The Indianapolis Colts secured the last playoff spot in the AFC in week 17 of the NFL season by beating the Jacksonville Jaguars last Sunday. Their reward if they beat the team with the second-best record in the NFL this Saturday? Playing on the road against the team with the number one record in the NFL, the Kansas City Chiefs.
In just their second time in the playoffs in the past six seasons, the Colts do not have an easy path to Super Bowl LV in Tampa, Florida. Despite an 11-5 record, the No. 7 seed Colts are forced to travel to Buffalo to play the No. 2 seed Bills in this new NFL playoff format.
To pull off the upset, the Colts will need to win a shootout. As underdogs going against the second highest-scoring offense in the NFL, the game will come down to the ability of quarterback Phillip Rivers to lead the Colts' offense when it matters most.
Buffalo will rely on Bills quarterback and MVP candidate Josh Allen to continue his breakout season on Saturday. The Indianapolis defense is weak against the pass and strong against the run. Sadly for Indy, this works perfectly for Buffalo's game plan.
The Bills barely depend on the running game, and the Indianapolis defense ranked 20th in passing yards per game in the regular season. Rock Ya-Sin, the starting cornerback for the Colts, will be out in concussion protocol.
On top of this, Josh Allen's downfield throwing ability is considered his top strength, and should be effective against the Colts' defense which ranks in the bottom ten in deep throws allowed.
How can the Colts manage to pull off the upset to begin their playoff run? It starts and ends with Phillip Rivers. The 38-year-old quarterback is 5-6 in his playoff career with only 14 touchdowns in those games.
While it's Rivers first year on the Colts, this may be the most crucial playoff run of his career. If Rivers does not show up big on Saturday, the Colts would be more likely to move on this offseason in search of a younger talent.
Jonathan Taylor and the Colts' running game should be effective against a frail Bills rushing defense. Taylor broke the Colts’ single-game rushing record with 253 yards last week against Jacksonville.
However, the Colts can't solely bank on the running game such as last week. The Bills hold the NFL's 5th best passing defense, based on passer rating, while Phillip Rivers has only two touchdowns in the final two weeks.
If Indianapolis moves on to play Kansas City, expect it to be because of a brilliant performance from Phillip Rivers. Josh Allen will be a tough test, but the Colts defense can step up regardless of the skeptics.