NFL Playoff Preview: Indianapolis Colts at Buffalo Bills

The Bills appear to be true Super Bowl contenders. The Colts, on the other hand, merely look like Wild Card cannon fodder. Bills fans of a certain age, however, know (and the Patriots confirmed in Super Bowl LII) that it’s a bad idea to underestimate Colts head coach Frank Reich in a playoff game. NFL Recap doesn’t foresee any Reich comeback magic in this playoff preview between the Colts and the Bills. We’re willing to at least entertain the possibility.

That’s because the Buffalo Bills couldn’t look stronger right now. They’ve won six straight games and are coming off a 56-26 pasting of a Miami Dolphins team that was fighting for its playoff life. The Indianapolis Colts, on the other hand, look a little wobbly entering the postseason. First, they allowed the Pittsburgh Steelers to come back from a 24-7 deficit to beat them 28-24 in Week 16. Then, they allowed the Jacksonville Jaguars to hang around until the end of the 28-14 victory in Week 17 that clinched a Wild Card berth.

So, how will this game shake out? Our preview is below and you can catch this Wild Card matchup on Saturday, January 9 at 1:05 PM ET on CBS.

Colts/Bills Playoff Preview: Buffalo enters the postseason as one of the hottest teams

Buffalo Bills’ season in a nutshell

Josh Allen’s sudden and unexpected early-season rise from Walking Hot Take Factory to Actual Franchise Quarterback carried the Bills to a 4-0 start. Midseason losses to the Tennessee Titans and Kansas City Chiefs suggested, however, that the Bills might not be ready for the spotlight after decades as AFC East also-rans.

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Head coach Sean McDermott’s defense did improve considerably in the second half of the season after a shaky start. In addition, Allen climbed out of a mild midseason slump to emerge as an MVP candidate. The Bills won the AFC East for the first time since 1995. This may be the best Bills team since the days of Jim Kelly, Thurman Thomas, Andre Reed, and Bruce Smith.

Indianapolis Colts’ season in a nutshell

The Colts meandered through the 2020 season. They lost to the weakling Jacksonville Jaguars at the start of the year but later upset the powerhouse Green Bay Packers. Overall, however, they feasted on a soft schedule and lost too much of the quality opposition they faced. 

Philip Rivers didn’t look as overcooked as Ben Roethlisberger or Drew Brees, but it was still obvious at times (particularly in the second half on Sunday) that his thermometer popped some time in 2018. DeForest Buckner played at an All-Pro level, and others had eye-opening seasons (rookie running back Jonathan Taylor; reclamation cornerback Xavier Rhodes). While the 2020 Colts are good at a lot of things, they aren’t really great at anything in particular. That’s not an ideal formula for playoff success.

Playoff Preview: Buffalo Bills’ greatest strength

The Bills have the NFL’s best first-down passing game, per Football Outsiders’ DVOA metric. Entering Week 17, Allen completed 72.1% of his first-down passes and averaged 9.0 yards per attempt. Stefon Diggs caught 57 of the 70 passes thrown to him on first down for 812 yards (11.6 yards per target) and five touchdowns. 

Playoff Preview: Indianapolis Colts’ greatest strength

The Colts’ greatest strength is that they have no biggest weakness.

Buffalo Bills’ biggest weakness

The Bills defense entered Week 17 with 123 missed tackles per Pro Football Reference, the fourth-highest total in the NFL. Tackling is a particular problem when running backs bust into the open field. Buffalo allowed 11 running plays of 20-plus yards entering Week 17, tied with the Tennessee Titans for the highest total among playoff teams.

Indianapolis Colts’ biggest weakness

The Colts’ biggest weakness is that they have no greatest strength.

Bottom Line

As alluded to in the intro, Reich led the Bills to the greatest playoff comeback of all time. He threw four touchdowns when Kelly was injured to lead the Bills back from a 35-3 third-quarter deficit to defeat the Houston Oilers 41-38 in the first round of the 1992 playoffs.

That game will be mentioned in every preview written about this game and about 4,000 times during the broadcast. And if you think it’s relevant in any way to what is happening in 2021, you missed subtle cues like “Houston Oilers” and “1992” in the opening sentence.

The Bills are a top-to-bottom better team than the Colts. They’ve also played better down the stretch. Unless Reich sprinkles some of his magical playoff dust on Rivers or Allen gets the playoff yips, this game has the potential to be over early.

Early Pick: Buffalo Bills

(All stats via Sports Info Solutions unless otherwise cited)


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