Here are my five takes on the Buffalo Bills' game against the Indianapolis Colts Sunday at New Era Field:
1. No matter who plays quarterback, perform as the superior club they are.
The Bills aren't a good team. Losing four of your last five games doesn't qualify as "good," regardless of the in-the-hunt playoff status their 6-6 record warrants.
But the Colts are downright awful. They're 3-9 and near the bottom in most major statistical categories.
They're dealing with a rash of injuries, having lost 11 starters for the season, and youthful blunders. They have a stopgap quarterback in Jacoby Brissett and a lame-duck coach in Chuck Pagano.
Whether Tyrod Taylor or Nathan Peterman is quarterbacking the Bills, the Colts are not a team that they can permit to come into their house and leave with a win. Period.
2. On-again, off-again running game should be on.
As inconsistent as the Bills have been on the ground, LeSean McCoy has respectable numbers. He ranks sixth in the NFL with 851 yards and is averaging 4.1 yards per carry.
The one place where the Colts aren't near the basement statistically is run defense; they're 13th in the league. But they just placed one of their top defensive players, outside linebacker John Simon, on the season-ending injured reserve list with a shoulder injury he suffered in last Sunday's loss against Jacksonville.
With the forecast calling for cold temperatures and a chance of snow, expect running to be a large part of both teams' game plans. And expect the Bills to concentrate the bulk of their rushing to the right, attacking the left side of the Colts' defense, which has given up an NFL-high 7.47 yards per carry.
This has the makings of a game where repeatedly hammering an opponent on the ground is logical because, one, it helps relieve pressure on a quarterback who could be somewhat gimpy or inexperienced; two, it could go a long way toward sapping the will from a team simply playing out the string.
3. Kelvin Benjamin is at the head of the table for feasting on Colts' secondary.
Benjamin is back from the knee injury he suffered on Nov. 19 against the Los Angeles Chargers. Although he wasn't on the field beyond the game's opening series, he showed, on the 20-yard reception he made while being injured, his great capacity for generating explosive plays.
There should be plenty of those for Benjamin and other Bills receivers to make against the NFL's worst pass defense, which is allowing 271.6 yards per game. The Colts had three rookies in their secondary last Sunday, and none figures to be capable of shutting down Benjamin.
For that matter, tight end Charles Clay and wide receivers Zay Jones, Deonte Thompson and Andre Holmes should also thrive, especially if the Bills are having the success they should have running the ball.
4. The run defense has to regain the form it showed at Kansas City.
It happened only once in the last five games, but the Bills did a solid job of keeping the Chiefs' ground attack in check on Nov. 26. The problem is that, on the same day they prevented Tom Brady from shredding them with his passing arm, they allowed the Pats to trample them for 191 rushing yards and a 5.5 yards-per-carry average.
Frank Gore isn't the runner he was in the prime of a Hall of Fame-caliber career. He doesn't make a whole lot of breakaway runs, but he's still capable of doing some damage if an opponent isn't at the top of its game. That was never more evident than last week when he managed to have 4.7 yards per carry against the NFL's top-ranked defense, although a unit that does rank 20th against the run.
The Bills are 25th in the league in run defense. They need their front seven — which took a hit with end Shaq Lawson having his season ended by a knee injury and has tackle Kyle Williams slowed by an injured groin — to overcome the fact the wear and tear of the season are taking a toll.
5. Sean McDermott and his staff are hands-down winners of the coaching battle.
McDermott can talk all he wants about maintaining a balance between short- and long-term goals, but the fact is the playoffs remain very much within the Bills' grasp. And it's up to McDermott to make sure his team — despite a season filled with all of the conflicting moves and messages about the present and future — is ready to play that way against the Colts.
He must pull his players out of whatever funk has contributed to the collapse that followed the 5-2 start and have them laser-focused on the postseason through the final four games.
Despite the New England Patriots' superiority, it could be argued the Bills did as much to lose the game against them last Sunday as the Pats did to win it. McDermott must bring the sloppiness and self-destruction that has surfaced through much of the second half of the season to an end, or even winnable games like the one against the Colts will become more difficult than necessary.
Offensive coordinator Rick Dennison, who has come under fire for the underwhelming play on his side of the ball, needs to start showing through his game-planning and play-calling that he merits sticking around for another season.