The Buffalo Bills will look to hold serve at home this week against a streaking Indianapolis Colts team. Currently, the Bills have fewer wins than the Patriots. Each remaining game takes on added importance as the Bills suddenly find themselves in a race for the AFC East title. Let’s dive into Sunday’s game and things to look for that might determine the outcome.
The Last Five
Bills 27 Colts 21 (2020 – Playoffs)
Colts 37 Bills 5 (2018)
Bills 13 Colts 7 (OT-2017)
Bills 27 Colts 14 (2015)
Colts 20 Bills 13 (2012)
The most recent, and most significant, matchup between these two occurred last January. The Buffalo Bills hosted their first home playoff game since 1996 and won there first since 1995. The game was a nailbiter and featured a slow start by the Bills offense. While this game is a rematch, it is lacking the front page headlines as one. For one, the Colts are subpar this year and are fighting to make the playoffs. Second, they have a new signal caller, removing some of the rematch hype. As you recall, Philip Rivers started the game last year in what would be his last NFL start.
What To Watch For: Buffalo Bills
Injuries/Health – The Bills have been relatively healthy this year. However, they are starting to see some key players deal with nagging injuries. Tremaine Edmunds has been working through a hamstring injury which kept him out of the Jets game last weekend. Cole Beasley is dealing with a rib injury. There is a pretty good chance Beasley is playing with severely bruised, or possibly cracked ribs. In recent weeks, he has been diving to the ground and giving himself up instead of taking a big hit. Last year, in the playoffs, Beasley was playing through an injury and it did limit his production and the Bills offense. There are signs for concern once again with Beasley’s health with the season just past the halfway point.
Additionally, COVID-19 is having quite an impact on the Buffalo Bills in this game. After an abysmal offensive line performance against the Jaguars, the Bills were thrilled to get starting RT Spencer Brown back last week. Brown, who has been grading out very highly, was an instant game changer for the team. On Thursday, he went on the COVID-19 reserve list. It is a significant loss for the team. If Brown is vaccinated and receives two negative tests, he could return before the game. But if he is unvaccinated, he will miss both the Colts game and Thursday’s Thanksgiving game against the Saints. I cannot imagine the Bills being happy about trotting out Cody Ford for the next two games, and with Friday’s signing of Bobby Hart, I think the Bills view Ford as a last resort.
More Breida? – Prior to the Jets game, there was a lot of criticism about the lack of a run game for the Bills. Brian Daboll needed to find a spark in the run game. As many expected, Matt Breida proved to be that spark, scoring 2 TDs. His late fumble took some shine off of his game, but I don’t think it was enough to deter Daboll from incorporating him in future gameplans. I am interested to see if Breida was a one week flash, or if the Bills are serious about expanding his role in the offense moving forward. You get the sense that the Bills are not satisfied with the progress of the running backs on the roster, especially Devin Singletary. So I expect the Bills to continue involving Breida as we get deeper into the regular season.
A Respected Opponent – Buffalo’s defensive numbers this year are staggering. They lead the league in yards per game, points per game, turnovers, and have posted two shutout victories. Heck, last week, every member of their secondary had a turnover to their name. With all due respect to the defense, the teams that they have dominated are the bottom feeders of the NFL. When push came to shove against the Titans last month, the defense was steamrolled on every possession in the second half. For the first time since that game, the Bills will line up across from a respected opponent.
While the Bills are still favored to win this game, I will be looking for their intensity level and to see how they play against a middle of the pack NFL team. It is great to beat up on the teams that you should beat up on. But the truth is the Bills have played two teams this season that have a winning record and they lost both of those games. That is not the recipe for a Super Bowl favorite. It is something they must correct now. The Texans, Dolphins and Jets will not be the Bills’ opponent in the playoffs come January.
What To Watch For: Indianapolis Colts
Jonathan Taylor – You can’t talk about the Colts’ turnaround this season and not mention Jonathan Taylor. The Colts have gone 5-2 since their 0-3 start and a quick look at the stats tells you all that you need to know. In their five losses this year, Taylor averaged 58 yards per game. In their five wins, he averaged 129 yards per game. As is the case with one-dimensional teams, the Colts go as Jonathan Taylor goes.
If the Colts are to win this game, they will have to solve a Bills run defense that is surrendering just 84 yards per game on the ground to their opponents, which is third-best in the league. However, the Bills may not have two of their best run defenders for this game. Tremaine Edmunds is questionable with a shoulder injury and Star Lotulelei remains on the COVID list. There is an opportunity for Taylor in this game and the Colts are certain to implement their gameplan which has helped turn around their season. How successful it is will determine the outcome of this game.
Force Wentz into mistakes – We know that the recipe for Bills’ wins this year has started with a dominate defense that can force turnovers. Carson Wentz is one pace to have the second best season of his career, behind only the Eagles’ 2017 Super Bowl season. (Both times with Frank Reich.) Wentz has thrown 17 TDs to just 3 INTs. Although they are few, his interceptions have proven costly. Two of them occurred three weeks ago against the Titans. In that game, Wentz threw a pick six that rivaled some of the worst you will ever see have seen. His second INT was in overtime, which set up the game winning field goal. Wentz’s other interception was in the endzone in Indy’s Week 1 loss to the Rams. The Colts ended up losing that game by 3 points again.
The point is, Wentz’s mistakes, although rare, have come at some pretty bad times this year. The Bills lead the league in takeaways and will be looking to force Wentz into a mistake. If this game is close late and the ball is in Wentz’s hands, the Bills will be ready to pounce.
Bills 31 Colts 20 I do not see this game being as close as many fans and media members think. Despite not winning against a quality opponent yet this year, I think the Bills will handle the Colts with ease tomorrow. The Colts are sure to feed Taylor, but with the Bills getting off to a quick start on offense, his role will be limited. I like the Buffalo Bills in this one as they stay in front of the Patriots for at least one more week.