The Buffalo Bills host the Indianapolis Colts this weekend in a game with huge playoff implications for both teams. For the Bills, a win would mean staying a half-game ahead of the New England Patriots in the AFC East standings. For the Colts, a win would mean adding to their conference win percentage while also inching closer to the first-place Tennessee Titans, who sit at 8-2 with the best record in the AFC.
The Colts play a style on offense that gives Buffalo fits, as their ability to run at will makes life difficult on their opponents. Buffalo has struggled with teams that play physically up front, so they’ll need to toughen up in order to come out with a big win.
Here are the players we’ll be watching on Sunday—a group that the Bills need to contain in order to win.
QB Carson Wentz
Reuniting with Frank Reich, who was his offensive coordinator with the Philadelphia Eagles, has been great for the former No. 2 overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft. Wentz has thrown 17 touchdowns against just three interceptions this year, completing 63.5 percent of his passes for 2,378 yards in the process. The Colts don’t ask him to do too much, as he’s only exceeded 251 yards passing once on the year, but Wentz is buoyed by an excellent rushing attack and some very good receivers. Indianapolis gambled on a change of scenery being the remedy for Wentz’s ills, and that gamble has paid dividends thus far. Buffalo has been outstanding defensively this year, and they’ll need to disrupt Wentz with the front four in order to make the Colts more one-dimensional. Indianapolis has a great offensive line, and Wentz has taken just 18 sacks on the year.
RB Jonathan Taylor
Indianapolis’ top running back might be the top back in the league now that Derrick Henry is injured. Taylor is averaging a ridiculous 5.8 yards per carry this year, totaling 937 yards and nine touchdowns on 161 carries. He’s equally adept as a receiver out of the backfield, as he’s caught 29 passes on 35 targets for a total of 303 yards and a touchdown. While Nyheim Hines in known as the “receiving back” in this tandem, Taylor is a multi-talented player who is a mismatch for even the best linebackers and safeties in coverage. The Colts will almost certainly try to isolate him against A.J. Klein if Tremaine Edmunds misses the game, so assistant head coach/defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier will need a plan to give Klein some help if that happens.
WR Michael Pittman Jr.
The big-bodied wideout is a mismatch problem for the Bills, as Levi Wallace generally struggles against larger receivers. Tre’Davious White is obviously the better option, but White has had his issues with players like Pittman, who stands at 6’4” and 223 lbs. In last year’s playoff game, Pittman gave the Bills fits, especially early, catching five passes for 90 yards on the afternoon. Last year, though, the Bills had to worry about T.Y. Hilton. This year, Hilton is dealing with injuries, and he’s played in just three games as a result. Pittman is the guy the Bills will have to limit on the outside, with tight ends Jack Doyle and Mo Allie-Cox the names to watch on the inside.
DL DeForest Buckner
We’ve all seen it this year: Teams with elite interior defensive linemen are often a problem for the Bills. Even teams without elite interior defensive linemen (see the Jacksonville Jaguars) have had success torpedoing Buffalo’s makeshift offensive line. With right tackle Spencer Brown out thanks to a positive COVID-19 test, it’s possible that the Bills will kick right guard Daryl Williams back to right tackle and reinsert Cody Ford into the starting lineup at right guard. The last time Ford played, defensive tackle Taven Bryan was able to insert himself into Buffalo’s backfield—repeatedly. Buckner is an All-Pro, and if he’s lined up against Ford, he’s going to be salivating. The veteran defensive lineman has 4.5 sacks to go with 45 tackles—six of which have gone for a loss.
LB Darius Leonard
He might not play due to an ankle injury, but if he does, the Colts will have one of the game’s best defensive players at their disposal. Leonard’s presence is essential to what the Colts need to do to contain quarterback Josh Allen, as he’s the only player with the size and speed to spy Buffalo’s stud quarterback well enough to give him trouble. Leonard played that role to perfection last year, and he was able to stonewall Allen on a scramble, leading to a collision that may have ripped a hole in the fabric of time and space. Leonard has filled up the stat sheet this year, too, as he has 73 tackles, two interceptions, three fumble recoveries, four forced fumbles, five pass breakups, three tackles-for-loss, and two quarterback hits.