The NFL’s decision to expand its playoff format ahead of the 2020 season has paid dividends for the league, both in terms of revenue and quality of play. The disparity between the league’s elite teams and bottom-feeders has never been wider, and although numerous COVID-19 cases threatened to uproot the season, the NFL trudged through the pandemic into a new and improved 14-team playoff format.
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The juggernaut Kansas City Chiefs emerged as the AFC’s top seed, with Patrick Mahomes engineering a star-studded offense that seemingly scores at will, while Aaron Rodgers submitted an MVP-caliber season to lead the Green Bay Packers to the NFC’s No. 1 position. There are now six games in the wild-card round as a result of the expanded playoffs and four games in the divisional round, before the AFC and NFC championships decide which teams will play for Super Bowl LV in Tampa Bay.
The Buffalo Bills will host the Indianapolis Colts, after Buffalo won the AFC East for the first time since 1995. Josh Allen took a massive developmental leap during his third year, emerging as a down-ballot MVP candidate as Buffalo posted its best record since 1991. Indianapolis is back in the playoffs after a one-year hiatus, after Philip Rivers signed with the team during the offseason and delivered another strong season, while rookie running back Jonathan Taylor is blossoming into a star, with 1,169 yards and 11 touchdowns. Although the Bills are heavy favourites, this Colts team is a tough out for anyone.
Wild Card Preview: Indianapolis Colts at Buffalo Bills
Date: January 9 at 1:05 p.m. ET
How to watch: Live on DAZN
These aren’t the Bills you’ve come to remember from the past! Josh Allen showed flashes of stardom during his first two seasons, but during the 2020 campaign, the Bills’ quarterback morphed into a fringe MVP candidate, throwing 37 touchdowns against 10 interceptions, while adding 8 more touchdowns on the ground, exceeding even the most optimistic projections. Allen’s spectacular rise couldn’t have taken place without Stefon Diggs, who caught 127 passes for 1,535 yards, leading the NFL in both categories, after being acquired in the offseason. Cole Beasley submitted the best season of his career (his status for Saturday’s game remains uncertain) while fourth-round pick Gabriel Davis slotted in perfectly as an ideal No. 3 wideout.
The real strength of Buffalo’s defense lies in its secondary, as Tre’Davious White has earned his reputation as arguably the best cornerback in football, while safety Jordan Poyer was among the biggest Pro Bowl snubs. Although they are susceptible to power backs taking over games — something that bodes well for Taylor and the Colts, this is a unit that is better than the sum of its parts.
Rivers’ first season with the Colts wasn’t flawless, but he elevated the offense during his first season with the team and showed he has plenty left in the tank. For long stretches of the season, T.Y. Hilton disappeared but Rivers established a strong connection with the four-time Pro Bowler during the second half of the year, and Hilton finished with a team-best 793 yards and six touchdowns. Jonathan Taylor is the real star of the offense, as the second-round pick’s prodigious output at the collegiate level translated to the NFL, averaging five yards per carry.
Darius Leonard is the anchor of the Colts’ defense, as the two-time Pro Bowler may be the most complete linebacker in football. Leonard flies all over the field, has outstanding sideline-to-sideline range and can drop into coverage with ease. DeForest Buckner (9.5. sacks) remains one of the NFL’s best defensive lineman, while Justin Houston turned back with the clock with eight sacks. Kenny Moore might also be the NFL’s most underrated corner. Don’t sleep on this unit.
Bills vs. Colts: Tale of the Tape
Points For (per game)
Points Against (per game)
Bills will win because
Allen is on fire and has eradicated his previous tendency of forcing the ball into double or triple coverage, while Diggs, Beasley, Davis, Isaiah MacKenzie and the rest of the Bills’ skill players have been roasting defenses into oblivion. Diggs ought to win his matchup against former teammate Xavier Rhodes, while the Bills’ defense is playing their best football of the season. Tre’Davious White will neutralize Hilton, forcing Rivers to go through his progressions, and if the Colts want a track meet, they’re playing into the Bills’ strong suit. Buffalo hasn’t won a playoff game since 1995 and this is its best team since the Super Bowl finalists of the 1990s.
Colts will win because
Jonathan Taylor can gash a Bills’ run defense that has struggled to contain power backs. Taylor is almost perfectly designed to beat the Bills, as he has better breakaway speed than most assume, he’s a strong receiver out of the backfield, and if he has a solid game, he’ll keep the ball out of the hands of Allen and the Bills’ red-hot offense. DeForest Buckner can still ruin games for opponents, and though the Bills have practically abandoned the run as of late, the Colts could force the Bills to become predictable and catch them off guard. We’ve yet to see Allen perform well in the playoffs, too, while Rivers’ wealth of experience may serve as a diametric opposite to his talented but unproven counterpart.
What’s the NFL Playoffs schedule in 2021?
Wild Card games: January 9-10
Divisional games: January 16-17
Conference championships: January 24
Super Bowl: February 7
NFL Wild Card Weekend Previews
NFL Wild Card Round Schedule
Saturday January 9
Colts at Bills
Rams at Seahawks
Buccaneers at Washington
NFL Wild Card Round Schedule
Sunday January 10
Ravens at Titans
Bears at Saints
Browns at Steelers
NFL Division Round Schedule
Saturday January 16
NFL Division Round Schedule
Sunday January 17
NFL AFC/NFC Conference Championship Schedule
Sunday January 24
NFL Super Bowl 55 Schedule
Sunday February 7
AFC Champion vs. NFC Champion