Spread: Jaguars -8
Between Chiefs-Titans and Jaguars-Bills, it’s safe to say the AFC’s Wild Card matchups this weekend may well wind up being relative snoozers. The Bills were able to squeak their way into the playoffs with a 9-7 record thanks in large part to the Ravens’ failure to win their season finale over the lowly Bengals last week.
So, for the first time since 1999, the Bills will be playing a playoff game. They could be shorthanded, however, as running back LeSean McCoy is officially questionable to play after suffering a sprained ankle in the season-ending win over the Dolphins. McCoy is officially listed as day-to-day, though he did miss practice on Wednesday.
McCoy’s health will obviously be crucial to Buffalo’s ability to beat Jacksonville on Sunday. He’s their best offensive player by a wide margin, and he’s coming off a season during which he ran the ball 287 times for 1,138 yards with 6 touchdowns. If he’s unable to suit up, the Bills will likely resort to some combination of Mike Tolbert and Marcus Murphy in the backfield.
Tolbert logged 7 carries all season, all of which came after McCoy left last Sunday’s game. He tallied 41 yards on those 7 carries for an impressive 5.9 yards-per-carry. As for Tolbert, the husky veteran toted the ball 66 times for 247 yards with a touchdown during the regular season. He, too, saw 7 carries after McCoy left the win over Miami.
The Jaguars boast arguably the most talented defense among the 12 playoff teams, so they’ll be a tough nut to crack even if McCoy is able to play. Buffalo got a good-not-great season out of quarterback Tyrod Taylor. The diminutive passer completed 62.6 percent of his throws this season for 2,799 yards with 14 touchdowns and just 4 interceptions.
Taylor is also a threat to run, as evidenced by his 427 yards with 4 touchdowns on the ground. If McCoy can’t play, expect Taylor to shoulder some of the rushing load, as well.
Ever heard the phrase “defense wins championships?” Well, the Jaguars are hoping that proves true. Fairly recently, in fact, we’ve seen teams driven by hard-nosed defenses go all the way. The 2012 Ravens, 2013 Seahawks and 2015 Broncos each prided themselves on the defensive side of the ball, not dissimilar to these Jaguars.
Jacksonville boasts massive talent up-and-down the defense, though the unit is spearheaded by talented defensive back Jalen Ramsey, who may already be the best defensive back in the league. In just his second season, the Florida State product racked up 63 tackles along with 4 interceptions.
The Jags also spent some money on defensive free agents this past offseason, and it looks to have paid off. AJ Bouye, Calais Campbell and Barry Church have each been instrumental in their first seasons with the team. Campbell actually ranked second in the league with 14 sacks during the regular season.
The Jaguars’ offense is far less dynamic, though they’ll be fine if Blake Bortles can limit his mistakes. He may not be a quarterback capable of carrying a team, but if he can protect the football and manage the game, Jacksonville should be in good hands. Expect a heavy dosage of rookie running back Leonard Fournette, as well. The No. 4 overall pick in the most recent draft picked up 1,040 yards on 268 attempts with 9 touchdowns during his rookie campaign.
The Bills’ chances of keeping this game close hinge largely on McCoy’s status, but even if he’s able to play it’s tough to imagine the Bills storming into Jacksonville and coming out with a win. Everbank Field isn’t exactly a fortress, but this is an incredibly tough defense, and the Bills’ offense has been rather pedestrian for most of the year.
This could be a relatively low-scoring affair, as evidenced by the implied total of just 39 points. Buffalo went 9-6-1 against the spread, while the Jags went 9-7. The Bills were 4-5 as an underdog against the spread, while Jacksonville went 6-5 as a favorite.