AFC Wild Card Preview: Indianapolis Colts @ Buffalo Bills

Finally, the Buffalo Bills are hosting an AFC playoff game. They welcome the Indianapolis Colts to Orchard Park; it is a mouthwatering clash. Buffalo is the two seed, and Indianapolis is the seventh seed. Don’t let those numbers fool you; the Colts are an excellent team. It highlights the strength in depth that exists in the AFC.

Both of these teams will dream of making it to the AFC title game. For Buffalo, it is an emotional return to the postseason. There will be some fans in the stadium, although they’ll make it sound like it’s sold out. After 26 years of pain, Bills Mafia is ready to cheer their heroes to victory.

Likewise are Hoosiers in the state of Indiana, the Peyton Manning era feels like a long time ago. Frank Reich’s team will be gunning to upset Buffalo at home.

Strength on Strength

It is a traditional strength on strength matchup. The Bills’ offense is outstanding; it is second in scoring offense. Last week saw Buffalo drop a 50 burger on the ten win Miami Dolphins. The Bills are the hottest team in the AFC right now, and Josh Allen is playing at an MVP level. With coordinator Brian Daboll in tow, the Bills offense is rolling.

Daboll uses a plethora of pre-snap motion and misdirection to confuse opponents. The coordinator is fortunate due to Allen’s ability to make any throw. It is Mahomes-esque. The touchdown pass he threw last Monday against New England looked like a Kansas City play call. With Stefon Diggs and Cole Beasley available to him, Daboll is scheming up the best offense in the NFL right now. The Dolphins’ defense is a top unit; Buffalo destroyed them.

Indianapolis is the tenth-ranked unit in scoring defense. Matt Eberflus’ crew has enjoyed a remarkable season. DeForest Buckner and Darius Leonard are first-team All-Pro’s. Xavier Rhodes is playing brilliantly in the secondary, as is Julian Blackmon. The Colts defense possesses the right blend of experience and youth. That is why they’ve been so good; they are one of the premier defenses in the AFC.

There is one issue; however, the Colts rank 20th in passing yardage allowed. Indianapolis must improve that part of their defense. It is 18th in pass completion allowed.

The Colts own the defensive talent; Matt Eberflus must deploy them correctly in the game at Buffalo. Will Eberflus take away Buffalo’s big-play threat, let them throw underneath, or rely on the run game. One thing is for sure, the battle between former Viking teammates Diggs and Rhodes will be one to watch. The Colts require every bit of defensive perfection to stop Buffalo.

Will Allen Meltdown?

Josh Allen produced an epic fourth-quarter meltdown in last year’s AFC wild-card game in Houston. After looking so composed, Allen became an uncontrollable mess. He panicked, made terrible decisions that ultimately cost Buffalo the game. This year, we’ve hardly seen any of that Josh Allen.

Briefly, he emerged against the Rams as he drew a facemask penalty. Allen can’t do that in the playoffs, not against the competition level in the AFC.
Moreover, I don’t think he will. Following a few mid-season wobbles, Allen’s led the Bills brilliantly. He looks calm, poised, and in control. I don’t think we see an Allen meltdown in this game. He is far too confident, far too good to look like the nervous wreck he played like last year.

What of the Colts Offense?

Do not think for one second that the Bills are the only offense in the game. The Buffalo run defense is sub-par for their high standards. In Jonathan Taylor, the Colts own a bell-cow runner; Taylor can do anything. He can run through tackles as well as run on the outside to stretch teams. He possesses excellent speed coupled with elite physicality. Add the dynamic Nyhiem Hines to the mix and the Colts backfield is dangerous.

If the Colts can establish the run, it creates the opportunity for Philip Rivers. Rivers is a statue quarterback; he sits in the pocket with no threat of mobility. That still could be good enough; the Colts offensive line is exceptional. Quenton Nelson is an All-Pro, even with the injuries they’ve suffered, Indianapolis’ offensive line should be good enough to protect Rivers.

Philip Rivers has enjoyed a long, remarkable career. Sadly, playoff success always eluded him. It is still the asterisk alongside his name. Regardless of his age, the Colts surrounded Rivers with one of the best teams in his career. Indianapolis has the talent, can Philip Rivers banish the playoff demons, can he stay calm in the playoff furnace? Rivers is the veteran quarterback; his decision making must be on point. The ballhawks in the Buffalo secondary will be looking for any opportunity to create a turnover.

Stay Cool in The Heat of Battle

It is a massive day for both teams. Both head coaches will need to keep their players calm in the heat of battle. Frank Reich is a cult hero in Buffalo after his antics in 1993; he was also the offensive coordinator when the Eagles won the Super Bowl. Reich’s got all the experience to stay cool in the pressure cooker environment.

Sean McDermott’s playoff experience is less extensive; although he too is a great leader of men, the Bills players will go to war for him. They will follow him to the end of the Earth. The other factor will be how well Indianapolis adapts to playing outdoors. The weather in Buffalo could be tricky; Rivers needs to be aware of the conditions; he must manage the game accordingly.

It will be a grueling four quarters for both teams; very little can split either team. It will come down to who executes under pressure, which team limits the mistakes and can mentally deal with the tension. There are plenty of great dramas in the theater world, whether it’s Othello, Hamlet, or Oliver Twist. As great as all that is, there is nothing quite like Wildcard Weekend in the NFL. Over the weekend, we’ll view six epic dramas unfold in real-time, that is why sports is the ultimate drama.

First up, an emotional homecoming for the Buffalo Bills after 24 years of hurt. However, this is no nice homecoming; those ferocious Indianapolis Colts are galloping into town to upset Buffalo. The Colts and the Bills kick off wildcard weekend; it is game one in the AFC playoffs, now we need the game to kick off. The Indianapolis Colts versus the Buffalo Bills, do not miss it.