Written by: Cody Manning
Buffalo Bills vs Jacksonville Jaguars:
Start time: 1:05 PM EST Standard Time
Offense: If you would have been told prior to the season that the Jacksonville Jaguars would finish in the top ten in total YPG and average over 25 PPG while missing Allen Robinson for the season. They also missed players like Leonard Fournette, Allen Hurns, and Marqise Lee at points during the season. Based on last year’s Blake Bortles you would have laughed in my face. Fast forward to 2018 and we are going to see the Jaguars host a playoff game!
While the Jaguars have surprised people with their resurgence, the Bills have ended their 17-year playoff drought! Prior to the season, I, just like most people, thought the Bills were throwing in the towel and tanking for a top pick. While Tyrod Taylor lead the team to victory, their offense finished in the bottom five in total YPG and only averaged 18.9 PPG. They still have playmakers between LeSean McCoy, Kelvin Benjamin, and Charles Clay; the problem is that McCoy and Benjamin will be hobbled and playing less than 100%.
Defense: The Jaguars boast the second-best defense in the league,only giving up 286.1 YPG and 16.8 PPG. They have a young and exciting core with key veteran playmakers mixed in. The defense features 4 AP All-Pros: Calais Campbell, Jalen Ramsey, Telvin Smith, and A.J. Bouye. It also features former Bill, Marcell Dareus, who I am sure wants to get revenge and knock out his former team that traded him this season.
When you look at the Bills’ team stats, it makes you wonder how they made it into the playoffs. On the offensive side, they found themselves in the bottom ten teams in YPG and averaged 22.4 PPG. Their defense was inconsistent throughout the season, giving up 47 points to the Saints and 54 points to the Chargers. This just comes down to consistency vs inconsistency.
Special Teams: When it comes to the kicking game, the Jags and Bills are neck and neck, with Jacksonville having one more made field goal, and the Bills not missing an extra point all season. No team has a clear advantage when it comes to special teams, since neither has anything that stands out. If I had to choose one kicker between Steve Hauschka and Josh Lambo, I would put my money on Hauschka.
Coaching: Both head coaches, Doug Marrone and Sean McDermott, will be coaching their first playoff games as head coaches. Marrone led his team to a 10–6 record and the AFC South Divisional Title, while McDermott led his team to a 9–7 record and a Wildcard berth into the playoffs. Because of the Jags winning the division, and McDermott’s questionable decision to bench Tyrod Taylor for Nathan Peterman in the middle of the season, I will give this one to Doug Marrone.
Prediction: Based on everything that I have covered you would think that the Jaguars would easily win this game. But that depends on which Jaguar team we see this Sunday. Are we going to see the team we saw throughout most of the season, or are we going to see the team that stumbled into the playoffs with two straight losses and Blake Bortles falling back into bad habits? I think we will see the team we saw throughout the season. If the Bills were at home (6–2 at home, 3–5 on the road) and they had some health on their side, I could see this going their way. I hate to say this because I love BillsMafia, but the fan base will have to put up the tables until next season.
Jaguars win 24–10
Carolina Panthers vs New Orleans Saints:
Start time: 4:40 PM EST Standard Time
Offense: The Saints will be entering Sunday’s matchup with one of the top five offenses in the NFL, averaging 391.2 YPG and 28 PPG. While they are led by their future HOF Quarterback in Drew Brees, it was behind the legs of Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara that they became NFC South Champs. They were hands down the best running back duo in the league, as they became the only running back tandem in history to both have over 1,500 yards scrimmage yards in a season. If the Panthers find a way to slow those two down then it will be up to Brees, Michael Thomas, and others in the passing game to lead the way.
The Panthers offense struggled throughout the 2017 season,averaging 323.7 YPG and 22.7 PPG. Cam Newton leads this offense and where he goes, so does their offense. They will be leaning on his shoulders to carry them to victory. They also have a nice 1–2 punch in the backfield between Jonathan Stewart and Christian McCaffery. Devin Funchess still needs to grab that #1 spot like they thought he would after surprisingly trading Kelvin Benjamin. Greg Olsen is still trying to return to old form since returning from injury. If I had to choose, I would take the Saints offense if this comes to be a shootout.
Defense: The Panthers will enter the contest with a defense that ranks in the top ten in total YPG,only giving up 317.1 and 20.4 PPG. The front seven of their defense will be the determining factor in this matchup. If they can contain Ingram and Kamara, then it will give the Panthers a shot to win this game. Luke Kuechly, Thomas Davis, Kawann Short, and Julius Peppers will need to perform at their best throughout the game.
Prior to the season, and even in the first two games of 2017, it looked like the Saints were going to end up with one of the league’s worst defenses again. After their 0–2 start they turned things around and their defense helped lead them to some victories in 2017, giving up 336.5 YPG and 20.4 PPG. It will be up to players like Cameron Jordan and Marshon Lattimore to make game changing plays to help lead their team to victory. If I had to depend on one of these defenses to make a game winning stop, I would choose the Panthers.
Special Teams: Both teams will enter the playoffs with confidence in both of their
kickers if it comes down to a field goal to win the game. Between Wil Lutz and Graham Gano, I would lean towards Gano, who has the stronger leg and history of kicking game winners. The Saints have the advantage in the return game with the stud-rookie Kamara back there, who showed off his return skills last week against Tampa Bay. The Saints seem to always find ways to make plays on special teams to help determine games, so I will give them the nod here.
Coaching: We have two proven winners with both coaches between Sean Payton and Ron Rivera. They have both lead their teams to the Super Bowl, but it is only Payton who has a Super Bowl ring. Rivera has done a heck of a job this season leading his team to the playoffs while being in the toughest division of 2017. But, I give this one to Payton because he led his team to the NFC South crown and has beaten Rivera twice this season.
Prediction: The Saints have already beaten the Panthers twice, as mentioned, 34–13 and 31–21. It is extremely difficult to beat a team three times in a row, let alone three times in the same season. The Panthers have something to prove in this game after being bullied by their division rival in the previous two matchups. I expect their defense to come out and clamp down on the running game, since in the previous two matchups, Ingram and Kamara had 271 rushing yards, 5.6 YPC, and 4 touchdowns. While it may be hard to beat the Panthers for a third time this season, you have Drew Brees on your side, playing in front of your home crowd, and you already beat them by 10+ points in the previous two matchups. Odds are in your favor — Saints win.
Saints win 24–21