Wildcard Weekend kicks off with the AFC’s #2 seed Bills welcoming the conferences #7 seed Colts to Western New York. Can the Bills red hot offense keep rolling or will the Colts defense and run game propel them to an upset victory?
Buffalo are probably the hottest team in the NFL heading into the playoffs with the team winning nine of their last ten games, whilst winning all of their six games since their bye week by a double figure margin, including a huge 30 point victory over a Miami Dolphin side who needed to win in week seventeen to secure their place in the post season only for the Bills to play half the game with their backups and still crush the NFL’s number one scoring Defense. A lot of the Bills success this season has been due to the meteoric rise of third year passer, Josh Allen, who in his first two years as a starter was criticised for his inaccuracy and lack of composure but has improved his pass completion percentage to almost 70% this season as well as looking like a veteran leader under Center, and whilst a lot of that is due to his talent and work ethic as well as some fantastic coaching, at least a small part of his success has to be given to off season acquisition, Stefon Diggs who in his first season in Buffalo became the league leader in receptions and receiving yards, and today was voted a first team All Pro for the first time in his career. Diggs is listed as ‘Questionable’ for this game but is expected to be full go for the Bills’ first home playoff game since 1996. The Colts defense hasn’t been great recently, but does have playmakers at all three levels. Worryingly for the Colts has been their inability to stop passes of 20+ yards down the field with 53 such completions given up this season ranking them inside the bottom ten in the NFL whilst Josh Allen has 66 completions of passes 20+ yards down the field which ranks 4th in the NFL. Indy also struggle on third down, giving up a first down 45% of the time whilst Buffalo lead the league with a near 50% of their third downs ending up in a first down, all of this, added to the fact that the Colts rank 31st in passing yards allowed since week 12, leads me to believe that Josh Allen will find success throwing the ball against a playmaking but struggling defense.
On the other side of the ball we have an Indianapolis Colts offense which has shown an ability to run the ball over the last six weeks of the season, rookie runner Jonathan Taylor showing why he was an early second round pick with some fantastic performances, with seven TD’s in Indy’s last four games including a huge 2 TD, 253 yard effort in their must win week seventeen game with the Jacksonville Jaguars, and will be looking to build on that momentum against a Bills defense that have given up 150+ rushing yards in four games this season, although this is a much improved Bills unit since their bye week, only allowing 94 rushing yards per game since then. Philip Rivers has had a good first (only?) season with the Colts but has been off the pace the last two weeks with only two TD’s and two INT’s, completion percentage under 63 and a passer rating under 85, and will face a Bills defense which after a poor start this season has improved and ended the regular season as a top 10 unit and ranked tied third in the NFL with 26 takeaways.
The Bills are red hot and rightfully favoured to win this game, but it’s not a forgone conclusion, the Colts defense can make plays and their zone heavy scheme typically gives Josh Allen more problems than a heavy man scheme does, if DeForest Buckner is able to play as expected then his ability to apply pressure through the middle will be important, and if he’s doing that and the edge defenders can set the edge then they could give Josh Allen difficulties especially as he’ll likely be without his best zone beater, slot receiver Cole Beasley who looks like he’ll miss the game with a knee injury. With this being said I’m still taking my Bills, they’re the better team on offense by a wide margin, and are probably playing better defense at the moment too.
For my best bet we’re once again on the Stefon Diggs bandwagon, his U/O receptions line is set at 7.5 which is a number he’s gone over in 6 of his last 8 games, only missing that mark by 1 reception in just one half of action last week against one of leagues best defensive teams, and although he has that ‘Questionable’ designation heading into this game, he is fully expected to play and in the Bills biggest game of the season I expect to see plenty of Stefon Diggs.
PREDICTION: BILLS 28 – 17 COLTS
BEST BET: Stefon Diggs OVER 7.5 Receptions – 6/5 with SkyBet. 1 point bet.