In a non-stop attempt for world domination, the NFL continues its yearly trip across the pond to England where the fine folks of foggy London town will be given the gift of American football. The folks of London probably see this game like a Christmas gift from their estranged American cousin, predictable and probably not very good.
For the third straight season, the Jacksonville Jaguars grace London with their brand of football, this time against the Buffalo Bills. The Jags are 0-2 in their previous two attempts on foreign land, but hope to turn their Euro-misfortunes, as well as their 2015, around with a win over Rex Ryan’s Bills at Wembley Stadium.
The Bills gained early attention when they beat the doors off of the Colts and Dolphins and only lost a one-possession game to the Patriots in the first three weeks of the season. Since those impressive three weeks, however, the Bills have looked like the Bills that we are used to seeing over the past few seasons. They’ve lost two straight home games to the Giants and Bengals and only beat the lowly Titans by one (14-13) in Nashville, 14-13 With a team that is battered and bruised, and now voicing their dissent to the media, Ryan is already seemingly at a crossroads in his first season in Buffalo.
On the other sideline, the Jacksonville Jaguars are who we all thought they would be — bad. At 1-5, the Jaguars are probably the worst team in the NFL, again. Quarterback Blake Bortles continues to struggle, taking one step forward and one step back seemingly every week. The Jaguar defense only compounds matters, having given up the second-most total points so far this season.
Buffalo vs. Jacksonville (London)
Time: 9:30 a.m. ET
TV: Yahoo! Sports (nflstream.yahoo.com)
Line: Buffalo -4
Three Things to Watch
1. American Football Online In London
The NFL can directly thank the rise in popularity of television over the past several decades as a major contributor to their American sports empire. But times have been changing for a while now. People are “cutting the cord” and are watching more and more sporting events and television shows online. The other big three North American sports leagues offer versions of their games via online broadcast. Since the NFL essentially owns a day of the week on several television networks, the need to offer games online has been unnecessary. But as I said, times are changing.
For the first time ever, the NFL will stream a regular season game online, and online only (except in Buffalo and Jacksonville markets). Internet giant Yahoo! landed the rights to the game, thanks in large part to their one billion monthly worldwide users. The move is seen by most as two things, experimental and progressive. Yahoo reportedly paid $20 million for streaming rights to this game, money that seems to be well spent as all ad space has been sold for this event featuring the typical NFL sponsor giants. As somewhat of an experiment, and perhaps a testament to our collective shortening attention span, there will be a noticeable drop in the number of advertisements. NFL senior vice president for media strategy, business development, and sales Hans Schroeder told The New York Times, “The streamed game will have seven to eight fewer minutes of advertising that a typical televisions broadcast... We’re focused on overall game length, to see how a slightly reduced ad load allows the game to move quicker.”
Since this game is being played in another country’s time zone, the kickoff will be much earlier than NFL fans east of the Pacific Time Zone will be used to. Plan to set your alarm, East Coast as this game kicks off at 9:30 a.m.
2. Banged-Up Bills
Part of the recent Bills’ slide is due to their brimming injury report. Tyrod Taylor was leading the pack for the NFL’s best feel-good story of 2015, winning over the starting quarterback job in training camp after spending the first four seasons of his career as Joe Flacco’s backup in Baltimore. Taylor certainly looked like the real deal in his first five starts for the Bills, completing 70 percent of his passes and throwing for nine touchdowns and just four picks. Taylor was out last week with a sprained knee ligament and it cost the Bills, as they fell to the Bengals at home 34-21. Taylor will not be in the lineup for a second straight week as former first-round pick EJ Manuel lines up behind center again.
Manuel will be without two of his most explosive weapons at wideout, as Percy Harvin and Sammy Watkins have already been ruled out, as well as back up running back Karlos Williams. Watkins is out with a left ankle injury, and Williams with a concussion, but Harvin’s situation is much more complex. Reports indicate that Harvin is very frustrated over recurring hip and knee issues that have sidelined him for much of his career. The Buffalo News reported that Harvin was thinking about possibly retiring, a report that ESPN has challenged through an anonymous source. Harvin did not travel with the Bills to London and Ryan said, “I don’t know where he is right now.”
Harvin, Watkins and Williams aside, the Bills will be without defensive tackle Kyle Williams, safety Aaron Williams and cornerback Leodis McKelvin this week on that side of the ball as well.
3. Protecting Blake Bortles
Bortles’ growing pains have been tough to watch at times. He has all of the physical attributes that an NFL coach could ever hope for, but Jaguars fans can’t help but wander if they are seeing the second coming of Blaine Gabbert (Sorry for bringing it up, Jags faithful.) But a lot of those pains aren’t necessarily Bortles’ fault, he’s been running for his life behind a shoddy offensive line ever since he was drafted.
When the Jag’s O-line buckles down and gives Bortles time to sling it, he shows flashes of his fantastic UCF days. Bortles has already surpassed last year’s passing TD total (11) with 13 through six games, and he leads the league in pass attempts and completions over 20 yards this season. Bortles’ improvement is thanks in large part to his young receiving duo of Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns.
On the other side, Ryan is trying to stave off the wolves, not just from injury, but also from his own player’s discourse. Earlier this week Pro-Bowl defensive studs Mario Williams and Marcell Dareus were critical of Ryan’s deployment of them in his defensive schemes. Ryan essentially agreed with his players and tried to move on before saying the defense is paid to win games. Disagreement aside, Bills’ players and coaches can all agree the the defense hasn’t been living up to their own high standard. This week in London would be a perfect time for the defense to get back on track by putting pressure on Bortles, last year’s most-sacked QB.
Bortles has slowly shown signs of improvement, but one of the worst turnover margins in the NFL (-6) is proof that the Jaguars are a long way from being able to compete on a weekly basis. I like the Bills to rebound this week and get back into the AFC East hunt with a victory on the road... er, on another continent, thanks to a healthy dose of LeSean McCoy and a defense ready to make a statement.
Prediction: Bills 20, Jaguars 14
— Written by Jake Rose, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @JakeRose24.