The skinny with the Bills is the final six weeks of their season are really, really big.
After an up-and-down first 10 games of the season, they are 5-5 – and their playoff chances may depend on winning four or five of their final six regular-season games.
The Bills have fought through injuries to stay in playoff contention despite playing much of the season without wide receiver Sammy Watkins, a key to Buffalo's passing game. Watkins has been out since September 16 with a foot injury, but could return Sunday.
The Bills on defense are defined by the philosophies of head coach Rex Ryan and assistant head coach Rob Ryan – Rex's twin brother. The Bills play a 3-4 scheme with multiple pre-snap looks and exotic pressures, and Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles will need to make good, quick decisions Sunday.
The Bills trail AFC East-leading New England by three games and trail Kansas City and Denver in the AFC wild-card chase by two games.
"That's our mindset: they're must-win games but also taking it one week at a time," Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor said. "We understand the big picture and we can't control anyone else. All we can control is what we do week in and week out and that's our mindset: just taking it one game at a time."
The Bills lost to the Jaguars, 34-31, at Wembley Stadium in London last season in a game the Jaguars led 27-3 before rallying for a win with a late 31-yard touchdown pass from Bortles to wide receiver Allen Hurns.
The Bills, after being one of the NFL's best red-zone defenses early in the season, are struggling in that area now. Buffalo through five games ranked No. 2 in the NFL having allowed touchdowns on 37.5 percent of possessions. They now rank 13th and have allowed touchdowns on 53.1 percent of red-zone possessions. They have allowed touchdowns on nine of their opponents' last 10 red-zone possessions.
The Bills lead the NFL in rushing, depending largely upon the outside speed and shiftiness of running back LeSean McCoy and the versatility and playmaking ability of Taylor. McCoy, an eighth-year veteran who is expected to play Sunday despite thumb surgery this week, has rushed for 716 yards and seven touchdowns on 138 carries this season. Taylor has passed for 1,935 yards and 10 touchdowns with four interceptions this season touchdowns while rushing for 401 yards and four touchdowns on 63 carries. "They've got great players," Jaguars defensive coordinator Todd Wash said. "The quarterback is a guy in space that gives you a lot of problems. Their scheme gives you problems. It's almost facing some stuff the college guys give you to face; that's what we're facing this week."
The Bills' defense is ranked 14th in the NFL, and it won't be an easy day for Bortles and the Jaguars' offense. Ryan's defense taxes quarterbacks mentally, and the Bills' secondary had one of its best games of the season last week with cornerback Stephon Gilmore turning in his second two-interception game of the season. Defensive tackle Kyle Williams and nose tackle Marcel Dareus are Pro Bowl-level players who anchor the 3-4 scheme with pass-rushing linebacker Jerry Hughes having registered 30 sacks over the last three seasons.
This game could turn on the matchup of McCoy and Taylor versus Jaguars middle linebacker Paul Posluszny and weak-side linebacker Telvin Smith. The linebackers along with cornerback Jalen Ramsey are the best players on the NFL's seventh-ranked defense, and Posluszny and Smith keyed a defensive effort that limited Detroit to 14 yards rushing last week. McCoy and Taylor have speed and elusiveness that pressure all points of a defense as well as any in the NFL. "They do a nice job schematically to get them in space," Wash said of McCoy and Taylor. "It's a definite challenge for us and tackling is going to be big."
"It's a typical Rex Ryan defense. They're going to throw everything they can at you and try to confuse you and have three guys coming. They throw a bunch of funky stuff at you. … Each team has their certain packages and Rex Ryan is kind of known for his stuff, and the exotic things that he does. It's going to need to be everybody on the same page. If we don't get it picked up, that's fine, but let's make sure that we're aware of that and we have hots and sites built in so that we can get it out quick."
"The priority of keeping him in the pocket, trying to make him a pocket passer is something we're stressing all week with our d-line."
--Wash on Taylor
"Hell, yeah … it still ticks me off. … Obviously it was a critical loss for us. The thing that hurt the most was you go all the way to London and then you get way down in the game, battle all the way back and take the lead and then get that call on a third-and-15 that was ridiculous. That pass interference call. That was a horrendous call. It cost us the game. Whether it cost us the game outright or not I think is debatable. Trust me, it's hard to hit a fourth-and-15 in this league."
---Bills HC Rex Ryan on a 34-31 loss to the Jaguars in London in 2015