When the Bills run: No LeSean McCoy is a scary thought for the Bills. If the Jaguars have a weakness defensively (Buffalo coach Sean McDermott says they don’t), it would be stopping the run. Jacksonville allowed 116.3 rushing yards per game in the regular season, which tied for 21st in the NFL. Stopping the combination of Marcus Murphy and Mike Tolbert is obviously preferable to dealing with McCoy for Jacksonville. Those two did combine for 80 yards on 14 carries last week against Miami, though, which is encouraging. “They’re both winners,” McDermott said. Marcell Dareus had 21 tackles for the Jaguars after coming over in a trade with the Bills. He’s helped, but hasn’t transformed, their run defense. Edge: Bills.
When the Bills throw: This isn’t the Dolphins that Tyrod Taylor will face Sunday. Jacksonville’s secondary is dynamite, starting with cornerbacks A.J. Bouye and Jalen Ramsey, who have combined for 10 of Jacksonville’s 21 interceptions. They aren't shy about telling opposing receivers how good they are, either. Even though Jacksonville led the league in passing yards against at 169.9 yards per game, the Jaguars did give up 12 plays of 40-plus yards through the air, which was sixth most in the league. Defensive ends Calais Campbell and Yannick Ngakoue have combined for 26.5 sacks, so Taylor and the Bills’ offensive line will be tested in every way. Tight end Charles Clay needs to be a big part of Buffalo’s passing attack Sunday. The Jaguars rank 20th in the NFL in defending tight ends, according to analytics website Football Outsiders. Edge: Jaguars.
When the Jaguars throw: Jacksonville quarterback Blake Bortles has thrown five interceptions in the last two games, both losses. Prior to that, he had thrown just eight interceptions in the first 14 games. Taking care of the ball is huge for Bortles. Jacksonville is 8-0 in games Bortles wasn’t intercepted, and 2-6 in games he threw at least one interception. The Buffalo secondary lives and dies on takeaways, with 18 interceptions that ranked tied for sixth in the league. There is legitimate concern in Jacksonville over which Bortles will show up. His performance in Week 17 against Tennessee was his worst of the season. Jaguars rookie left tackle Cam Robinson missed that game with an abdominal injury. His health will be a factor, because Bills defensive end Jerry Hughes had a big game last week when going against Miami’s backup left tackle. EDGE: Bills.
When the Jaguars run: Former Bills coach Doug Marrone said before the season started he’d ideally run the ball on every play. Jacksonville didn’t quite achieve that goal, but the Jaguars’ 527 rushing attempts were 26 more than any other team in the NFL this season. Rookie Leonard Fournette got 268 of those attempts, gaining 1,040 yards and scoring nine touchdowns despite missing three games because of injury and/or suspension. At 6-foot-0 and 228 pounds, he’s powerful enough to run through tackles and has the speed to run away from defenders. His NFL.com scouting report before the draft compared him to Bo Jackson. As a team, the Jaguars average a whopping 141.4 yards per game. The Bills’ run defense finished 29th in the NFL, so this is a big mismatch. EDGE: Jaguars.
Special teams: As long as they’re not asked to cover an onside kick, they Bills have been solid pretty much all season here. The team finished 10th in Football Outsiders’ special teams rankings, although there were some troubling signs last week in the form of three penalties. That’s an issue that looked to be corrected, and can’t happen again Sunday. Jaguars punt returner Jaydon Mickens has been explosive, averaging 10.3 yards per return, but is coming off his worst game in Week 17, when he muffed two punts, losing one of them, and taking an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. Jacksonville switched kickers in October, releasing Jason Myers and signing Josh Lambo. The move has paid off, as Lambo has gone 19 of 20 on field goals since taking over. EDGE: Bills.
Coaching: Could this matchup get any better? The Bills get to go up against the coach who quit on them after the 2014 season. Marrone’s penchant for punting and dictatorial ways had fans – and those inside the organization – cheering his departure. He deserves credit for the job he’s done in Jacksonville, though. When he took over last season, the Jaguars were 2-12. They’ve gone 11-7 since, and won the AFC South for the first time in franchise history. The Jaguars play with an edge, particularly on defense, finishing second in yards allowed per game, scoring, takeaways and sacks. The best thing that can be said about McDermott is he kept his team believing. It looked in the middle of the season when they were getting blown out by the Jets and Saints that the Bills were going to be the six- or seven-win team so many predicted them to be, but they are a mentally tough team that believes in one another, and that starts with the coach. EDGE: Even.
Prediction: Bills 20, Jaguars 17