ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — The Buffalo Bills clinched the No. 2 seed for the AFC playoffs after routing the Miami Dolphins 56-26 Sunday.
The Bills will take on the Indianapolis Colts this weekend, who clinched the No. 7 seed in the playoffs Sunday with a 28-14 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars.
This is the first home playoff game for the Bills since 1996 after finishing the season 13-3, winning the AFC East for the first time in 25 years, and going undefeated in the division for the first time in franchise history.
There’s a laundry list of records quarterback Josh Allen broke when it comes to single-season stats. Wide receiver Stefon Diggs also put his name in the Bills’ record book and led the NFL in receptions and receiving yards. These two teamed up to make a dangerous duo in their first season together.
But that was all the regular season. The team’s mantra after winning the division was “won, not done,” and everyone in the organization from the top to the bottom has expressed the real goals aren’t accomplished until the postseason.
Indianapolis Colts (11-5, 5-3 Away) vs. Buffalo Bills (13-3, 7-1 Home)
Date: Saturday, Jan. 9, 2021
Time: 1:05 p.m. EST
Venue: Bills Stadium — Orchard Park, NY
Coverage: News 8 WROC /CBS
Pregame: News 8 Weekend Special Edition with Adam Chodak, Maureen MacGuire, Eric Snitil and Thad Brown from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m.
Moneyline: IND: (+260) | BUF: (-320)
Spread: IND: +6.5 (-110) | BUF: -6.5 (-150)
Total: 51 – Over: (-110) | Under: (-110)
Tale of the tape
Yards/play: IND: 5.9 (8th) | BUF: 6.1 (6th)
Yards/rush: IND: 4.3 (14th) | BUF: 4.2 (19th)
Yards/pass: IND: 7.6 (8th) | BUF: 8.0 (4th)
Points/game: IND: 28.2 (9th) | BUF: 31.3 (2nd)
Third down conversions: IND: 39.6% (21st) | BUF: 49.7% (1st)
Red Zone TD percentage: IND: 58.3% (17th) | BUF: 61.8% (13th)
Turnovers allowed: IND: 15 (3rd) | BUF: 22 (20th)
Yards/play: IND: 5.4 (10th) | BUF: 5.5 (12th)
Yards/rush: IND: 3.7 (2nd) | BUF: 4.6 (22nd)
Yards/pass: IND: 7.3 (19th) | BUF: 6.9 (8th)
Points/game: IND: 22.6 (10th) | BUF: 23.4 (16th)
Third down conversions: IND: 42.4% (19th) | BUF: 39.8% (13th)
Red Zone TD percentage: IND: 61.5% (15th) | BUF: 65.6% (28th)
Turnovers forced: IND: 25 (5th) | BUF: 26 (3rd)
For the Colts, this will be the first playoff game with quarterback Philip Rivers leading the team.
Rivers has been in the league since 2004 and has played in California his entire career before moving northeast and playing for Indianapolis this past season. Home games had been in San Diego through 2016, then moved to Los Angeles in 2017.
Rivers has played in eleven playoff games over his career, three of which were at home in San Diego. The city averages in the 60s in January. He played with the Chargers against the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium, which is inside both in 2008 and 2009.
In the 2008 year, the Chargers won and Rivers played his first outdoor playoff game the following week in Foxborough, Massachusetts at Gillette Stadium. The team lost that week and Rivers had his lowest passer rating in all 11 playoff games at 46.1.
Maybe the most intriguing weather playoff game for Rivers was in Cincinnati on January 5, 2014 when the city got over a half inch of precipitation (.68″) and half an inch of snow. High temperatures reached 48° with a low of 24°. Some low pressure or cold front must have passed through, which could have made play difficult. Clearly that did not stop Rivers as the Chargers beat the Bengals 27-10 and Rivers posted a 118.7 passer rating, the second highest of all playoff games.
The last three of Rivers playoff games all were outside against Denver in 2014, Baltimore in 2019, and New England the following week of 2019. No precipitation fell on any of those days and temperatures remained generally within a few degrees of normal. Being a veteran in the league, it seems that Rivers does not have a problem playing in inclement weather.
Forecast for Orchard park Saturday looks to be chilly with temperatures in the 20s under mostly sunny skies and a light breeze.
The NFL shattered a record for points scored this season, with the average team putting up 24.8 points a game — a full two points over last season and 1.5 per team better than the previous league record set in 2018.
It is still very much a passing league nowadays, as Bills fans will happily attest. Two-thirds of all yardage comes through the air. But the run still matters. In fact, teams averaged 119 yards per game on the ground in 2020, the highest since the 1988 season.
Running tends to matter more in the playoffs, when the weather becomes a factor and it can be more challenging to throw, especially in northern outdoor venues. It could be an even greater factor in this year’s AFC playoffs, which feature many of the top rushing attacks in the league and some of the most dynamic backs.
The top three run games in the NFL are all in the AFC playoffs. Baltimore, getting another 1,000-yard season from quarterback Lamar Jackson, led the league in rushing with 192 yards a game. Tennessee, with rushing champ Derrick Henry gaining 2,027 yards, was second at 168. Cleveland was third with 148 rushing yards a contest.
Oh, and Indianapolis, which will travel to Buffalo for a wild-card game on Saturday, was one of the hottest rushing teams in the league down the stretch. The Colts rushed for 185 yards a game over their last four games, with rookie Jonathan Taylor breaking out for 560 during that stretch.
Taylor rushed for 253 yards in the Colts’ 28-14 victory over the Jaguars on Sunday. It broke a franchise single-game record (held by Edgerrin James) and tied for the ninth-highest rushing total in a game in NFL history.
Bills fans can see where this is headed. The conference playoffs shape up as a test of run defense. It’s a passing league, but the offensive talent in the AFC is tilted heavily toward the running game this season. The old “run and stop the run” mantra could ring more true than usual this postseason.
The Bills’ defense has been terrific down the stretch. The pass defense has been as good as any in the NFL over the last 10 weeks. Some of the top quarterbacks in the league, including Russell Wilson and Ben Roethlisberger, have struggled mightily against the Buffalo D.
The pass defense has been especially tough early in games, allowing under 90 yards passing on average in first halves during their 9-1 finish. Much of the production has come in garbage time when teams were well behind. Tua Tagovailoa was the latest, throwing for 361 yards in a 30-point blowout loss.
The run defense is the team’s one perceived weakness. We failed to mention that the Chiefs, the No. 1 seed in the AFC, ran for a season-high 245 yards in a win over the Bills in October, when Sean McDermott and Leslie Frazier backed off and invited the KC to run rather than challenge Patrick Mahomes.
Other teams had success against the Bills’ run defense along the way. The Patriots gashed them for 188 yards and 5.5 a rush in a narrow loss. The Cardinals ran for 217 yards, and it wasn’t all Kyler Murray. The Arizona tailbacks gained 156 yards and averaged 6.5 yards a pop.
But the Bills’ defense was compromised by injury earlier in the season. Tremaine Edmunds was hampered by a shoulder injury. Matt Milano missed time with a pectoral injury. That’s one of the NFL’s top young linebacker tandems. It was bound to have an effect on their run defense.
Still, the Bills aren’t as stout at the point of attack as they were in previous years under McDermott, when Star Lotulelei was at nose tackle. Teams will look to establish the run and control the clock to keep Josh Allen and the league’s hottest offense on the bench as much as possible.
Teams haven’t been able to sustain the run against the Bills during their late-season surge, partly because the middle of the defense has held up, but also because they’ve been forced out of the run game after falling well behind.
Look what happened to the Ravens the last two postseasons. They rode a dynamic rushing attack into the playoffs, but lost at home in the first game both times because teams limited the running game and forced Lamar Jackson to try to beat them through the air — with dubious results.
The Bills need similar results against the Colts next Saturday, with their 6,700 fans rooting the defense on. Hold down Taylor, ride Allen’s arm to an early lead, and force a fading Philip Rivers to be the difference.
Rivers, a career mediocrity in the playoffs, isn’t up to a shootout against Josh Allen. He can still make the simple throws, but he’s not up to carrying the Indy offense. His head coach, Frank Reich, surely knows that.
In the Colts’ 11 victories, Rivers has passed only 31 times a game, with 20 touchdowns and only four interceptions. In their five losses, he’s been forced to throw 40 times a game, with four TDs and seven picks. The latter outcome is more likely if the Bills play the way they have for more than two months.
Indy will try to control the game with the run. They have what some consider the NFL’s best offensive line. Left guard Quenton Nelson, who went one pick ahead of Allen in the 2018 draft, is a three-time Pro Bowler, the best guard in football. Center Ryan Kelly has made the last two Pro Bowls.
McDermott and Frazier will take their chances against a 39-year-old Rivers. They do know how to slow down a top running back. If you’re concerned about a possible meeting with the Titans, keep in mind they’ve done the best job of any team in the league against Derrick Henry.
Henry has won two straight rushing titles and went over 2,000 yards Sunday. His worst game of the season came in the Titans’ win over the Bills, when he ran 19 times for 57 yards. He’s faced Buffalo twice the last two seasons and has 39 carries for 135 yards. Counting playoffs, he’s averaged 121 rushing yards a game against the rest of the NFL.
Whatever they did to Henry, they need to do it against Taylor on Saturday. Stopping the run is the Bills’ primary defensive mission. If they do that, and if the offense keeps humming, they will be very tough to stop.
Check back with News 8 WROC as we will continue to preview Saturday’s playoff game all week long.