The last time the Jacksonville Jaguars hosted a playoff game was 1999. Buffalo appeared in the same playoffs and again in 2000, but the Bills haven’t been back in the 18 years since.
The drought ends for each team Sunday in the AFC wild-card game at EverBank Field with the sixth-seeded Bills (9-7) hoping their best player can participate against the third-seeded Jaguars (10-6).
Running back LeSean McCoy left the regular-season finale, a win over the Miami Dolphins that pushed the Bills into the playoffs only after the Baltimore Ravens lost to the Cincinnati Bengals, via motorized cart because of an ankle injury he feared would be season-ending.
However, after X-rays showed no break, McCoy said he would endure around-the-clock treatment with the intent of being on the field Sunday. The Bills would be in dire straits without him. McCoy rushed for 1,138 yards but also was tops on the team with 59 receptions for 448 yards and two touchdowns.
“You never replace a player like LeSean,” Bills first-year head coach Sean McDermott said. “I’ve got a lot of confidence in Mike Tolbert and Murph (Marcus Murphy) and whoever else we put in the backfield. They did a nice job this past weekend, and I expect them to do the same moving forward.”
McCoy did not practice Wednesday or Thursday and is likely to be a game-time decision.
Quarterback Tyrod Taylor is the second-leading rusher for the Bills with 427 yards. Murphy debuted last week, when he was elevated from the practice squad, and Tolbert is a block-first power back who is typically only handed the ball in short-yardage situations.
McCoy is vital to the passing game not only as a blocker but in pass protection. Without him, the Bills are woeful, and they ranked 30th in the NFL in sacks per pass play. The number looks even more ominous viewed in context of the Jacksonville pass rush. Led by defensive ends Calais Campbell and Yannick Ngakoue, who combined for 26.5 sacks, the Jaguars had 55 sacks in the regular season, good for second in the NFL.
Jacksonville was dinged when Tennessee Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota broke contain and became a runner last week. Mariota gained 60 yards on 10 carries, and the Jaguars put extra emphasis on studying Taylor’s tendency to tuck and run. He was third in the NFL in rushing among quarterbacks.
“We definitely have to be aggressive as possible, but be disciplined,” Campbell said. “Mariota definitely used his legs and did some good things last week. But Tyrod is more of a guy that gets up the gut and takes off than he is going (to run) outside. He can do both and is an incredible talent.”
The Bills did not stop the run effectively in the regular season, ranking 30th, which should feed the Jaguars’ preference to pound the ball with rookie running back Leonard Fournette.
Controlling the ball and the clock with Fournette means the Jaguars are not placing a hefty burden on the arm of Blake Bortles. The quarterback had a resurgent season in 2017 but threw five interceptions in the past two games, when the Jaguars had seven total turnovers.
“Everyone realizes, this is your last chance,” Bortles said of transitioning to a playoff mentality. “If you lose, you go home. It’s over. … I’m excited to go out there for this opportunity.”
Buffalo is plus-9 in turnover margin, narrowly behind the Jaguars (plus-10).
The Jaguars won their first-ever AFC South title to set up a first-round playoff meeting with head coach Doug Marrone’s former team. Marrone coached the Bills in 2013-14 and then opted out of his deal when ownership changed hands.
–By Jeff Reynolds, Field Level Media