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Jacksonville Jaguars vs. Buffalo Bills primer: Key matchups, storylines, predictions, and more for Week 12

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The Jacksonville Jaguars hit the road again to frigid upstate New York to battle the Buffalo Bills (3-7) at New Era Field at 1:00pm EST.

As if you didn’t have enough of Walt Anderson on the whistle last week, here’s another Walt for your viewing pleasure.

UNIFORM WATCH: Back in black for the first time since Wembley.

Opponent

There have been many conversations on local radio this week suggesting that the Jaguars should beat the Buffalo Bills this week and Vegas has them as road favorites. Why? Both teams have the same record and the Bills are coming off a bye week following a 41-10 thrashing of a divisional rival New York Jets team with a quarterback they signed off the couch the week prior in Matt Barkley. Add in the fact that this game is in Buffalo in the cold (cloudy with a high of 44 degrees Sunday) and the Jaguars could be in trouble on Sunday.

Offensively for the Bills, the big story is the return of rookie quarterback Josh Allen from an elbow injury that has sidelined him since week six.

While there will undoubtedly be a lot of rust that Allen needs to shake off in his return to the field against a top-three passing defense in the Jaguars, Allen is the type of mobile quarterback that has traditionally given the Jags fits chasing around in the backfield. The easy game plan for Sean McDermott against this Jaguars team would be to run Allen in a lot of zone read/RPO type situations, but with Allen coming off an elbow injury, they may need to scrap that plan.

On the offensive line, the Bills have largely been a disaster this season. The Bills have a pedestrian wide receiver unit (Kelvin Benjamin has been moving slower this season than Flash the Sloth from Zootopia) but Zay Jones has finally begun to catch a little momentum following a slow start as a 2017 second round pick. The offensive line is also a bottom five unit in the NFL (28th in pass blocking ranking per Football Outsiders) but they have looked better since deciding to start rookie Wyatt Teller from Virginia Tech at left guard. And of course, LeSean McCoy continues to be like trying to tackle smoke in the open field, but the Jaguars have been one of the best first down run defenses in the league this year.

Defensively, I mentioned the Jaguars have a top-three passing defense, but do you know who has the best? You guessed it — the Buffalo Bills!

With this said, expect Nathaniel Hackett to follow last week’s offensive blueprint of running the football 12-14 times in a row to keep the ball out of Blake Bortles’ hands by any means necessary. It’s bad enough that Bortles’ confidence is shot, but when you compound that with cold, potentially windy weather and a top-shelf pass defense, Blake might not eclipse ten pass attempts this week. Bortles struggled at home last year in the playoffs against the Bills and had to rely on his legs and running the football to win the low-scoring affair.

Will we finally see Hackett sprinkle in a full zone read/option package this week? Probably not, but expect Bortles to run if his first read isn’t there. Jerry Hughes is having a great year rushing the passer and rookie linebacker Tremaine Edmunds will be a star once he eliminates some of the bad reads he’s suffered from this season. In the secondary, Tre’davious White is ascending as a top five cornerback in the league and should be avoided at all costs.

For more information about the opponent, check out Ryan O’Bleness’ cross-over piece with Corey Giacovelli of Buffalo Rumblings as well as the fiery all-time series history against the Buffalo Bills.

Storylines

Two major storylines worth spotlighting this week, and the first one starts with Doug Marrone going back up to Buffalo to face the team he spurned when he opted out of his contract upon a change in ownership in the Bills organization. Per Marrone, his body is ready for it.

This game will obviously mean a lot to Marrone and I would expect any tricks he’s been hiding up his sleeve by way of fake punts, offensive wrinkles, and more will be exhausted this week as he looks to snap this team’s spiraling losing streak. I guess Marrone should be thankful that there’s no snow in the forecast to not get pelted with snow balls, but trust Bills fans to find other creative items to throw at Marrone if things get wild.

The other storyline this week that will be worth tracking is the Jalen Ramsey comments against Josh Allen in the GQ article calling him “trash” and expressing his excitement to be able to go off against Allen this week. Allen took the high road this week.

While Allen’s comments are what he needs to say publicly, make no mistake about – the North remembers. It will be interesting to see how Allen handles these comments. Will he go directly at Ramsey and try to silence him? Will he avoid him altogether throughout the game and attack A.J. Bouye and D.J. Hayden instead? Targeting Ramsey may be a huge mistake given how hot he is after his two interception performance against the Steelers last week, but if Allen does go that route, I’ll at least respect it.

Key matchups

Jalen Ramsey vs. Josh Allen

Ramsey is probably going to match up against his former Florida State teammate Kelvin Benjamin, but it’s Ramsey vs. Allen that will be the match up to watch as mentioned above. If Ramsey doesn’t get at least one interception this week, he’ll probably be disappointed.

Myles Jack/Telvin Smith vs. LeSean McCoy/Chris Ivory

Chris Ivory revenge game! Shady McCoy is the real terror to tackle for linebackers Myles Jack and Telvin Smith, but if the Bills go run-heavy on Sunday, former Jaguar Chris Ivory could see a lot of carries as well. A quiet, soft-spoken guy, Ivory probably doesn’t care too much about facing his former team, but if he does get a chance to break a big tackle, he’ll be fired up.

Marcell Dareus vs. Wyatt Teller

Chris Ivory isn’t the only guy facing a revenge game scenario this week. The Bills traded Dareus for a fifth round pick last season, and this will be the first game back in Buffalo for “Mr. Big Stuff,” as the Bills fans affectionately knew him. Dareus started and played well at three-technique over Malik Jackson last week as they went with a heavy run-plugging approach against the Steelers, and Dareus could get more snaps in this capacity if the Jaguars feel Buffalo will keep it on the ground early.

Ereck Flowers vs. Jerry Hughes

Yikes. Not feeling great about this one at all! I’ve mentioned that Flowers has a terrific opportunity to take the remaining games this season to audition as the potential Jaguars swing tackle in 2019 (Josh Wells is a free agent and hasn’t proven to be sufficiently durable in a back up role), but he’s going to have his hands full against the quick, twitchy Hughes this week.

Yannick Ngakoue vs. Dion Dawkins

Dawkins has been the Bills’ most consistent offensive lineman at left tackle, and the former Temple Owl even caught a touchdown last week. Ngakoue has a good opportunity to add to his six sack total in 2018. While Ngakoue is battling with Dawkins, Calais Campbell has a dream match up against right tackle Jordan Mills, who is PFF’s 65th ranked offensive tackle this season, but will Calais be able to mirror and close on a scrambling Allen? That’s been an issue for Campbell against mobile passers in open space.

Leonard Fournette vs. Tremaine Edmunds

Fournette looked better last week against the Steelers than he did against the Colts, but it’s still not good enough for top-five pick running back. Hopefully it’s just rust and getting his legs back under him, but Fournette needs to start breaking some big plays and show the type of burst he had last year when he recorded two of the fastest times in the NFL. The opportunities have been there as Fred Taylor and Jeff Lageman have highlighted in their film reviews the last couple weeks, but Fournette needs to capitalize. It won’t get much easier for him this week, as he’ll have a 6’5” 240-pound Edmunds meeting him at the hole throughout the game.

Final prediction

I’m feeling a low-scoring, cold weather game, which will extrapolate Bortles’ struggles as a passer. The Bills will stuff the box and unlike last week against the Steelers, the Jaguars will likely be put in lots of third and long situations as a result. If the Jaguars were smart, they would run the wheels off Bortles with lots of misdirection and zone read stuff like they did in the playoffs last year, but we’ll see. I see a close game, and those are the types of games the Jaguars seem to consistently lose, even when they have a 97.5% win probability.

They’re bad until they’re not.

Bills win 13-10.