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2021-01-09
Indianapolis Colts
Buffalo Bills
League : NFL

Buffalo Bills vs Indianapolis Colts Prediction & Preview


 

Image licensed from USA Today Sports

 

Playoff football is back in Buffalo for the first time this century. It’s been 25 years since the Bills hosted a playoff game at Bills Stadium, but that will change Sunday when the second seed Bills welcome the 7th seed Colts to town. When looking at the seeding, this should be a no brainer, but the Colts are no ordinary seven seed. They won 11 games this season and were the last team in the playoffs, which displays the depth of the AFC.

The Colts made it into the playoffs with a little help last Sunday. With a playoff spot on the line, the Colts needed Buffalo to win, which they did decisively over Miami. That meant all Indianapolis had to do was defeat Jacksonville, and Jonathan Taylor made sure of that. The rookie set a franchise record for rushing yards in a game with 253 yards and two touchdowns, the final of which came with 3:35 left to put the game on ice. A week after blowing a 17 point lead against Pittsburgh, the Colts saw Jacksonville score touchdowns on either side of halftime to make the score 20-14. Taylor’s run in the fourth quarter sealed the victory and the playoff spot.

Now that the Colts are in the playoffs, they will have to deal with perhaps the hottest offense in football. Starting at week nine, the Bills averaged 37.9 points per game, tops in the NFL. Led by Josh Allen, the Bills put up 56 points in their regular-season finale against a Miami team fighting for a playoff spot. Allen threw for two scores and 224 yards in the first half before giving way to Matt Barkley. The 56 points scored was the second-most points scored in a game in Bills history.

But the Bills are not just an offensive juggernaut right now. Defensively, the Bills were fifth in scoring over the past six weeks, allowing just 18.8 points per game during that span. With all three units clicking, the Bills look like a legitimate Super Bowl contender as the playoffs begin.

So how do these teams match up? The Colts strength is their offensive line, running game, and defense. The Bills, meanwhile, counter with an explosive offense. The Bills are better equipped to handle a shootout, while the Colts have the advantage if they hold a late lead.

 

Colts Put Playoff Run in Rivers’s Hands

Now that the Colts are in the playoffs, it is up to Philip Rivers and the Colts' offense to put pressure on the Bills. Why is the offense so important? Because it is the weaker of the two units. The offense has thrived behind a veteran offensive line that has allowed only 19 sacks and opened holes for rookie Jonathan Taylor, who has run for 1169 yards and 5.0 ypc while scoring 11 touchdowns. Over the past six games, only Tennessee’s Derrick Henry has more rushing yards than Taylor.

 

The running game has taken some of the pressure off Rivers, who has completed 68.0% of his passes for 4169 yards, 24 touchdowns, and 11 interceptions. TY Hilton, who has scored all five of his touchdowns in the last six weeks, has caught 56 passes for 762 yards. Zach Pascal has hauled in 44 catches for 629 yards and five scores.

Defensively, the Colts are led up front by DeForest Buckner, who has 53 quarterback pressures and 9.5 sacks. He figures to be busy if he plays (listed as questionable), as the Bills love to throw the ball around the yard. Cornerback Rock Ya-Sin and Safety Khari Will are both out for Sunday’s playoff game, which will negatively impact the Colts secondary.

The front seven for the Colts has been nasty against the run, finishing second in the NFL in yards allowed at 90.5. On the whole, the Colts were eighth in the league allowing 348.4 yards per game and were +10 in turnover margin.

In a nutshell, the Colts are a good, but not great team. Other than beating the Packers, the Colts mainly feasted on a soft schedule with very few quality wins. Their defense should keep them in the game, and it will be up to the 39 year old veteran Rivers to make magic happen on offense.

 

Buffalo May Have Best Team Since 1995

It’s been a long time coming, but the Bills have finally won the AFC East and look poised to make a playoff run. The biggest difference this season has been the emergence of Josh Allen, who was just mediocre in his previous two seasons. Allen spent the offseason honing his game, especially since COVID restricted many superfluous activities. The result has been a big uptick in his accuracy, which is unheard of in the NFL. Having Stefan Diggs (127 receptions, 1535 yards, 8 TD) may also be a big factor, but the point is Allen, who had completed 56.3% of his passes during his first two seasons combined, jumped to a 69.2% completion rate this season. He threw for 4544 yards and 37 touchdowns to only 10 interceptions. He went from question mark to unquestioned franchise quarterback in a season.

 

If the Bills have a weakness, it is their ground game. The Bills have averaged just 107.7 yards per contest, and lack a featured back. Devin Singletary and Zack Moss have combined to rush for 79.6 yards per game, but those totals have ticked upwards as the offense improved. The rushing duo will face the second-best rushing defense in the league, which could have a big effect on their performance.

The battle on offense will be won or lost on first down. According to Football Outsiders’ DVOA Metric, the Bills have the best first-down passing game in the NFL. Josh Allen is completing 72.1% of his first-down passes for an average of 9.0 yards per attempt. His favorite target has been Diggs, who has caught 57 passes for 812 yards on first down. If it does get to third down, the Bills own the NFL’s highest conversion rate at 49.7%, mainly due to the work done on first down.

 

Conversely, the Bills' biggest weakness is their tackling. The Bills have missed 123 tackles this season, fourth highest in the NFL. The struggles really come against running backs in open space, which is how Indianapolis kills teams. The Bills have given up 11 plays of 20 yards or more to running backs, second-highest among playoff teams.

The bottom line is the Bills have the weapons on offense to get this thing done, and the predicted line and total reflects that. Buffalo has some vulnerabilities, especially on defense, that could cause them to be sitting at home for the second round of the playoffs.



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