Uncharted waters for the Buffalo Bills and their fans in the last 17 seasons—the playoffs. They head to Jacksonville this weekend for the AFC Wild Card Game against the Jaguars. Here are some things to keep an eye on this weekend as the Bills line up for the postseason:
1. MURPHY’S LAW?
The playing status of LeSean McCoy will command much of the attention this weekend leading up to kickoff. And if he can’t go, or is limited, the status of RB Marcus Murphy will get much more attention.
He was signed to Buffalo’s practice squad November 6, and added to the 53-man roster December 26, after Travaris Cadet was injured at New England. Now Murphy could play a key role in the Bills playoff run.
He was primarily a return specialist in college at Missouri and made his mark with return work in a couple of years with the Saints. Murphy will be asked the Bills to take snaps at running back and get involved in the passing game as well.
“I’m not the biggest running back, so I have to use my speed as an advantage,” Murphy said this week, in an appearance on The John Murphy Show. “I think I have good hands. I’ve been coming out of the backfield my entire career.”
The uncertainty about McCoy hasn’t really changed Murphy’s approach to his work this week.
“For me, it really doesn’t change my approach to practice,” he said. “I’ve been preparing well all year, making the most of every practice rep. Every time I get the ball I just want to make an impression, make a play. I’ve just continued to do that this week and we’ll see how it goes on Sunday.”
2. FIRST IMPRESSIONS COUNT
Getting the jump on Jacksonville seems to make sense. And the Bills seem to have developed a knack for scoring early in recent weeks.
In their last three games, the Bills have scored 17 points on their opening drive – 2 touchdowns and 1 field goal. In the prior 13 games, the Bills scored a total of only six points on their opening drive.
Buffalo won four of its last six games in the regular season, and during that stretch, they played well in the first quarter. The Bills outscored their opponents 24-6 in the first quarter of those last six games, and did not allow a touchdown.
They’re up against another streak however. For the entire regular season, the Jaguars gave up an NFL-low total of 13 points on their opponents opening drive (one touchdown and two field goals).
3. PLAYING KEEP AWAY
You can usually count on turnovers as a reliable predictor for success in the postseason and regular season. That means even more in this Bills-Jags game, with a couple of teams that tend to win when they don’t commit a turnover.
The Bills haven’t turned the ball over since the final minute of regulation in the snow-bowl game against Indy in week 14. Since then, they’ve gone three full games without a turnover; 208 offensive plays. In the regular season, Buffalo played eight games without committing a turnover – only Kansas City had more (9). And the Bills are 6-2 in those eight games.
Jacksonville is unbeaten in games when Blake Bortles does not throw an interception this year with eight wins and no losses. When he throws a pick, they are 2-6.
4. FAMILIAR FACES ALL OVER THE WILD CARD GAMES
If you’re in the mood for Bills nostalgia this weekend, you’ll see many friendly faces on your TV in the four Wild Card games.
The AFC game on Saturday features Tennessee head coach Mike Mularkey (former Bills Head Coach) and former Bills safety Da’Norris Searcy in Kansas City to play LB Reggie Ragland and the Chiefs.
When the Rams host the Falcons Saturday night, there will be plenty of Bills connections on the LA sideline with WRs Sammy Watkins and Robert Woods, CB Nickell Robey-Coleman and defensive coordinator Wade Phillips.
After Buffalo’s game, you can watch former Bills CB Kevon Seymour line up for the Carolina Panthers in their game at New Orleans.
- THERE’S RECENT HISTORY BETWEEN THESE TWO TEAMS**
The Bills and the Jaguars did not meet during the 2017 regular season, but they did in four of the five seasons before that. Most recently, Buffalo beat the Jaguars 28-21 in a game at New Era Field in November 2016.
It was a back and forth affair, with five lead changes in the second half. LeSean McCoy scored two touchdowns, including a career long 75-yard score on the first play from scrimmage after halftime.
The Jaguars were feisty that day, and they got great play from their two linebackers Telvin Smith and Paul Posluszny, who kept Tyrod Taylor contained in the pocket all day.
6. THERE’S PLAYOFF HISTORY BETWEEN THESE TWO TEAMS
Jacksonville’s first ever playoff game was the Bills last home playoff game: December 28, 1996. On that day, the Jags shocked the Bills in Orchard Park 30-27 in a game that marked the end of Buffalo’s Super Bowl era.
It was Jim Kelly’s last game and it ended badly—Kelly concussed being carted off the field looking stunned and defeated. The Jags went on to the AFC Championship game in just their second season of existence. They lost to the Patriots two weeks later for the right to go to the Super Bowl, and went back to the conference title game three years later.
7. WHAT’S NEXT
Violating a cardinal rule here by looking ahead to the divisional round of the playoffs next week. But if the Bills should win at Jacksonville, as the sixth seed, they would head to Foxboro next week to play the No. 1 seed, New England. It would be the third time in a six-week span the Bills would go up against the Patriots.
First things first.