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Playoff Game Preview

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Colts-Bills: AFC Super Wild Card Weekend preview

Viewers can watch the broadcast live on CBS/CBS All Access at 1:05 p.m. ET on Saturday as well as stream live on the NFL App and Yahoo Sports app.

The Backstory

The last time Buffalo was this good, Frank Reich suited up in uniform as a Bills backup quarterback for the early-90s squads that went to four-straight Super Bowls. Saturday, the ex-QB and his Colts will attempt to bring misery to Bills Mafia.

The Colts and Bills each made tactical upgrades in the offseason with the idea of getting their squads over the hump to make deep postseason runs.

Indianapolis signed veteran quarterback Philip Rivers, believing the 39-year-old would be an upgrade on Jacoby Brissett. In addition, the Colts shipped a first-round pick to San Francisco for difference-making defender DeForest Buckner to solidify the middle of the defense.

For its part, Buffalo traded a first-round pick for receiver Stefon Diggs with the notion that his uncanny ability to separate from defenders would provide Josh Allen a go-to target and unlock the QB's talent.

Both teams hit the nail on the head.

Rivers stabilized an Indy offense that moved the ball at will between the 20s, even if it struggled in the red zone for stretches. And Buckner was a game-wrecking sledgehammer, combining with linebacker Shaquille Leonard to close down the middle of the field and live in the opponents' backfield.

Meanwhile, all Diggs did was lead the NFL in receptions (127) and receiving yards (1,535). The Bills played pitch-and-catch all over the park like it was a tribute to the K-gun days of yore. Allen led one of the most entertaining offenses in the NFL, as the Bills rolled over opponents down the stretch, winning six consecutive games.

Buffalo is out to snap a six-game playoff losing streak that dates back to 1996. The last time the Bills won a playoff game was Reich's first season in a different jersey. Buffalo's six-game playoff losing streak is the third-longest in the NFL, behind only Cincinnati (eight) and Detroit (nine).

In order to snap the streak, the Bills will need to knock off their former player in the process. Reich will be the fifth head coach in the last 30 seasons to face the team that drafted him in the playoffs (first since Ken Whisenhunt versus Atlanta in the 2008 wild-card round).

Each team's vision for the postseason was built during an uncertain spring, realized during fortuitous marches through the fall, and all led up to a wintry field in Buffalo on Saturday.

Under Pressure

Philip Rivers, quarterback, Colts: After 17 years, Rivers knows this could be his final chance to play in a Super Bowl. The 39-year-old has the most games played (244), passing yards (63,440) and passing TDs (421) among QBs never to win a Super Bowl. Rivers has been open about the potential that the Colts could move on or he could retire following Indy's postseason run. To put off those decisions, the Colts need the best version of Rivers. The signal-caller generated his eighth-straight season of 4,000-plus pass yards (4,169). In the past eight games, the veteran cut down on the wayward interceptions (four after seven in the first eight games) while the Colts leaned on the ground game. To pull off the upset, Rivers needs to hit on big plays against a defense that is susceptible deep -- allowing the 18th-most big plays this season. Most importantly, when Indy moves the ball, Rivers must punch it into the end zone and stop settling for field goals. The Bills rank 28th in the NFL in red-zone defense, so the opportunities should be there. Indy can't afford to kick field goals against this Buffalo offense.

Josh Allen, quarterback, Bills: Pressure is in the eye of the beholder. Via his own words, Allen wants to atone for his mishaps in last year's playoff collapse. Since that game, the Bills quarterback has been a marvel to watch. Allen's growth has seemingly been unprecedented. Under Brian Daboll's tutelage, Allen increased his completion percentage by more than 10 points (69.2%) while throwing for 4,544 yards with 37 TDs to just 10 INTs. Allen has become a more efficient QB by taking what the defense gives him and allowing his dynamite receiver corps to make plays. That tactic sits juxtaposed to last year's playoff loss when he was heaving prayers downfield to a fullback. Allen has become a more cerebral QB, who knows what the defense wants to do, gets through his progression fast, and has rarely been in a bad play this year. Combine that above-the-shoulder acumen with his cannon-rocket arm and bulldozing mentality, and you have a complete 2020 QB. Against a Colts defense that ended the season ranked second in the NFL against the run and 20th against the pass, expect Allen to sling it often Saturday. Allen went 4-0 against defenses which finished in the top 10 in total D in 2020 (LAR, LAC, SF, PIT). The Colts finished eighth. Indy, however, struggled down the stretch, allowing 311.4 passing yards per game since Week 13 (31st in NFL). Saturday has the makings of a big day for Allen, who threw 15 TD passes to just two INTs since Week 13. All the stars have aligned for Allen this season. Continuing his Pro Bowl play into the postseason is a must if the Bills are going to get their first playoff win in 25 years.

Matchup to watch

Colts run game vs. Bills defensive front: Streaking to a 6-2 finish to win 11 games, the Colts turned to rookie running back Jonathan Taylor, who joined Hall of Famers Edgerrin James and Marshall Faulk as the only rookies in Colts history with 1,000-plus rushing yards and 10-plus rushing TDs in a season. Taylor is a joy to watch. His quick feet and superior vision allow him to hit holes that would close for other backs. The rookie owns the power to glide through tackles unimpeded and speed to outrace defensive backs. He's the entire package. Taylor has 70-plus rushing yards in six straight games, culminated by Sunday's 253-yard performance in a must-win game.

How will Buffalo slow this train?

Sean McDermott's defense started the season struggling, particularly against the run. Buffalo gave up 135.0 yards per game on the ground through the first 10 weeks. Since their Week 11 bye, however, the Bills' D has tightened. Buffalo has allowed just 94.0 rushing yards per game and 18.3 points per contest. Pressure is on linebackers Matt Milano, Tremaine Edmunds and A.J. Klein to clean up the middle of the field and ensure Taylor's jaunts don't turn into home runs.

The Colts' game plan for pulling the upset is simple: Run the ball, control the clock, keep Allen, Diggs et al. on the sideline, and slam the ball in for TDs when they reach the red zone. If the Bills can't stuff the run, the field could tilt, and the pressure on the home team would mount.

Final thought

It wouldn't be far off to consider 2020 the Year of Josh Allen after the quarterback so thoroughly shut up critics. He didn't do it alone, however. The Bills brass did a magnificent job buffering the young QB with playmakers who bolster Allen's strengths. The light, however, will shine the brightest on Allen this Saturday. How he goes, so will Buffalo.

Rivers knows this dynamic all too well. Once part of dominant regular-season teams with the Chargers alongside LaDainian Tomlinson, the veteran signal-caller understands that playoff success is difficult and fleeting.

One QB is in the infantile stage of his playoff career, hoping to take another step. For the other, the end could be near, and he's battling to put off the end for just a bit longer.

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