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NFL Playoff Preview: Buffalo Bills

Steve Mitchell | USA TODAY Sports

For the Bills, the longest active playoff drought in the NFL is over, but do they have what it takes to make a deep run?

Yes, you read that headline correctly.

No, this is not a joke.

For the first time since 1999, the Buffalo Bills are headed to the playoffs! The 17-year playoff drought ended after Andy Dalton led the Cincinnati Bengals to a 31-27 comeback win over the Baltimore Ravens on a late fourth down conversion that resulted in the game-winning touchdown. After the Bills defeated the Miami Dolphins 22-16 in Week 17, the Ravens’ loss pushed the Bills into the sixth and final AFC playoff spot.

The Bills travel to Jacksonville to face off against the third-seeded Jaguars, headlined by the number one ranked defense in defensive DVOA. For the Bills to be successful, a lot will need to fall in their favor. A Super Bowl run sounds like a long shot for this team, but so was a playoff berth a few weeks ago.

Key Players

Offense: HB LeSean McCoy, QB Tyrod Taylor

McCoy, the six-time Pro Bowler, has carried the offense since his abrupt arrival in Buffalo in 2015. This season, McCoy rushed for 1,138 yards and six touchdowns on 287 attempts, good for four yards per rush. For perspective, Bills rushers not named McCoy or Taylor rushed for only 452 yards on the season. McCoy was also the second leading receiver on the team this season, recording 448 yards on 59 receptions, second to only tight end Charles Clay

Unfortunately for the Bills, their biggest weapon will be a game-time decision for the Wild Card Round matchup vs. the Jaguars after injuring his ankle in Week 17 against the Dolphins. If McCoy can’t go, the weight of the offense falls directly on the shoulders of Taylor.

Bills fans know Taylor is not the type of quarterback who will light up the stat sheet every week, but one thing he does well is take care of the football. Taylor committed only six turnovers (four INT and two fumbles) on the year. Ball security will be crucial for the Bills against a Jacksonville team that ranked second in the league with 33 takeaways. If the Bills have McCoy to rely on and Taylor can take care of the football, there’s a chance the Bills can escape Jacksonville with a win.

Defense: DE Jerry Hughes, CB Tre’Davious White 

Hughes is the Bills’ biggest pass rush threat, leading the defense this season with four sacks and 11 tackles for loss (TFL). For them to have success, the defensive front needs to force Blake Bortles into making errant throws, something Bortles has shown a propensity for doing. Getting pressure on the quarterback gives any team a fighting chance for success.

More importantly, pressure often leads to turnovers. Rookie corner Tre’Davious White ranked third on the team in interceptions this year with four. It would have been easy to list safeties Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde as key defensive players for the team, but their strong play has been consistent throughout the season and is to be expected during the Wild Card Round. For the team to truly have a chance, White will need to be on his game. It’s hard to imagine Bortles outscoring the Bills offense if the pressure gets to him and the secondary plays at the top of its game.

Brett Carlsen | Getty Images

Best Win and Worst Loss

Best Win: 23-17 over Atlanta Falcons (Week 4)

The Bills traveled to Atlanta and forced three turnovers against the defending NFC champions. Taylor threw for 182 yards and a touchdown while McCoy ran for 76 yards. On the defensive side, Hughes recorded one sack and one TFL, while Pro Bowl safety Micah Hyde intercepted reigning MVP Matt Ryan twice. The win continued a surprising start to the Bills season that saw them jump out to an early lead in the AFC East.


Worst Loss: 34-21 to New York Jets (Week 9)

The loss in New York kick-started a three-game losing streak that saw the Bills outscored by a total of 80 points to the Jets, Saints, and Chargers. The skid lessened their chances of making the playoffs, which looked very likely before the streak. Although Taylor threw for 285 yards and two touchdowns, the team lost three fumbles, while McCoy rushed for only 25 yards. For the Jets, the combination of Matt Forte and Bilal Powell rushed for 151 yards and two touchdowns. The team was outplayed on both sides of the ball, resulting in a lopsided loss.


Previous Matchups with Playoff Teams

Week 2: 3-9 Loss at (5) Carolina Panthers

Week 4: 23-17 Win at (6) Atlanta Falcons

Week 10: 10-47 Loss vs (4) New Orleans Saints

Week 12: 16-10 Win at (4) Kansas City Chiefs

Week 13: 3-23 Loss vs (1) New England Patriots

Week 16: 16-37 Loss at (1) New England Patriots

Positives: One takeaway from the tough matchups is that the Bills took care of the football well against other playoff teams. The team only committed a total of two turnovers in these six games. Ball security is crucial to a team’s chances for victory, especially in the playoffs. The Bills ball security bodes well for a win or two in the playoffs.

Negatives: The Bills only won two of the six games and scored an average of 11.8 points. Twelve points will not win many games, especially if the defense has an off day. Sunday’s Wild Card Round matchup shouldn’t be a shootout, but don’t expect 12 points to get the job done.

Performance Leading into the Postseason

The Bills, led by their defense, won four of their last six games to earn a postseason spot. The team’s only two losses came to the Super Bowl favorite New England Patriots. Over that six-game span, they gave up an average of 18.1 points per game. On the offensive side of the football, the team only committed three turnovers, including two in the terrible snow game against the Indianapolis Colts. The combination of a strong defense and good ball security gives the Bills a chance against the Jaguars.

On the other hand, the Bills defeated four teams that have struggled throughout the season. When the team beat the Chiefs, Kansas City was flirting with one of the greatest collapses in recent memory. The Dolphins and Colts haven’t done much right this season, resulting in some questioning the legitimacy of this Bills team. Along with this, the team was only able to average 15.7 points per game, lower than their season average of 18.9. Although the Bills won four of their last six, there are still obvious holes on this team.Bill Wippert | AP

Level of Contender: Low

Although a great story, I don’t expect the Bills to defeat the Jaguars this weekend. Blake Bortles has the support of the best defense in the league when he doesn’t play well. I can’t imagine the Bills putting up many points against the Jaguars, resting their chances in the hands of the defense. It will take a lights out performance by the defense, coupled with a turnover free game by the offense to give the Bills a chance. It’s hard to imagine the Bills sneaking out of Jacksonville with a win, but it’s not impossible.

Edited by Jeremy Losak.

SQuiz
How many Super Bowls have the Buffalo Bills won?
Created 1/4/18
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