JACKSONVILLE – This one just needs to get here already.
We've talked Bills-Jaguars ad nauseam all week – and along the way we've covered all the angles about what will and won't matter when the teams play Sunday at 1:05 p.m. in the first playoff game at EverBank Field in 18 years.
We've talked about momentum – and the lack thereof – and whether momentum really means anything entering the postseason (hint: it doesn't) …
We've talked about whether establishing the running game matters (hint: it does) …
We've talked about whether turnovers matter (hint: they really, really do) …
We've talked about home-field advantages, standing room, playoff droughts and playoff experience –and all of the other stuff that people talk about when breaking down the NFL postseason.
Bottom line: It's time to stop talking and play.
The guess here is Bills-Jaguars will come down to which team wins the turnover battle and which team can get an early lead. If the Jaguars get an early edge, it will be hard for the Bills to withstand the 'Bank crowd and the Jaguars' swarming defense. If the Bills get one, it's going to mean a lot of tension and a Jaguars offense needing to make the big play it's had trouble making the last two weeks.
The guess here is this will be the Jaguars' day. The thought here is they're the better team, and that if they simply play within themselves and play smart, they will win.
Here are 10 things they must do to make that happen in an AFC Wild Card game Sunday:
1.Run.The Jaguars must at least run well enough to get in manageable down and distances for quarterback Blake Bortles and the passing game. If they do that, they will win. If they dominate in the run game, they'll win big.
2.Hit big pass plays.The Jaguars hit these in the first three games of December and won three games. They were missing the last two weeks and the Jaguars lost. That's not a coincidence.
3.Protect the ball.The Bills' defense isn't great statistically, but they're really good at creating turnovers. There's no surer way for a home team to lose momentum in the postseason than by letting an underdog visitor start believing in itself with a takeaway or two.
4.Protect Blake Bortles.No. 3 is largely about Bortles. His five interceptions in the last two games have hurt. But Bortles has been under pressure in those last two games. He has been good-to-very-good with a clean pocket this season. If the pocket stays clean Sunday, the guess here is the Jaguars win.* *
5.Assume Shady's playing – and stop him.Bills running back LeSean McCoy sustained a nasty ankle injury last week. Jaguars Head Coach Doug Marrone has said all week the Jaguars are preparing as if McCoy will play. The guess here is even if plays, McCoy's shifty running style won't be as effective on a bad ankle. If that guess is wrong, containing him is as difficult as it is important.
6.Contain Tyrod Taylor.The Jaguars' defense has feasted on quarterbacks this season, but they have had more trouble with quarterbacks who have been able to extend plays. Taylor can extend plays. If he can't, the Bills will have trouble generating offense.
7.Catch the catchables. This has been an issue off and on for Jaguars receivers in the last half of the season. It was a major problem on one critical would-be touchdown pass that rookie Dede Westbrook dropped against Tennessee last Sunday. Postseason games often come down to one play. You can't miss on makeable touchdown passes in the postseason.
8.Score defensively.The Jaguars did this seven times this season, more than any NFL team. They haven't won every game in which they've scored a defensive touchdown. In fact, they've lost on three such occasions. But it's hard to see the Jaguars losing Sunday if they get defensive points. On such momentum-changing plays are playoff games often decided.
9.Lock down Kelvin Benjamin.The Bills wide receiver has the physicality and frame to make big plays downfield and in the red zone, and it appears it will be difficult for the Bills to drive the length of the field on the Jaguars' defense. That means taking away Benjamin's downfield ability will be important. Enter Jalen Ramsey. And A.J. Bouye.
10.Feed. Off. The. Crowd.Eighteen years. That's how long it has been since there has been postseason football at the 'Bank. One hour. Five minutes. That's how long it took for tickets to sell out for this game, and it's how long an extra 3,500 sold out a day or two later. Duval is ready for this. If the Jaguars give the crowd a reason to believe, they'll believe the Jaguars to the Divisional Playoff round.