’ offense will waiver. The one thing that the Jaguars’ offense cannot afford is to become one-dimensional. Blake Bortles has not proven to be clutch whatsoever. He is one of the most important cogs of the offense, but is also one of the most inconsistent.
If the Bills can keep the ball is his hands and force Bortles to throw, they will be in great shape. Their secondary of Tre’Davious White, Jordan Poyer, E.J. Gaines, and Micah Hyde is a scary ball-hawking group. Bortles can get into some trouble against this group, and if he throws a few interceptions that only helps the Bills gain advantage. Against the Bills’ back line throw across the middle if you dare, and throw deep if you can.