The favorite, yes, but the No. 2-seeded Bills (13-3) will not have a walk in the park. The Colts (11-5) might have just snuck into the postseason… but they earned their double-digit wins like everyone else.
With that, here are seven things to watch for and a prediction ahead of the Bills-Colts Wild Card meeting:
Handling being the favorite
Bills head coach Sean McDermott. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
The Bills had no business being in the playoffs in 2017 when McDermott first took over. After a 2018 miss, one could say the Bills certainly were a bit more deserving of being there in 2019. At minimal, they needed no help from the Bengals and by Week 17, things were all wrapped up. Both of those seasons pale in comparison to this year. The Bills are the hottest team in the NFL right now and just about everyone is picking them to win on Saturday. So how do they handle it? Buffalo has to go out there and take care of business and not let these circumstances change their approach and mindset. Let's see if they can handle being in this position.
Slowing down Jonathan Taylor
Colts running back Jonathan Taylor. Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports
Colts rookie running back Jonathan Taylor might be the Bills' biggest concern this weekend from a defensive standpoint. Over the course of the Colts’ last six games, Taylor has averaged 6.23 yards per carry and has two games with 150 rushing yards or more in that stretch. He was named the AFC Offensive Rookie of the Month for December, hand-in-hand with Bills quarterback Josh Allen who took home the overall award. Per Colts Wire, the second-round rookie won the NFL’s rookie rushing title as well with 1,169 total rushing yards in 2020.
While Buffalo’s run defense has improved since the middle point of the regular season, the Colts will still probably try to attack them this way. Not allowing the Colts to use Taylor in such a manner will be up to Buffalo's offense as much as their defense, too.
Who's playing WR for the Bills?
Bills wide receiver Stefon Diggs. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
Most expect the Bills to be without Cole Beasley (ankle) on Saturday. However, we've had conflicting words on Stefon Diggs. The man himself says his oblique injury is fine while McDermott continues to say the situation is being monitored. That'd clearly be a huge loss for Buffalo. Plus there's Kenny Stills to consider. Does he make his debut vs. the Colts after signing this week? Indy has the 20th ranked pass defense entering the postseason. If none of these guys go, can the Bills still take advantage of that?
Both Bills trenches have to step up
Bills center Mitch Morse. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)
It wasn't that long ago that McDermott cleared Buffalo center Mitch Morse of a concussion and benched him. Between Brian Winters, Quinton Spain and Ike Boettger, the Bills have not gotten the best play from the middle of their offensive line in 2020. With defensive tackle DeForest Buckner, the AFC's Defensive Player of the Month for December en route, right now would be a good time for things to settle down in the middle of the Bills' O-line. But things won't be easy on the other side, either. Buffalo's defensive lineman such as Jerry Hughes and Ed Oliver must get to quarterback Philip Rivers. In their way will be some great offensive lineman such as Ryan Kelly, Braden Smith, and one can't forget All-Pro Quenton Nelson. Veteran tackle Anthony Castonzo is on injured reserve, but Colts Wire recently praised his replacement, Jared Veldheer.
Another takeaway-filled game?
Bills cornerback Josh Norman. Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports
The Bills haven't had a problem winning any game recently, but in doing so, they've continually won the takeaway battle. Buffalo did knock off the NFL's best turnover differential team last week, the Dolphins (+11), but a similar test is en route. The Colts are the league's second-best in this category (+10) and have 25 total takeaways. Overall, Buffalo has 26 takeaways. Both sides will be looking to steal possessions in this one.
They'll risk it
Colts quarterback Jacoby Brissett. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
The Colts are not scared to go for it on fourth down, even if they’re not successful. Indianapolis has a decent 61.5 success rate, but the more interesting number is the number of times they’ve gone for it: 26. That’s near the top of the list in the NFL. In these scenarios, watch out for the trickery, too. Backup QB Jacoby Brissett has been known to come in for these downs to get the extra yard or two under center. The Bills have the best fourth-down success rate in the league at 80 percent... But Buffalo's also gone for it one fourth down the fewest times in the league, 10 total.
Third downs should go the distance
Bills quarterback Josh Allen. (AP Photo/John Munson)
Speaking of a specific down... third down. This could be the biggest difference-maker for the Bills vs. the Colts. On offense, no team has extended drives more on third down in 2020 than the Bills. Buffalo is in the middle of the pack in terms of getting off the field, 13th best. Both of these numbers are above and beyond better than the ones Indianapolis sports, though.
Prediction: Bills 34, Colts 21
The prediction is that the Bills get it done for the first time since 1995 and win a playoff game. It's been a long time coming, but what has been longer as of late? Being an opponent of the Bills certainly has caused some long days at the office. As mentioned, the Bills defense has to slow down the Colts' rushing attack. Rivers is certainly no slouch, either. But the true key, as it has been all season, will be the offense and Allen. If the Bills get up big, can the Colts compete in a shootout? They'll probably be able to keep up better than the Broncos, Patriots and Dolphins, who all lost by at least 29 points to Buffalo in the Bills' last three games, but completely keep up? We're just not seeing it.