Indianapolis Colts vs. Buffalo Bills: Matchups, prediction for two AFC teams with massive strengths

The Indianapolis Colts vs. Buffalo Bills Week 11 AFC duel is full of exciting matchups, but a final prediction isn't difficult.

The Indianapolis Colts vs. Buffalo Bills is a far more intriguing game now than it was even just a few short weeks ago. The Colts were 1-4, and the season was in jeopardy. The Bills were 4-1 and looked like the most dominant force in nature, let alone football. Since Week 6, the Colts are 4-1, and the Bills are 2-2 (including a loss to the hapless Jaguars). Who holds the advantage heading into this early Sunday afternoon matchup?

Indianapolis Colts offense vs. Buffalo Bills defense

In news that should shock absolutely nobody, Indianapolis is one of the best running offenses in the NFL. But it’s the slight improvement in play from Carson Wentz and the passing attack as a whole that’s improved since their losing streak. The defensive improvements help, but Wentz is back to looking like a competent NFL QB again, and that’s fun for the NFL.

We knew the Bills’ defense would come back down to earth after their record-blistering start. However, even their dip in defensive production in Weeks 6-10 rank in the top 10 in both EPA/play and success rate. In other words, their defense hasn’t been the reason for their recent skid.

Carson Wentz vs. Bills defense

If we look purely at the results of the 2021 NFL season, we’d see that Wentz is limiting turnovers beautifully. Because of that, the Colts rank second in turnover differential for the season. But if you watch Wentz play, he sometimes makes you turn your head and shield your eyes like you’re watching a slasher film.

The Patrick Mahomes-esque plays without Mahomes’ skill set have led to nearly disastrous turnovers with relative consistency for Wentz. But if he can play with some semblance of control and lives to see the next down, he’ll be fine. The problem is, that’s not his style.

Conversely, the Bills lead the league in turnover differential and turnovers forced. Their 24 defensive turnovers are 3 more than Indy’s total. Wentz has played at an acceptable level in Indianapolis. Still, the turnover luck falling in his favor has the potential to shift to the opposite end of the spectrum against the Bills.

Buffalo isn’t just opportunistic with turnovers, either. They’re in the top three in both defensive dropback and rushing success rate. This defense is fast and stingy. Sure, their exterior pass rush has improved, but they were built up the middle. Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer are possibly the best safety duo in the league, and Tremaine Edmunds and Matt Milano are probably the most athletic linebacking duo. Edmunds’ hamstring may not be ready by Sunday, but that shouldn’t affect this particular matchup too much.

Advantage: Bills

Colts skill-position players vs. Bills secondary

Michael Pittman Jr. is Wentz’s new and improved Alshon Jeffery. That’s no slight on Jeffery; he was simply past his prime when he and Wentz finally met. The most significant difference is the efficiency in his targets despite being a big-bodied receiver. Pittman isn’t simply a 50/50 ball catcher, and his frame makes Wentz feel comfortable. It’s no secret Wentz enjoys bigger targets. It was tight ends in the past, but a 31-year-old Jack Doyle isn’t Zach Ertz or Dallas Goedert.

Nevertheless, this offense is all about Jonathan Taylor. I officially announce my “L” on how I saw Taylor coming out of Wisconsin. He’s been spectacular, and the fumbling issues he had in college have dissipated. I’d still put my money on Nick Chubb being the best pure runner in the NFL, but Taylor is not far behind. Still, Derrick Henry is an entirely different beast.

The Bills must contest with T.Y. Hilton’s speed, but it’s clear he’s not the player he once was. Furthermore, Zach Pascal is just a guy in the pantheon of the league’s receivers.

The Bills are no slouch in the secondary. Tre’Davious White is one of the five best cornerbacks in the NFL, and Taron Johnson makes a case for the best pure slot DB in the league — though someone on the opposite sideline might have something to say about that. Levi Wallace is more than capable on the opposite side, and we’ve already gushed over the safeties.

Advantage: Bills

Colts offensive line vs. Bills defensive front

This is a battle of the titans — not the ones in Smashville, Tennessee. However, some numbers on their own can be deceiving.

The Colts are second in rushing EPA/play. But they’re just 18th in success rate. Luckily, the explanation for this is simple. They create massive chunk plays in the run game because Taylor is 230 pounds with excellent vision, and he’s faster than 95% of the cornerbacks in the NFL.

We can argue the value between consistency and splash plays, but the Colts’ rushing attack creates points. Even if they are stuffed on 8 carries, one seems to go for 60 yards.

Not having Star Lotulelei this week hurts the Bills badly. Some day, the average football fan will appreciate just how important that big ugly in the middle is for a run defense. Losing him hurts, especially with Milano’s shoulder injury limiting him and Edmunds possibly out with his hamstring. 

Advantage: Colts

Buffalo Bills offense vs. Indianapolis Colts defense

The Bills’ offense is breaking the stats. They’re third in EPA/play and sixth in success rate. However, weighted DVOA ranks them as the 13th-best offense in the league. We perceive significant inconsistency with Buffalo’s offense, and that perception is reality. Football Outsiders ranks them dead last in both their Variance and Strength of Schedule metrics.

In fact, the Bills’ offensive variance is massive. The difference between them and the 31st-ranked Bears is nearly identical to the Bears and Browns, who rank 26th. That same approximate 5% difference is between the 25th-ranked Chiefs and the third-ranked Broncos.

For full transparency purposes, I must admit that this probably has more to do with low-variance teams simply not having great offenses. Thus, the chances they have massive swings are much lower because they don’t reach such highs. Yet, even for the top offenses, the Bills’ inconsistencies, along with their lousy schedule, lead me to question their offensive merits. Once again, this isn’t to show how good an offense is. It’s to show the difference in their good and bad performances. Buffalo’s offense is all over the map.

Indianapolis’ defense is a bit of a headache as well. They stop the run nearly as well as Buffalo does. However, their passing defense has struggled in 2021. It’s a pretty simple issue, too. The safety play has been bad, and it’s because Khari Willis was added to the injured reserve early this month after they already lost Julian Blackmon.

Josh Allen vs. Colts defense

I’m not entirely sure why Allen has better MVP odds than anybody heading into Week 11, but I’m not going to argue with Vegas. From a pure-skill-set perspective, Allen is in that group of quarterbacks that inherently holds an advantage over any defense they face, simply because the game is geared so far toward QB success.

For a Colts defense that’s relied on their ability to turn the ball over, they might struggle with Allen, who’s protected the ball admirably in 2021. There’s a reason he ranks fifth in the PFN QB Power Rankings.

Advantage: Bills

Bills skill-position players vs. Colts secondary

With a healthy Colts secondary, this would be a fun matchup to write up and discuss. Unfortunately, injuries have decimated Indianapolis on the back end.

Stefon Diggs is one of the most complete receivers in the league. Cole Beasley gets open with ease in the slot. Emmanuel Sanders can still ball at nearly 35 years old. And then the Colts must defend Dawson Knox and Gabriel Davis, who both offer big-play ability.

Kenny Moore II needs his flowers, though. He’s probably the best slot cornerback in the NFL, and he doesn’t get the respect he deserves nationally.

Advantage: Bills

Bills offensive line vs. Colts defensive front

DeForest Buckner is one of the best defensive tackles in the NFL. Keeping in Colts tradition, they drafted Kwity Paye, and he’s played exceptionally well this year.

But Taylor Stallworth is the main attraction on that defensive line. He’s stepped up the past few weeks and dominated as a pass rusher. He has 4 sacks and 8 pressures in the past three weeks.

If there’s a sore spot on Buffalo’s roster, it’s the offensive line. The tackles survive, and Spencer Brown has impressed since taking over the right tackle spot. But the interior is a bit of a struggle, and with Buckner and new superhero Stallworth around, things could get ugly.

Advantage: Colts

Betting line and game prediction

The Bills vs. Colts game currently favors Buffalo at home by 7.5 points. This feels like a line that turnovers will decide. I think if the margin is even or favors Indianapolis, they cover the spread. It’ll be difficult for the Colts to contend if the Bills can extend their league-leading turnover margin.

In the end, I have more faith in the Bills’ defense than I do Carson Wentz. But I also think without Lotulelei and the injuries to both of Buffalo’s linebackers, Indianapolis should have some fun on the ground. 

Prediction: Bills 24, Colts 20

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