The Indianapolis Colts battled all the way to the final game of the season before finally earning a playoff spot in a crowded AFC picture.
Their reward? A tough matchup against a high-powered Buffalo Bills team.
Buffalo enters the playoffs with a ton of momentum. The Bills won their final six games following a bye in Week 11, averaging well over 400 yards of total offense and also forcing ten turnovers.
Indianapolis has not been able to sustain that kind of winning throughout the year. The Colts also have some question marks heading into Wild Card weekend, especially with starting left tackle Anthony Castonzo out for the remainder of the year due to injury.
Then there is the final piece to the puzzle. The Bills have played home games without fans, but “Bills Mafia” will be on hand for the playoffs after New York Governor Andrew Cuomo approved the team hosting fans. That will surely energize a Buffalo team already believing it can contend for a Super Bowl.
Can the Colts halt the Bills in their tracks and advance to the Divisional Round? Here are four bold predictions for Indy ahead of Saturday’s matinee.
1. Jonathan Taylor rushes for over 150 yards
If the Colts hope to win this one, they might do well to replicate last year’s win over the Kansas City Chiefs.
Indianapolis earned a surprising victory over the eventual Super Bowl champions in Week 5 of the 2019 regular season. How did Frank Reich and Co. pull it off? By running the ball and controlling the clock.
The Colts ran the ball a whopping 45 times for 180 yards. They also controlled time of possession, keeping the ball for over 37 of the 60 allotted minutes.
Indy needs to employ the same strategy against an explosive Bills offense, which serves to benefit Jonathan Taylor.
The rookie running back is dealing with a bit of a shoulder issue, but said Wednesday it should not prevent him from suiting up.
Taylor has been on a mission to end the year. He rushed for 741 yards and seven touchdowns in the last six games of the year. This included a 253-yard performance in Week 17 against the Jacksonville Jaguars, which broke the franchise record previously held by Edgerrin James.
Meanwhile, the Bills have struggled to stop the run. Buffalo is giving up 4.6 yards per carry, which should entice the Colts to go with a steady diet of runs.
Expect Taylor to eat early and often. Indianapolis will want to keep its defense fresh, and the Bills’ lack of run-stuffing talent in the front seven could lead to a big day for the former Wisconsin star.
2. Indianapolis Colts force three turnovers
The Colts absolutely have to win the turnover battle.
Ideally, running the ball and controlling the clock will alleviate some of the potential mistakes on the offensive side of the football. It could also force the Bills to air it out with plenty frequency if the Colts manage to put up points with consistency.
Bills quarterback Josh Allen has no issue doing just that. Allen has also been especially dominant in the last three weeks.
However, the Colts probably have as good a front seven as Allen has faced since he took on the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 7. Buffalo win that game, but Allen completed under 56 percent of his passes and threw an interception. He also fumbled.
Indianapolis can force Allen and the Bills into making mistakes if they can generate pressure up front. Buffalo’s reliance on an air raid attack should allow DeForest Buckner to eat in the middle, and Allen will also have to deal with a tremendous coverage linebacker in Darius Leonard.
The Colts will try to get after Allen early and often, and it could lead to mistakes as the game rolls along and the Bills start to get desperate for points.
3. Under 45 points
The Bills’ offense alone has scored over 45 points in two of their last three games. But this could be a “grind it out” game if the Colts force turnovers and embrace clock management.
In fact, a low-scoring affair is the only situation in which Indy might win this game.
Philip Rivers has been solid for the Colts. He can move the ball and lead scoring drives. But he is not capable of making “home run” throws like Allen. Indianapolis simply cannot afford to chase the game, they have to control the tempo. As such, it is imperative to keep the scoring down.
Plus, if the Colts are running the ball a lot and eating clock, they might also have to settle for field goals over touchdowns on some scoring drives.
4. Indianapolis Colts win 23-20
It is hard to envision a scenario where the Indianapolis Colts run the ball effectively and win the turnover battle and still lose.
Sure, the Bills are capable of putting up points in bunches, and Indy’s secondary will have its hands full with Stefon Diggs and Cole Beasley from the slot. But the Colts’ ability to churn out yards and win the battle in the trenches (on both sides) would bode extremely well for their chances.
Rivers, who has contemplated retirement, will live to fight another day.