AFC Wild Card Preview: 3 Key Matchups to Watch During Colts vs. Bills

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Playoff Caliber” has been the Bills mantra ever since HC Sean McDermott took over back in 2017. It has been preached, posted on the walls of the Bills facility, and represented on their clothing. After making the playoffs in 3 of the last 4 seasons, making it there is not as much of a goal as it is an expectation for these Buffalo Bills. Now as division champions, it is time for the Bills to take that next step, to prove that they are more than just a playoff caliber team, but a championship caliber team. They have stripped the words “Playoff Caliber” from the facility and replaced them with “Championship Caliber”, proving that the only goal on their mind is to hoist the Lombardi Trophy when all is said and done. It has been a record setting regular season for the Bills, sweeping the AFC East en route to a 13-3 record while shattering franchise records on both offense and special teams. The first obstacle in the way of achieving their Super Bowl aspirations will be the Indianapolis Colts, a feisty 7 seed led by a familiar face, HC Frank Reich. The former Bills backup QB from 1985-1994 is responsible for leading the greatest comeback in playoff history, and now looks to overcome the odds of being the first 7th seed in AFC Playoff history. “Love Buffalo, will always love Buffalo, will always be a Bills fan, except for this Saturday for sure” said Reich, who hopes to spoil his old team’s miracle season. In the playoffs, there are no friends, and as much as Buffalo loves Reich, it is up to the Bills to send him packing this Saturday.

Key Matchups

1. Bills Run Defense vs. Jonathan Taylor

Indy’s most dangerous weapon is a newcomer, Jonathan Taylor, the Colts’ second-round pick from this past year’s draft. Despite being a Heisman candidate throughout his collegiate career at the University of Wisconsin, Taylor started out the 2020 season as the number 2 back behind Marlon Mack. That quickly changed, however, as Mack’s season ended prematurely due to an unfortunate torn Achilles back in Week 1. It took awhile for Indianapolis’ running game to get going this season, but behind that dominant offensive line led by the monstrous Quenton Nelson, it was only a matter of time before the team found their identity on the ground. Taylor has tormented defenses over the past 4 weeks, averaging 21 carries per game along with a whopping 140 yards per game in that span. Additionally, Taylor has punched the ball into the end zone 7 times since Week 14, most recently witnessing his career best game come in Week 17, where he ran for franchise record 253 yards and 2 TD’s on 30 attempts. Clearly, Taylor has caught the league’s attention, and for good reason, as he was named the offensive rookie of the month. Stopping Jonathan Taylor is no easy task, but it is a challenge that the Bills defense will have to embrace. The Bills run defense has been talked about all season long, as their performance has varied from week-to-week. Despite their struggles at times, they have showcased the ability to limit the production of top RB’s such as Tennessee’s Derrick Henry when they lock in on stopping them. If the Bills can slow down Taylor, who popped up on the injury report with a shoulder injury after his busy day on Sunday, it could force Colts QB Phillip Rivers to test Buffalo’s talented secondary more than he is comfortable with.

2. Stefon Diggs vs. Xavier Rhodes

Following the heartbreaking loss in last year’s Wild Card matchup with the Texans, Bills GM Brandon Beane set out to acquire a big time playmaker, or as he calls them “touchdown makers” to take the pressure off Josh Allen to make every play by himself. Beane did just that, trading for superstar WR Stefon Diggs on March 20th. So far, Diggs has been everything the Bills have expected and more, leading the league in both receptions (127) and receiving yards (1,535) while scoring 8 TD’s in his first season with the team. Once falsely portrayed as a “diva”, Diggs has fit into the Bills locker room seamlessly, establishing himself as a leader while forming a special bond with his new QB Josh Allen. When Allen needs a first down, Diggs is there. When Allen needs a touchdown, Diggs is also there. Diggs has elevated the offense to new heights and can take over a game at any moment. Now, the true test will be to see how the duo performs together in the postseason. Diggs is no stranger to big moments, already making his mark with one of the greatest plays in playoff history, the “Minneapolis Miracle” back in 2018. The Bills hope Diggs’ postseason heroics carry over to Buffalo, while his first test comes against an opponent he is all too familiar with. Xavier Rhodes was Diggs’ teammate in Minnesota from 2015-2019, as the two matched up in practice everyday during that time. Rhodes is a former All-Pro, but saw his production fall off a cliff in 2019, leading to his release. Since signing a one-year deal with the Colts this offseason, Rhodes has experienced a career rejuvenation. Rhodes earned the starting spot at RCB across Rock Ya-Sin, who will be inactive this Saturday, intercepting 2 passes while being ranked as PFF’s 6th best corner this season. At 30 years old, the Rhodes appear to be closed once again, but will they open back up against Diggs?

3. Matt Milano/Tremaine Edmunds vs. Nyheim Hines

T.Y. Hilton has been WR1 in Indianapolis for quite some time, but since the 39 year old Chargers legend Phillip Rivers exchanged the bolt on his helmet for the Colts logo this offseason, a new top target has emerged in the Indy passing game. While Hilton still led the team in targets (93), the Colts reception leader actually came from their backfield as Nyheim Hines led the team with 63 catches this season. Despite only appearing on the field for 12 snaps this past Sunday, Hines still touched the ball 8 times, 6 of them being receptions. The Bills defense must be aware of Hines every time he steps on the field. Two players that will likely be tasked with covering Hines are linebackers Tremaine Edmunds and Matt Milano. Phillip Rivers utilizes Hines similarly to how he did with Austin Ekeler with the Chargers, whom the Bills saw recently in Week 12. Ekeler gave the Bills defense some trouble, catching 11 passes for 85 yards in that game. Receiving backs like that are crucial in moving the chains, making it even more important for the Bills to limit his production and get the defense off the field.

For the first time all season, the Bills Mafia will be welcomed back into Bills Stadium at a limited capacity. 6,772 screaming Bills fans have the potential to sound as if there are 50,000 of them, and their energy will be a monumental boost to Buffalo’s home field advantage. It is now or never for this Bills team, who must carry their red hot momentum with them into the playoffs. The Bills will bring some added firepower with them for the final stretch, recently signing veteran playmaking WR Kenny Stills to their practice squad for some reinforcements. There are unlimited practice squad call ups during the playoffs, meaning that there is a good chance Stills makes an appearance this Saturday, even if Cole Beasley is ready to go. Playoff games in Orchard Park have been uncharted territory for over two decades, but a new era has arrived, so opposing teams will have to get used to visiting Western New York this time of year because, as Steve Tasker said, “it might be chilly.”

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