Bills vs. Colts: A Matchup Preview of a Key AFC Wild-Card Battle

Nate Dunlevy@NateDunlevyGuest ColumnistNovember 21, 2012

Luck and Wayne will be trying to hook up all day on the Bills.
Luck and Wayne will be trying to hook up all day on the Bills.David Butler II-US PRESSWIRE

If the Indianapolis Colts are going to make the postseason, the time to make their move is now.

The Buffalo Bills visit Lucas Oil Stadium this week in a matchup of two teams trying to claw their way to a wild-card slot.

Here's everything you need to know about the game.

What it Means

Indianapolis is hoping to shock the world by making the playoffs in the first year of the Andrew Luck era. To do so, they likely need nine wins, though eight would do the trick if they got some help.

Buffalo is one of those teams chasing the Colts, and while a loss would eliminate them from any realistic playoff shot, a win would put them just a game behind in the chase for the last spot.

This is a virtual must-win for both teams if they aspire to play a post-season game.

Matchup To Watch

Reggie Wayne versus the Buffalo Secondary

Wayne has had an incredible season, already going over 1,000 receiving yards.

The Bills' corners consist of Stephon Gilmore, Aaron Williams (who is questionable) and Justin Rodgers, none of whom have cloaked themselves in glory.

The Colts will move Wayne all around the formation in an effort to produce confusion in the defense and generate positive matchups.

The Bills get solid safety play, but frequently blow coverages and lose track of targets underneath.

Watch for Andrew Luck to set Wayne up early, then look to T.Y. Hilton as the game wears on.

Stat That Matters

Defensive DVOA

A cardinal rule of football analysis is never to use yards to rank defenses or offenses. By yards, the Colts' defense is merely mediocre, ranked 20th in the NFL.

Using the vastly superior DVOA metric, Indianapolis and Buffalo rank 32nd and 29th respectively in defense.

No matter how many stories you hear about how bad Buffalo's defense is, the Colts' is worse. Indianapolis is dead last in both pass and rushing defense DVOA.

Of course, Buffalo is nearly as terrible. They are 26th against the pass and 31st against the run.

It should be a high-scoring game.

Biggest Advantage for the Colts

Indianapolis has Luck.

Despite his struggles against New England, Luck still managed to put up 24 points and move the ball effectively.

The Buffalo defense is not nearly as opportunistic at creating turnovers as the New England defense is.

Luck should be able to carve up the Bills. Look for long, sustained drives from the Colts. The only question is if they can convert once the field shrinks.

To that end, the Colts should be able to run effectively on one of the weakest run-stopping units in the NFL. If successful carries come inside the Bills' 40, Buffalo may not have any answer for the barrage of points the Colts will score.

Biggest Advantage for the Bills

The Buffalo run game could well trample the Colts and limit their scoring opportunities.

C.J. Spiller is having an incredible season running the football, averaging 6.6 yards a carry.

The Colts have struggled with teams that run the football effectively, most notably against the New York Jets earlier in the season.

If Buffalo can keep Andrew Luck off the field by controlling the ground game, Indianapolis could get run clean out of the stadium.

Best Video Only Tangentially Related to the Game

Dome sweet dome.

Indianapolis Will Win If...

Luck plays amazing.

The Colts have one path to victory every week (stop me if this sounds eerily familiar).

The quarterback will have to overcome a leaky defense and a dicey offensive line to complete spectacular passes downfield. The opposing team will try to limit his touches. Ultimately, if he doesn't play near-perfect football, the Colts won't win.

It's the Peyton Manning Formula!

Statistically, the Colts are playing more or less like the Bills. They should have around four wins at this point in the season.

Instead, they have six and are a playoff threat thanks to the incredible play of Luck and his receiving corp, notably Reggie Wayne and T.Y. Hilton.

It's all on Luck. If he has a big game, the Colts will likely move to seven wins in a conference where eight may in fact be enough.

Buffalo Will Win If...

...they can force turnovers and run the ball.

Indianapolis' defense has been reduced to "throw a bunch of guys out there and hope the other team trips at some point." There's every probability the Bills will score 30 points or more on Indy.

If Buffalo can force a Luck interception or two, they could come away with the victory.


The Bills are exactly the kind of team Indianapolis has to exploit at home if they want to reach nine wins.

Neither team is very good, but the Colts are playing at home.

That should be enough to give them the edge over Buffalo in a high-scoring, close game.

Colts 35 Bills 30


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