1. Don’t make a star out of Todman. The Jacksonville running game has been atrocious much of the season, but it’s improved a good deal during a three-game winning streak, the longest current run in the AFC. The Jaguars’ season average on the ground is 76.6 yards, and they failed to crack 100 in any of their first 10 games. However, they’ve rushed for more than 100 in each of the last three games. The bulk of that came from veteran Maurice Jones-Drew, but he’s doubtful to play today because of a hamstring injury. The Bills have a nasty habit of making stars out of unknown running backs, and today Jordan Todman gets a chance to add his name to the list. Todman is a speed back who is a threat to the outside.
2. Find a cure for the dropsies. The Bills’ receivers need to give rookie quarterback EJ Manuel (right) some help. There have been high-profile drops (hello, Stevie Johnson) and plenty that haven’t drawn as much attention, but the overall results have been damaging to Manuel’s numbers. According to the website Pro Football Focus, which tracks every play of every NFL game, Manuel has had 18 of his 282 passes dropped, or 6.4 percent.
3. Fix third and long. As pointed out on the Press Coverage blog this week by News Sports Reporter Tim Graham, one area the Bills need to improve defensively is third and long. Buffalo has allowed first downs when the opponent needs 8 or more yards 12 of 77 times (16 percent), 30th in the NFL. When the opponent needs between 4 and 7 yards, the Bills are first in the league, allowing a first down 34 percent of the time (21 of 61). That disparity doesn’t make a lot of sense. Jacksonville ranks dead last in the NFL in overall third downs (30 percent).
4. Attack the left side. The Bills should have a decided edge against the left side of the Jaguars’ offensive line. Jaguars left guard Will Rackley has one of the worst pass-blocking grades in the NFL, according to PFF, and left tackle Cameron Bradfield was forced into the lineup because of a season-long injury to No. 2 overall draft pick Luke Joeckel and a trade of Eugene Monroe. Bills edge rushers Jerry Hughes and Mario Williams are in line for big games this afternoon.
5. Show some mental toughness. The Bills are more talented than the Jaguars. But that talent turned in an absolute no-show effort last week in Tampa. It’s on coach Doug Marrone to get this team playing to its potential even though the streak of seasons without reaching the postseason will stretch to 14.
Outlook: Credit to the Jaguars for not folding up shop at 0-8. Jacksonville has won four of its last five and is coming off extra rest after its first home win of the season. Until the Bills show they’re interested in playing, there’s no reason to pick them to beat any team in the league.
Prediction: Jaguars 23, Bills 16.