Since the year 2000, the Buffalo Bills never managed to attain more than 10 wins in a single season up until now. After three straight Super Bowl visits from 1991-1993 and a handful of dominating playoff appearances in the years to follow, the Bills fell from grace once the 2000s rolled around and struggled to figure out how to put together a winning season for the next 15+ years. Ending their 17-year playoff drought in 2017 with a 9-7 record to show for, it was uncertain whether this was a sign of hope or merely just a fluke.
But ever since 2017, a lot has surely changed. Following a disappointing exit in the playoffs, the Bills decided to launch a full-scale rebuild and invest in a new franchise quarterback, selecting Josh Allen out of the University of Wyoming with the 7th overall pick in 2018. Coming off a challenging rookie season where he struggled with his throwing accuracy and decision making, Allen made large strides in his player development over the last two seasons, refining his skills to such an extent that, at times, he’s looked truly unstoppable.
With their young new quarterback growing and progressing at an incredible pace, the Bills had the opportunity to also sign and draft a variety of valuable additions for both their offense and defense in the process that has allowed this team to transform into the menacing franchise they are today. In fact, if you look at their top 28 starters combined from both their offense and defense (meaning their starting 11 for each unit and then Isaiah McKenzie, Cody Ford, Tyler Bass, Levi Wallace, Dean Marlowe, and Tyler Kroft included), just about over 78% of those players were acquired or drafted between 2018 and 2020 (ESPN). In other words, only 6 players out of that group of 28 joined the Bills in 2017 or earlier. And after two years of tweaking and meticulous adjustments, the Bills finished with the second-best offense in the league this season and constructed a formidable defense that is as well rounded as any in the NFL (ESPN).
However, the looming question for the Bills comes down to how well will their resilient level of play translate to the playoffs. Suffering a brutal overtime loss to the Houston Texans last year, a lot rests on this first game. After surpassing expectations all season, they still have a lot to prove and particularly in the playoffs. As many have seen before, it’s one thing to dominate the regular season, but it’s another to remain undefeated during a playoff run. The room for error is marginally small in the playoffs, and with every single game-deciding each team’s fate, the pressure to perform reaches a whole other level that can be challenging to bear for many.
Kicking off their playoff run against an underrated Indianapolis Colts team, the Bills will have a sizeable and unfamiliar foe to overcome and defeat. Although they certainly remain to be the favorites in this clash, here’s a brief, analytical take on how well the Bills’ offense and defense matches up against the Colts in what will be their biggest playoff match in over two decades.
Offense: To put it simply, the Bills offense has just about everything one can ask for. From star talent to leadership, to balance, to incredible chemistry, this offensive unit stormed onto the scene with sheer dominance and authority and was the second-best in the league for a reason. Averaging a hefty 396.4 total yards per game, with 288.8 coming in the air and another 107.7 coming on the ground, the Bills were nearly first in the league in points per game at 31.3, just coming up short to the Green Bay Packers who led the charge with 31.8 (ESPN).
Led by Josh Allen, who had an influential MVP caliber season (throwing for 4,544 yards and 37 TDs whilst rushing for another 421 yards and 8 TDs) and supported by debatably the best offensive line in the game right now, this Bills offense is simply stacked with talent in every single position (ESPN). With a stout, young, athletic running game fueled by Devin Singletary and Zack Moss and a wide receiver unit that not only contains the receiving title winner in Stefon Diggs but is also accompanied with lethal slot threats in Cole Beasley and Isaiah McKenzie along with deep threat specialist in John Brown, this offense can break down its opponents any which way possible and can pile on points in a flash (ESPN).
Despite facing a Colts defense that ranked 8th overall on the season, the Bills offense could be in for a big day as the Colts struggled to defend against the pass all of 2020, finishing 20th overall and allowing 241.6 passing yards per game in the process (ESPN). The only concern for the Bills is how well they will be able to run the ball against a defense that was the second-best in the league at stopping it. Conceding only 90.5 yards per game, the Colts’ front seven has proven to be lights out in eliminating the run game and can surely manage to do so against Moss and Singletary (ESPN). But the deciding factor that gives this Bills offense a leg up, whether they can run the ball or not, starts with their resilient offensive line and ends with the fact that they have a quarterback who possesses an uncanny level of awareness, elusiveness, and mobility, making it very difficult to slow down their scoring output. Ultimately, the Bills have been winning games all season with their offense. And facing a Colts defense that allowed over 20 points per game, this Bills offense is bound to have another dominating performance to kick off their playoff run (ESPN).
Defense: Defensively, the Bills contain a lot of talent from top to bottom but have had a hard time establishing any consistency. With their fair share of ups and downs throughout the 2020 season, surrendering over 350 total yards and 23.4 points per game in the process, this Bills defense has had to depend a lot more on its offense to outscore its opponents than they would have liked to (ESPN). Although they’ve struggled to defend the pass, the biggest concern for this unit is bottling up the run game, where they’ve allowed a whopping 119.6 yards per game to their opponents this season (ESPN). And with the Colts averaging over 120 rushing yards per game led by the dangerous rookie Jonathan Taylor, this defense’s front seven could have a challenging time shutting down the run and will need to clog up the running lanes and force turnovers if they intend to stand a chance against the Colts (ESPN).
That being said, although they aren’t as dominant and cohesive of a unit to the likes of their offense, this Bills defense has a lot of stars that have demonstrated many-a-time that they can make the big plays when they matter most. With veteran Jerry Hughes leading the charge alongside second-year pro Ed Oliver up front and tackle machine Matt Milano anchoring a versatile team of linebackers, the Bills also have a ball-hawking unit of defensive backs in Tre’Davious White, Jordan Poyer, Micah Hyde, and Josh Norman that bring lockdown coverage, sharp play recognition and proficient tackling. Even though Philip Rivers brings years of experience and knowledge that will be very difficult to match up against, the weapons he has around him are containable and will have to fight for every pass thrown their way, posing a daunting task for Rivers to overcome. Holding the Colts offense to 20 points or less will certainly be a tough challenge for this Bills defense to surmount. But with their broad range of talent, there’s no reason why they cannot.
This matchup will make for an intense battle. But the Bills should come away with their first playoff victory in over twenty years. Final Score Projection: Bills 37- Colts 20.