The Colts defense has waned in the second half of the season, which has to be a concern facing Josh Allen and the high-flying Buffalo offense. Indianapolis was once the top-ranked defense in the league, but they fell off in a big way in the final six games. Allen, meanwhile, continues to light up defenses and he will do the same here. The ideal plan for the Colts is to pound Jonathan Taylor and keep Allen off the field, but what happens when the Colts get down? Buffalo is rolling, but they will be challenged early here. In the end, Allen will get it going with his arm and move to the next round.
Pick: Bills 30, Colts 20
There's no particular reason the Bills should lose this game. They are a dominant, pass-first team in a pass-first league, peaking at the right time. Josh Allen hasn't just proven previous doubters like me spectacularly wrong this year; he's made the argument for my unemployment during an economic crisis.
The Bills finished first in weighted DVOA at Football Outsiders, which gives added importance to how a team performs later in the season. Even Buffalo's defense, which struggled early in the year, finished the season playing at a higher level than a sound Colts group that is similar to the Bills' D in many ways. Both units communicate well and don't give up big plays. They force opponents into long drives and each finished in the top five in takeaways. That's Indianapolis' best hope.
Despite Philip Rivers' bad decisions when trailing, the Colts finished second in turnover margin with the third-fewest giveaways in the NFL. If Indianapolis' big defensive playmakers like DeForest Buckner, Darius Leonard and Kenny Moore force a mistake or three and get a lucky bounce, the Colts could hang in this game. Jonathan Taylor has evolved from a struggling rookie to one of the 10 best running backs in football, so Indy could try the ol' shorten the game strategy against a superior opponent.
This is the perfect first playoff test for these Bills. The Colts are a quality opponent who will make Buffalo earn it, but they don't have enough firepower to hang in a shootout. If Frank Reich's offense goes stagnant for a few quarters, like it has regularly over the last month, the Bills could overcome any deficit or make this game uglier than the score I'm predicting.
Buffalo Bills 31, Indianapolis Colts 21
MDS's take: Indianapolis has a strong defense, but I just think Josh Allen has too many weapons to choose from for the Colts to shut him down. Philip Rivers may play well, but in the end Allen and the Bills will make enough big plays to host a game in the divisional round of the playoffs for the first time in 27 years.
MDS's pick: Bills 28, Colts 24.
Florio's take: The Colts need to crank up the running game and take the full 40 seconds of the play clock as often as possible, keeping Bills quarterback Josh Allen on the sideline for as long as possible. The Bills need to crank up Allen, unleashing him as a runner — like they did last year in the playoffs — and trusting that he won't be reckless with the ball, like he was last year.
Florio's pick: Bills 34, Colts 20.
One of these teams finished in the N.F.L.'s top 10 in offense and defense, and it wasn't the Bills (13-3). The Colts (11-5) were wildly inconsistent, barely qualified for the playoffs (Buffalo's blowout win over Miami in Week 17 helped considerably) and had a bad habit of wearing down as games went along. Despite that, they finished with the statistics of a solid contender and the franchise's best record since 2014.
That could fall apart quickly against Buffalo.
The Bills' success starts with quarterback Josh Allen, who progressed from a mistake-prone gunslinger to a legitimate candidate for the Most Valuable Player Award, leading Buffalo to its first division title since 1995. A fair amount of that improvement should be attributed to the arrival of wide receiver Stefon Diggs, whose presence opened the field for Cole Beasley and John Brown. Buffalo finished second in the N.F.L. in scoring, and closed the season with a six-game win streak in which the team averaged 38.2 points a game.
The Bills' defense didn't rank nearly as high statistically, but cornerback Tre'Davious White and linebacker Tremaine Edmunds led a unit that tied for the third-most takeaways in the N.F.L. After a rocky start to the year, Buffalo's defense was particularly impressive in late-season wins over the Chargers and the Steelers.
The biggest factor in this game will probably be the weather. It is expected to be around 30 degrees in Orchard Park, N.Y., on Saturday afternoon, and Indianapolis's quarterback, Philip Rivers, hasn't won with a kickoff temperature below 35 degrees since Week 12 of the 2013 season. A creaky 39-year-old quarterback who has spent nearly his entire career playing in warm weather or domes is not a recipe for January success in western New York.
The Bills covered the spread in eight straight games to close the season, part of a six-game winning streak that makes them one of the NFL's hottest teams. The Colts have a top-10 defense and Philip Rivers is an experience playoff quarterback, but they were 1-4 against the other AFC playoff teams this season. Buffalo wins its first playoff game since 1995 with another strong performance from Josh Allen.
Pick: Bills 34, Colts 23
The Bills have a pesky opponent in their first home playoff game since 1996. The Colts can cause them some offensive problems with Jonathan Taylor against a shaky run defense. The Colts can also cause them some defensive problems with their sound zone fundamentals, forcing Josh Allen to be patient and sustain long drives instead of getting his typical big pass plays with his big arm.
The concern here is Allen is playing well and is capable of spreading the ball around well, working the middle of the field to Cole Beasley (who is "week to week" with an injury) and also getting some help from Dawson Knox at tight end. The Colts also don't have a true shutdown corner for Stefon Diggs. Then it's also easier to trust Allen over Philip Rivers to make the clutch throws to win a game this season.
Pick: Bills win 31-27 but fail to cover the spread.