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Playoff preview, Wild Card Sunday

Posted Jan 7, 2018

Bills-Jaguars, Panthers-Saints close out Wild Card weekend.

A look at today’s NFL Wild Card games:

BUFFALO (9-7) at JACKSONVILLE (10-6), 1:05 p.m.

SCOUTING THE BILLS: Quarterback Tyrod Taylor went 8-6 as a starter and compiled a passer rating of 92.7 over his last three games. Taylor was only intercepted four times this season, the lowest total among the 32 quarterbacks listed in the NFL’s weekly statistics packet. Running back LeSean McCoy suffered an ankle injury in Buffalo’s regular-season ending, 22-16 win at Miami. The Bills finished No. 29 in total offense (sixth rushing, 31st passing) and No. 22 in scoring offense (18.9 points per game).

Linebacker Preston Brown led the NFL with 144 tackles. Buffalo is the only NFL team with two players that finished with at least five interception (safeties Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde, both with five). The Bills were No. 26 in total defense (29th rushing, 20th passing) and No. 18 in scoring defense (22.4 points per game).

Buffalo was No. 5 in opponents’ punt return average (5.5 yards per attempt).

POSTSEASON EXPERIENCE: The Bills ended a 17-season playoff drought, the longest in North America’s four major professional sports, by qualifying this season.

STAT THAT MATTERS: Buffalo’s 25 takeaways tied for eighth in the NFL and the Bills’ plus 9 number in takeaway/giveaway ranked seventh.

SCOUTING THE JAGUARS: Rookie running back Leonard Fournette was one of eight NFL players with at least 1,000 yards from scrimmage and at least 10 touchdowns in 2017 (1,040 rushing, 302 receiving and 10 TDs). Jacksonville was 4-1 when Fournette rushed for 100 yards. The Jaguars were No. 6 in the NFL in total offense (first rushing, 17th passing) and No. 5 in scoring offense (26.1 points per game).

Jacksonville had 21 interceptions in 2017, the most in a season in franchise history, and is the only team in the NFL with four players with at least four INTs this season.The Jaguars were No. 2 in the NFL in total defense (21st rushing, first passing) and No. 2 in scoring defense (16.8 points per game).

Kicker Josh Lambo (acquired by Jacksonville on Oct. 17) made 19 of 20 field goal attempts (95.0 percent), including 12 of 12 (100.0 percent) at EverBank Field.

POSTSEASON EXPERIENCE: The Jaguars are in the playoffs for the first time since the 2007 season and are hosting a playoff game for the first time since the 1999 campaign. Jacksonville has 11 players on its roster with postseason experience.

STAT THAT MATTERS: Jacksonville finished No. 2 in the NFL with 55 sacks (the Steelers had 56).

CAROLINA (11-5) at NEW ORLEANS (11-5), 4:40 p.m.

SCOUTING THE PANTHERS: Carolina tied for the NFL lead in points scored in the final three minutes of the second quarter with 64. Panthers tight end Greg Olsen has 635 receptions, 7,519 receiving yards and 53 touchdown receptions in his career. He ranks in the top 10 all-time among NFL tight ends in receptions and receiving yards and is tied for 10th in receiving TDs. Quarterback Cam Newton has 28 total touchdowns (22 passing, six rushing) in 2017. Carolina is No. 19 in total offense (fourth rushing, 28th passing) and No. 12 in scoring offense (22.7 points per game),

Carolina's defense recorded 17 turnovers in the last nine games, including nine interceptions, and turned those 17 turnovers into 59 points (fourth in the NFL in points off turnovers in that span). The Panthers went 9-1 when scoring any points off turnovers and 9-1 when winning or tied in turnover differential. Carolina is No. 7 in total defense (third rushing, 18th passing) and No. 11 in scoring defense (20.4 points per game).

Carolina is tied for first in the NFL in total blocked field goals in 2016 and 2017 (four, along with New England).

POSTSEASON EXPERIENCE: The Panthers are the most experienced team in the NFC playoffs. Carolina's 34 players with postseason experience have totaled 187 postseason games played.

STAT THAT MATTERS: Carolina led the NFL with the fewest penalties this season (83 for 682 yards).

SCOUTING THE SAINTS: New Orleans allowed 20 sacks in 2017 (second to the Los Angeles Chargers’ 18). Quarterback Drew Brees completed 386 of 536 passes (72.0 percent) for 4,334 yards with 23 touchdown passes, eight interceptions and a passer rating of 103.9. Brees set an NFL record for completion percentage, ranked first in completions, second in passer rating, third in fourth quarter passer rating (117.6) and fourth in passing yardage. Running back Mark Ingram (1,540), rookie running back Alvin Kamara (1,554) and wide receiver Michael Thomas (1,245) were the only trio from a team in 2017 to each surpass 1,100 yards from scrimmage. New Orleans is No. 2 in total offense (fifth rushing, fifth passing) and No. 4 in scoring offense (28.0 points per game).

The Saints intercepted 20 passes, the third most in the NFL (they had nine interceptions in 2016). New Orleans is No. 17 in total defense (16th rushing, 15th passing) and No. 10 in scoring defense (20.4 points per game).

Kicker Wil Lutz went 31-for-35 on field goals, including 4-for-5 from 50 yards out.

POSTSEASON EXPERIENCE: New Orleans is in the playoffs for the sixth time under head coach Sean Payton since 2006. Payton has a career playoff record of 6-4, including a victory in Super Bowl XLIV.

STAT THAT MATTERS: The Saints went 2-0 against the Panthers this season (winning 34-13 on the road and 31-21 in New Orleans).

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