AFC Wild Card Matchup:
#7 Colts (11-5) at #2 Bills (13-3)
Saturday, January 9, 10:05 AM PST (CBS)
The Colts and Bills face off in the first playoff matchup of the season. I’m not entirely sure why they buried this AFC Wild Card matchup in the 10 AM timeslot. The Texans and/or the Bengals usually end up here, but we were freed from their evil clutches for this one season. The Bills are the toast of the NFL right now, having escaped the AFC East shadow left by the Patriots’ dynasty crumbling. Can the resurgent Colts hope to knock their blocks off and ruin their Super Bowl aspirations? How would the Colts pull this off? And how would the Colts stop this? Below, we will outline a specific player, statistic, and position group that will lead each squad to victory.
How the Indianapolis Colts Win
Important Player: Jonathan Taylor
The rookie running back finally broke through in week seventeen, notching over 250 yards and two touchdowns against the hapless Jacksonville Jaguars’ defense. The Bills allow the seventh-highest yards per carry to running backs on the season, and Taylor averages an eyepopping 6.71 yards per carry since the beginning of December. In his last five games, he averages 144.6 yards per contest on 21.8 carries. If Taylor can put together another huge game, then he gives the Colts a great chance at victory.
Important Statistic: Turnover Differential
The Colts own the second-best turnover differential in the league, with ten more takeaways than giveaways this year. This is a crucial statistic for the Colts, as it allows them to overcome the more questionable parts of Philip Rivers’ game with turnovers of their own. The Colts had just one loss with a positive turnover differential this season. The Bills force a ton of turnovers, with 26 on the season. With mistake-prone Josh Allen at the helm, however, they give up a lot of turnovers as well. The Bills are tied for the eleventh-most turnovers this season and the third-most turnovers among playoff teams.
Important Position Group: Offensive Line
The Colts placed star Left Tackle Anthony Castonzo on season-ending IR, with a knee injury that requires surgery. The Colts, thanks to Castonzo as well as the rest of the line, have kept Philip Rivers mostly upright this season. Rivers has been sacked more than two times in a game just twice this year. Both games came without Castonzo, in weeks 13 and 16. The Bills are middle-of-the-road in sacking the quarterback, registering 2.4 sacks per contest. Should the Colts keep Philip Rivers upright, they give themselves a great shot at taking down this AFC Wild Card matchup.
How the Buffalo Bills Win
Important Player: Josh Allen
Josh Allen is the heart and soul of the Buffalo Bills. The young quarterback took a massive leap forward in 2020, posting career highs across the board by massive margins. His 37 touchdowns this year are more than his other two years combined, and his 4,544 yards is more than 1.5 times as much as his previous career high. His interception rate—1.7%—also marks a career-best line. The Bills lost just three games this season, and Josh Allen had half of his interceptions in those games. If he starts to turn the ball over, the Bills are toast. If he starts to rock and roll, then the Bills will cruise to victory. With no real rushing game to speak of, everything is on his MVP-candidate shoulders.
Important Statistic: Turnovers
I talked about this already with the Indianapolis Colts, but I truly believe this one comes down to who gives up the ball more. That sounds simplistic, but given the Bills’ propensity for turnovers and the Colts’ propensity to take the ball away, protecting the football is of utmost importance for Buffalo. The Bills have the eleventh-most turnovers this season, mostly thanks to Josh Allen’s inexplicable fumbling predilection. If they don’t hand the ball to the Colts, then the Bills will have a great chance at winning this one.
Important Position Group: Wide Receivers
The Buffalo Bills boast one of the strongest and deepest wide receiver corps in the NFL. They also have a corps that fleshes well with Josh Allen’s skill set. Stefon Diggs led all players in receiving yardage and is the best player in this position group. However, the rest of the group is built around Josh Allen’s strengths. John Brown and Gabriel Davis (and newcomer Kenny Stills) can all go deep, with Cole Beasley roaming the vacated underside of the defense to get 6 or 7-yard chunk plays. All told, the Bills WRs led the league in yardage from the position, and are key to the Bills winning this one. The Colts allowed the seventh-most yards to wide receivers this season, so it will be a mismatch the Bills look to exploit.