- Retired All-Pro linebacker Shawne Merriman said winning teams should approach losing franchises like the Jacksonville Jaguars with caution
- The Jaguars upset Josh Allen and the Buffalo Bills in Week 9
- The likes of Jacksonville, the Detroit Lions, and Houston Texans can all play spoiler in the season’s second half
Unless they planned to watch rookie quarterback Trevor Lawrence’s development, a segment of Jacksonville Jaguars fans might have decided that an Oct. 31 blowout road loss to Geno Smith and the Seattle Seahawks was the last straw, at least for this season.
Then came Sunday, Nov. 7, when Josh Allen and the Jaguars upset the more-recognizable Josh Allen and the Buffalo Bills. Although Jacksonville seemingly shocked the world last weekend, retired All-Pro linebacker Shawne Merriman — who played for the Bills from 2010-12 — didn’t come away too surprised.
Shawne Merriman warned how dangerous losing teams like the Jaguars and Texans could be
It’s not hyperbolic to say everyone expected the Bills to defeat, if not rout, the Jaguars in Week 9. According to Odds Shark, the Bills closed at -14.5 road favorites.
So much for that one. The Bills didn’t even score double-digit points in a 9-6 loss. The Jaguars’ Josh Allen sacked, intercepted, and tortured the Bills’ Josh Allen in one of the 2021 season’s more surprising finishes.
In a Nov. 11 interview with Gambling.com, Merriman called the game “embarrassing” and said he believed the Bills overlooked the Jaguars, who were then 1-6 before they won in America for the first time since Sept. 13, 2020. However, the Maryland product also admitted losing teams like the Jaguars are the “scariest teams to play.”
“These guys have nothing to lose. They have everything to gain by going out playing teams like the Buffalo Bills [and] disrupting their season. Those sometimes are the scariest games to play because they will honestly do anything. And you know, look, [the Jaguars] didn’t blow them out. They didn’t do anything that stood out other than playing great defense, and they were just way more physical than the Buffalo Bills were.”Shawne Merriman
Those optimistic noises and exciting typing sounds you hear belongs to fans of the Detroit Lions, Houston Texans, and other franchises whose playoff hopes are essentially over.
A quick glance at NFL history easily proves Merriman’s point
It’s important to note that there are two types of playing spoiler in sports. The first is the early-season loss which only matters in hindsight. The New York Giants, for example, lost 29-10 on Sept. 26, 2010, to Vince Young and the Tennessee Titans.
Although the Giants finished 10-6 after a 1-2 start, they narrowly missed the postseason that year. Perhaps a home victory against a Titans team that went 6-10 would have given the Giants a fifth playoff berth in six seasons.
Then, there exist the more traditional spoilsports. These are the teams that, like the 2021 Jaguars, can pull off an upset in the season’s second half and drastically impact the playoff race. If a losing franchise plays their cards right, they can even knock a losing team out of the postseason.
Minnesota Vikings fans know the feeling all too well. Although the Vikings led 17-6 at the two-minute warning during the 2003 regular-season finale, the 3-12 Arizona Cardinals scored 12 points and pulled off an improbable home victory. As a result, the Vikings fell to 9-7 and missed the postseason.
The Denver Broncos needed a win and some help to reach the postseason in 2009. First-year head coach Josh McDaniels deactivated star receiver Brandon Marshall ahead of a Week 17 home matchup with the 3-12 Kansas City Chiefs and watched his team lose 44-24. After a 6-0 start, the Broncos finished 8-8 and gave the AFC’s final playoff spot to the New York Jets, who came one win shy of reaching the Super Bowl.
More recently, Andy Dalton rallied the 6-9 Cincinnati Bengals to a 31-27 road victory over the 9-6 Baltimore Ravens on Dec. 31, 2017. Bengals receiver Tyler Boyd’s game-winning touchdown with 44 seconds left ensured the Ravens went home and the Bills, of all teams, snuck into the postseason as a wild-card team.
And who did the Bills play in the first round, you ask? The Jaguars! It all comes full circle.
Which struggling team has the best chance to play spoiler this season?
Two of Florida’s three NFL teams have already shown they can be spoilers this year. Four days after the Jaguars’ upset victory, Tua Tagovailoa and the 2-7 Miami Dolphins shocked the AFC North-leading Baltimore Ravens on Thursday, Nov. 11.
As of publication, the Jaguars still had four games left against teams that would reach the playoffs began today. Jacksonville also plays the 4-5 Indianapolis Colts twice over the season’s final eight weeks.
The 1-8 Texans get the Titans twice, plus a home showdown with the Los Angeles Chargers on Dec. 26. The miserable and winless Lions have four such games, including a Week 15 showdown with Kyler Murray and the 8-1 Arizona Cardinals.
We advise Murray and the rest of the team to approach those games cautiously. All it takes is one unexpected result to throw the rest of the NFL playoff picture into a frenzy.