There are the obvious links that bind the Bills and Jaguars going into their AFC wild-card playoff meeting Sunday in Jacksonville. There are the long postseason droughts ended, 17 years for the Bills and nine years for the Jaguars. There’s the Doug Marrone factor — he’s coached all of three full seasons in the NFL, two in Buffalo and one in Jacksonville, and two of them are winning seasons, one in each city. And there are the quarterbacks and the lack of commitment to them. Tyrod Taylor got benched at midseason with a winning record. Blake Bortles wasn’t given his fifth-year option after being the third overall pick in 2014.
Then, there’s the more subtle link. For both, it’s anyone’s guess which team will show up in any given week.
That’s not terribly uncommon on wild-card weekend — if either were more consistent, they’d be off this week. But here is a Jaguars team that physically dominated playoff contender Seattle in Week 14, then two weeks later got physically dominated itself by a 10-loss 49ers team. The Bills, meanwhile, in a three-week span earlier, gave up 298 rushing yards to the Saints and lost at home 47-10, then went to Kansas City and smothered Alex Smith’s offense in a 16-10 win. (The game in between, with Nathan Peterman starting … that is and always will be a separate issue.)
With all that, though, one of these teams is moving on to the divisional round against one of the two overwhelming Super Bowl favorites, the Steelers or Patriots. Hint: Don’t necessarily be distracted by which has the most heart warming story and the most pulse-pounding finish.
Buffalo Bills at Jacksonville Jaguars (-7.5): Picks, predictions
Sunday, 1:05 p.m. ET, CBS
David Steele: As hard as it is to ignore recency bias, keep in mind that while the Jaguars lost their last two games in surprising fashion, that was the first time they lost consecutive games all season, and before that they were threatening the Steelers and Patriots for a first-round bye. Also, the Jaguars were leading the NFL in multiple defensive categories, and Bortles had gone on the best three-game stretch of his four-year career (903 yards, seven touchdowns, no interceptions).
Count on that defense to rediscover itself, particularly against a Bills offense that will either be missing LeSean McCoy, or have a hobbled McCoy. The Bills had the fourth-fewest total yards in the NFL, and McCoy accounted for more than 31 percent of them via rushing and receiving. The Bills’ offensive line was playing its best at the end of the season, but handling Calais Campbell, Malik Jackson and the rest of the Jacksonville front seven is a tall task.
Once again, Bortles has to avoid messing up and giving the Bills a chance. If he stays upright, uses his legs, leans on Leonard Fournette and the rest of the running game and avoids turnovers, the Jaguars should move on.
Jaguars 26, Bills 16
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Vinnie Iyer: Congratulations to the Bills for advancing to their first playoff game in 18 years. But unfortunately, their opponent is the Jaguars, who will be just as hungry for victory in their first home playoff game in 18 years.
The Bills are hoping McCoy will play through his ankle injury, but even if he does, it’s a nightmare matchup for Taylor and their anemic passing game. Their shaky pass protection plays right into the hands of Calais Campbell and the Jaguars’ ferocious edge rush. With no scary receivers, it will allow Jaguars shutdown cornerbacks A.J. Bouye and Jalen Ramsey to dominate.
“Sacksonville” will be in full force defensively, and the Jaguars also will be in business offensively. It’s Fournette and the league’s top rushing attack against the Bills’ No. 29 run defense, which became especially bad after trading tackle Marcell Dareus to the Jaguars during the season.
With the defense and the running game doing their things, Bortes can reset himself with a mistake-free game as a caretaker, hurting the Bills’ chances to get key takeaways. It will be a quick afternoon for Jacksonville as it advances to a rematch with Pittsburgh in the divisional playoffs.
Jaguars 34, Bills 10