Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye of the Jaguars celebrate after...

Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye of the Jaguars celebrate after Ramsey had an interception in the first half against the Colts at EverBank Field on Dec. 3, 2017 in Jacksonville, Fla. Credit: Getty Images / Logan Bowles

Hope is one of the NFL’s biggest selling points. Hope for a team that makes the playoffs after a bad season — or after 10 bad seasons. Or close to 20.

Welcome to the AFC wild- card round, as perennial losers Jacksonville and Buffalo have made it back to the promised land of the playoffs after extended runs of frustration.

The Jaguars hadn’t made it to the postseason since 2007 and are hosting a playoff game for the first time since the 1999 season — when Tom Coughlin took the 1995 expansion team to its second AFC Championship Game in four seasons.

The Bills, who haven’t had much to cheer about since the glory days of the early ’90s with Jim Kelly, Thurman Thomas and Bruce Smith, are back in the postseason for the first time since the 1999 season.

If you think players from both teams aren’t excited about taking the first step toward a Super Bowl championship, you didn’t see Bills players erupt in cheers in the locker room in Miami after watching the Bengals score the game-winning touchdown to eliminate the Ravens and punch Buffalo’s ticket. And you haven’t listened to Jaguars players talking with such enthusiasm about playing in the tournament.

“This team was put together — not necessarily everyone was drafted here, [there were some] free-agent signings, some people were drafted — but some people are on their second and third chance,” the Bills’ Tyrod Taylor said. “Through all of that, we were able to come together and bond together and take the underdog role. I think we embraced that and I think that’s more so what the message was talking about, people writing us off.”

Taylor himself has been written off by Bills fans and even his coach. Benched earlier in the season and replaced by rookie quarterback Nathan Peterman, Taylor played well down the stretch.

He’s not the only maligned quarterback in this game. The Jaguars’ Blake Bortles struggled through most of his first three seasons in the NFL, but the No. 3 overall pick in the 2014 draft showed improvement in helping the Jaguars to a 10-6 season and the AFC South title.

While Bortles has raised his game, the Jaguars’ formula for success has revolved around an aggressive defense that gets after the quarterback so effectively that the team has earned the nickname “Sacksonville.”

Led by free-agent acquisitions Calais Campbell, the Jaguars had 55 sacks, second only to the Steelers (56). Jacksonville was second overall in team defense, surrendering 286.1 yards per game. Minnesota was first with 275.9.

Jacksonville’s other calling card is the running game, which has been revived behind rookie tailback Leonard Fournette, a former LSU star. Fournette led the Jaguars with 1,040 rushing yards and nine touchdowns.

The Bills also like to run the ball, but the effectiveness of the ground game will be in question because of the ankle injury suffered by LeSean McCoy last week against the Dolphins. He’ll be a game-time decision.

Another juicy subplot: The Bills will be going against a coach who once spurned Buffalo. Jaguars coach Doug Marrone exercised a clause in his contract after the 2014 season to leave the Bills because of uncertainty over the sale of the team to new owners Terry and Kim Pegula. Bills fans won’t soon forget the move, which led to the hiring of Rex Ryan and a two-year run of futility, but Marrone has moved on. Now he teams with Coughlin, who runs the football operation after the Giants pushed him out the door after the 2015 season.

“My job is to make sure that I do the best job for this team,” Marrone said. “Hey, listen, am I happy that [the Bills are back in the playoffs]? I am. I am. I’m happy for their fans and I’m happy for the organization . . . but my focus is on our fans, our team and where we want to go.”


With the Bills in the playoffs for the first time in 18 seasons, a look at the teams that have gone longest without making the playoffs:








More football news


FOR OUR BEST OFFER ONLY 25¢ for 5 months

Unlimited Digital Access.

cancel anytime.