The AFC East champion Buffalo Bills will be hosting the Indianapolis Colts on Saturday to kick off Super Wild Card Weekend. This is the first postseason meeting between the two teams in NFL history. The Bills are looking to get their first playoff win under Sean McDermott which would be the team's first postseason win since 1995. Here are three key matchups that will have a big impact in Saturday's game:
1. Colts offensive line/run game vs. Bills defense
Both units have seen vast improvements since the middle of the season. The Bills defense finished the season ranked 17th against the run (119.6 rush ypg), but since Week 12 they have the fourth-best rushing defense allowing only 94 rushing yards per game. They will be tested with a Colts running game that was ranked 11th on the season (124.8 rush ypg) but since Week 9 they have been the fifth-best rushing offense with an average of 143.2 rushing yards per game.
Colts rookie running back Jonathan Taylor has been a big reason for the team's improved rushing attack. Since Week 11, he has rushed for 741 yards which is the second most behind Derrick Henry during that time. The strength of the Colts offensive line comes in the middle with All-Pro guard Quenton Nelson, Pro Bowl center Ryan Kelly, and veteran guard Mark Glowinski. The Colts have seen injuries at their tackle position, but this is an offensive line that has only allowed Philip Rivers to be sacked 19 times this season which is tied for the 28th fewest in the league.
The Bills have allowed 23.4 points per game this season which was the third-most of the 14 teams in the playoffs. But the defense has improved as of late in the regular season allowing 8.2 fewer ppg over the last six weeks. The reason for that is the Bills are getting more pressure on the opposing offense which has led to turnovers and a 29.9 opponent third-down percentage since Week 12. Jerry Hughes who was drafted by the Colts in 2010, talked about the importance of controlling the line of scrimmage against his former team.
"It's going to be huge," Hughes stated. "If we want to win the football game on Saturday, it's going to be up to us controlling that line of scrimmage. Every game comes down to who can dominate that line, whether it's our offensive line or whether it's us on the defensive line. We know in the trenches that we want to be dominant; we want to go out there and play Buffalo Bills ball, get the win for our team and it comes down to us upfront."
2. Josh Allen vs. Colts defensive line/front seven
The Bills offense and the Colts defense both rank in the top 10 in scoring. According to NFL Media Research, Josh Allen was 4-0 vs. top 10 total defenses (LAR, LAC, SF, PIT) through the 2020 season. Allen completed 70 percent of his passes for 270.3 ypg, with 11 passing touchdowns and only three interceptions, and a passer rating of 109.9 in those four games.
The Colts defense with Deforest Buckner, Justin Houston and Darius Leonard will be trying to get pressure on Allen. The Colts have blitzed on just 19.1 percent of drop backs and are one of three teams in the league to not allow a touchdown pass when they generate pressure without blitzing according to NFL Media Research. Their defense has seen a dip in production since Week 13 allowing 311.4 passing yards per game which ranks 31st in the NFL.
It has been quite the opposite for Allen and the Bills as they have been playing some of their best football in the last two months of the season. Allen who won AFC Offensive Player of the Month for December has been really picking apart defenses since Week 13 and has thrown 15 touchdowns to only two interceptions, with a 70.1 completion percentage. The quarterback spoke about the trust that he has in his teammates and this offense to get the job done on Saturday.
"I'm prepared for sure," Allen stated. "Just understanding our offense better than anybody. Having the relationship that I do with Daboll and Dorsey and the trust in our guys up front and our guys outside to do their jobs consistently. And they rely on me to do my job consistently so it's just a lot of faith, a lot of trust in this team. We get to go out there on Saturday and we get to go out there and play like we know how we can play. It's playoff football and weird things happen, but we get to go out there put our best foot forward and give our team an opportunity to try to win a football game."
3. Bills wide receivers vs. Colts defensive backs
This matchup features Stefon Diggs against his former Vikings teammate Xavier Rhodes. Diggs and Rhodes were teammates in Minnesota from 2015-2019 and Diggs has said that going up against him for years in practice has helped him be the player he is today. Diggs is the first Bills receiver to lead the NFL in receptions (127) and yards (1535) and the first in NFL history to do it in the first year with a new team. While also in his first year with a new team, Rhodes has had three forced fumbles, two interceptions and 12 passes defensed.
Colts second-year cornerback Rock Ya-Sin will not be available on Saturday as he is dealing with a concussion. It will be up to Rhodes, Khari Willis, TJ Carrie and Julian Blackmon to try and stop this productive Bills wide receiver group. Diggs gave high praises to the Colts defensive backfield.
"Their corners and the safeties are very active," Diggs said. "You've seen some athleticism; I've seen one of them catch one-handed picks so it's like damn they have athletes there. One of them was my old teammate Xavier Rhodes, who's definitely playing some good football. So, for me what I see when I watch them on tape is that they are a well-coached team, they get active and they trying to make plays at all times."
Stefon Diggs and Cole Beasley are listed as questionable for Saturday's game, but the Bills have a lot of depth on this team – especially at receiver. Having John Brown back in the lineup will help the team out immensely, in addition to the production that the team has seen from Gabriel Davis and Isaiah McKenzie throughout the season.