INDIANAPOLIS – The Colts and Bills will kick off the 2021 NFL playoffs on Saturday afternoon.
It’ll be the No. 2 seeded Bills (13-3) favored by around a touchdown over the No. 7 Colts (11-5), with Saturday’s kickoff coming at 1:05 PM.
Here are 7 things to watch for as the Colts (11-5) look for their fourth straight win on Wild Card weekend:
1. Attack The Run Defense
It’s probably the Bills’ biggest (negative) defensive ranking that catches your eye.
The Bills rank 26th in rushing yards allowed per carry this season. Of course, that fits right into the Colts’ biggest strength right now—Jonathan Taylor running the football.
It is a must for the Colts to take advantage of Taylor and then play off that by attacking favorable matchups in the pass game, controlling the ball and sustaining drives.
2. Rush Integrity
Discipline in defending the dynamic Josh Allen and the Bills offense is a must.
They do a lot of pre-snap movement and mis-direction. And then once the ball is snapped, Allen can make off-script plays with his legs and/or big arm.
As Justin Houston said earlier this week, getting Allen to the ground is like tackling a tight end who can also throw it. We know the Colts have struggled this season in keeping mobile quarterbacks confined to the pocket.
3. Win The Situations
One aspect to the Colts offense that has not improved under Philip Rivers is the third down/red zone success.
If the Colts are going to do anything in January, they must perform better situationally on the offensive side of the ball.
The importance of this only rises when you are facing an explosive offense. The Colts have moved the ball just fine in 2020, but they need to finish off those drives better, while limiting Buffalo’s red-zone chances to field goal attempts.
4. Playoff Philip
It is the elephant in the room with Philip Rivers’ Hall of Fame resume.
Rivers has not had great success in the playoffs, with his teams struggling in cold weather, too.
Now, does the support of what Jonathan Taylor has done as of late alleviate what the Colts will need out of Rivers on Saturday? You have to think the Rivers we see on Saturday could/should impact 2021 talks between him and the Colts.
5. Return Of Khari Willis
This is a storyline that should have received more attention after the Colts lost to the Steelers in Week 16.
Not having Khari Willis to close out that game against Pittsburgh was really felt.
Well, Willis has returned to practice this week and his presence greatly aids this defense on many levels, including the unit’s ability to disguise coverages/looks pre-snap.
6. Early Start
One of the most consistent aspects to the 2020 Colts has been the offense taking the scripted start of the game and turning it into points.
Continuing that trend on Saturday would be a huge help to the Colts staying on schedule.
Getting behind is not ideal at all for how the Colts are built, especially when facing an offense that has the firepower of Buffalo.
7. Steal A Possession
Sure, in a perfect world, this would mean the Colts outright win the turnover battle.
But even if they don’t do that on the stat sheet, the Colts could steal an extra drive by proper clock management at the end of a half. Or even getting a shorter field by winning the special teams aspect to the game.
Buffalo prides itself on having a great special teams unit, too, so this will be something to keep an eye on.
Bowen’s Prediction: Bills 31-24. First, how great is playoff football? You are in the dance, it’s win or go home, the pressure is rising and 14 teams will become 8 by the end of the weekend. First, this is not a terrific matchup for the Colts, Yes, Buffalo’s defense is not as stout as some others, but a high-powered offense brings several issues. One factor we can’t forget about for the Colts is the loss of Anthony Castonzo. This team averages about 4 points less without Castonzo in the lineup. I think his absence leads to a drive stalling one too many times and that’s the difference with the Colts not able to completely stymie Buffalo’s explosive attack.