NFL Expert Picks Against the Spread: Buffalo Bills at Jacksonville Jaguars
There are a whopping eight new playoff teams in the NFL this season, and two newbies facing off in the AFC Wild-Card Round are the sixth-seeded Buffalo Bills visiting the No. 3 Jacksonville Jaguars in Sunday's first game.
Buffalo ended the longest playoff drought in the four major American sports leagues (that now belongs to MLB's Seattle Mariners) in amazing fashion in Week 17. I expected Buffalo to go and win in Miami, and the Bills did that, but they still needed help in the form of Cincinnati pulling an upset in Baltimore. I gave the Bengals almost no chance of doing that. And it looked like the Ravens would win as Cincinnati had a fourth-and-12 at the Baltimore 49 with under a minute left and down 3. All that excellent Ravens defense needed was a stop, and the game is over.
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However, Andy Dalton hit Tyler Boyd at about the Baltimore 22 and Boyd did the rest, scoring for a 31-27 lead (after the PAT). The Ravens went four-and-out after the kickoff, and that was that. You no doubt have seen videos of the Bills players watching that result in the locker room of Miami's Hard Rock Stadium and going nuts - or Bills fans going crazy at bars, etc. It was pretty cool. Buffalo fans are so ecstatic their team is in the postseason for the first time since 1999 that more than $100,000 has been pledged by them to Dalton's charitable foundation.
Meanwhile, AFC South champion Jacksonville is in the playoffs for the first time since 2007. The Jacksonville area is known for college football (i.e. the Florida-Georgia game) and not so much the NFL, but there will be a rare sellout at EverBank Field for this one.
A Buffalo victory would send the Bills to New England next week, and the Bills never, ever beat Tom Brady. A Jacksonville victory would send the Jaguars to Pittsburgh, and they'd be plenty confident about that thanks to an early-season blowout there.
Bills at Jaguars Betting Story Lines
This could be called the Doug Marrone Bowl. The former Syracuse head coach took over as Buffalo's top guy in 2013. That club went 6-10 but improved to 9-7 the next year. For some reason, however, Marrone took a $4 million opt-out clause after that season (the clause became available when the Bills changed owners), apparently thinking he was some sort of hot candidate in leading the Bills to their first winning record since 2004. It didn't work out that way as he only landed an assistant head coach/offensive line position under Gus Bradley in Jacksonville.
Fans in Buffalo believe Marrone quit on his team, and it certainly seems that way. Things ended up working out for him in the long run as Bradley was fired late last season and Marrone showed enough in two games as an interim coach to be named the full-time guy. Now the Jags look like a potential monster for at least a few years with the best young defense in the NFL and a franchise running back in Leonard Fournette. But it all comes down to QB Blake Bortles, whose next loss might be his last game in Jaguars uniform. For the first three games of December, he was the NFL's best quarterback and the Jags were 3-0. In the final two games, both losses, he threw a combined five picks. He's clearly the weak link on this team.
This one will surely come down to the running games. Thanks in large part to Fournette, the Jags ranked No. 1 in the NFL in rushing but slowed down in the final six games when they averaged just 114.6 yards per game. Fournette had three of his five worst rushing totals in the past six games. Buffalo ranks 29th against the run in allowing 124.6 yards per game and traded its best run-stopping defensive lineman, Marcell Dareus, to Jacksonville earlier this season.
Buffalo's next loss could be the last game in a Bills uniform for QB Tyrod Taylor as the team can cut bait with him with almost zero financial penalty after the season, and it never seemed as if he was first-year Coach Sean McDermott's guy. Buffalo almost missed the playoffs because that one game McDermott started rookie Nathan Peterman and he threw five first-half picks in a blowout loss to the Chargers.
The Bills rank just 31st in passing yards but sixth in rushing. The running game is largely LeSean McCoy, and he's the biggest question mark here. McCoy is dealing with a sprained ankle suffered in the regular-season finale and might not practice all week. Naturally, the Jaguars expect him to play, as do I. But I give the Bills almost no chance here if he's not 100 percent because Taylor isn't going to do much against the NFL's No. 1 pass defense and pass rush. The Jags were 21st against the run.
Bills at Jaguars Betting Odds and Trends
At 5Dimes , Jacksonville is a 9.5-point favorite (+100) with a total of 39.5. On the moneyline, the Jags are -430 and Bills +345. On some relevant alternate lines, the Jaguars are -10 (+115), -10.5 (+128), -7.5 (-120), -7 (-140) and -6.5 (-160). Buffalo is 9-6-1 against the spread (4-4 on road) and 8-8 "over/under" (3-5 on road). Jacksonville is 9-7 ATS (5-3 at home) and 8-8 O/U (5-3 at home).
The Bills are 2-7 ATS in their past nine January games. They are 1-4 ATS in their previous five after a win. The Jaguars are 6-1 ATS in their past seven after a loss. They are 5-2 ATS in their previous seven vs. teams with a winning record. The over is 4-1 in Buffalo's past five after a win. The under is 7-1 in Jacksonville's past eight vs. the AFC. The road team is 5-2 ATS in the past seen meetings. The over has hit in five straight.
Bills at Jaguars Betting Prediction
"This feels like a high number, and some on the team wanted to see a much lower spread," BookMaker spokesman Scott Cooley said. "We'll see what Blake Bortles and that Jags offense is really made of here. Smart money feels like an under play on the total, and the betting public won't be terribly interested in this one overall. Bills are a value play that will garner pro money." BookMaker opened Jacksonville at -7 and now has it at -9.
Jacksonville visited Buffalo last November and the Bills won 28-21. McCoy rushed 19 times for two touchdowns, including a 75-yarder. Taylor was an efficient 12 of 16 for 166 yards and a passing score, while also rushing for a TD. Bortles was just 13 of 26 for 126 yards but did have two TDs and led the team with 81 rushing yards.
I do think the Jaguars win, but I'd never give any opponent of Bortles more than a touchdown. So I'd recommend Jacksonville at -6.5. Go under the total.
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Read more articles by Alan Matthews
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