Now that the Buffalo Bills are in the playoffs, coach Wade Phillips has decided to revise his lineup a bit.
Backup quarterback Rob Johnson will get his first start of the season when the Bills host the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday.
"I think he has earned an opportunity to play," said coach Wade Phillips. "He has worked hard all year. I think we can win this game with Rob as quarterback or I wouldn't be playing him.
"I want to see where he is at this point."
Johnson's only action this year came in the third game against the Philadelphia Eagles. He completed one of two passes for 11 yards and had a 25-yard run, but was knocked out of the game with a concussion after being sacked late in the fourth quarter.
Johnson's last start came in last year's regular-season finale at New Orleans. He passed for 216 yards and three touchdowns and ran for another score to lead the Bills to a 45-33 win over the Saints. The 45 points were a season-high and the most the Bills had scored in a game since a 45-27 win at St. Louis in 1995.
Even with the quarterback change and a postseason berth secured, the Bills say they still are taking the same attitude toward preparing for the game this week.
"It doesn't change your work ethic," quarterback Doug Flutie said of making the playoffs. "It doesn't change the way you approach the game, but maybe the stress level is a little less."
Indeed, Miami's loss to the Jets on Monday night -- which clinched a playoff berth for the Bills -- does take some pressure off of Buffalo (10-5). Had the Dolphins won Monday, the Bills would have needed to beat the Colts or hope for a loss by Seattle (9-6) or Kansas City (9-6) to guarantee a playoff berth.
Now, a victory over the Colts would assure the Bills of the AFC's fifth seed. They also will remain in the fifth spot with a loss Sunday if Kansas City or Seattle also lose. The only scenario that would put Buffalo in the sixth seed would be a loss to Indy and wins by Kansas City and Seattle. That would send the Bills to Seattle for a game against the Seahawks. The Chiefs host the Oakland Raiders on Sunday, while the Seahawks visit the Jets.
As for the Bills' playoff opponent, the likely candidate is Tennessee (12-3), which is a game behind Jacksonville in the AFC Central. The Jaguars can win the division by beating or tying lowly Cincinnati at home Sunday. But a loss coupled with a Tennessee win at Pittsburgh would give the Titans the Central title (they beat the Jaguars twice) and send Buffalo to Jacksonville.
No matter what happens Sunday, the Bills feel it's important to finish the regular season strong. They plan to play the Indianapolis game as if a postseason berth is on the line.
"We have to look at Indianapolis as a game we have to win," said strong safety Henry Jones. "We can't worry about what's going on in those other games. We just have to handle our own business first."
Phillips said there is an added incentive for the Bills to go all out to beat the Colts.
"Winning against Indianapolis, which is an awfully good football team, would be a good catapult to the playoffs for us," he said. "There also is a chance that we can play them again, so we'd like to establish that we can do some things against them."
The Bills will face an Indianapolis team with a reason to win. The Colts (13-2) can clinch home-field advantage throughout the playoffs with a win and a loss by AFC Central leader Jacksonville (13-2). If both win, the tiebreaker is net points in conference games. The Jaguars currently have a 14-point edge.
With so much at stake for the Colts, the Bills expect a very intense battle Sunday.
"It will definitely be like a playoff test," said Flutie. "If we can beat Indy, we can beat anybody in the AFC."
The only certainty is the Bills will probably be on the road throughout the playoffs. But Phillips isn't concerned. Buffalo is 5-3 away from home. Only Jacksonville (7-1), Indy (6-1) and St. Louis (5-2) have better road records.
"We've been able to win on the road," Phillips said. "We've played some big games on the road, and we're prepared to play some more."
The Bills' clinching of a postseason berth may affect Phillips' decisions on injured players. The most serious injury is the sprained knee of center Jerry Ostroski. Running back Antowain Smith could play Sunday, but the Bills have the luxury of giving Smith's sprained toe another week of rest if necessary.
"I don't know if Jerry would be ready to play anyway, but it may be a situation where we want to be safe rather than sorry," Phillips said. "Anyone who is banged up won't play, but most of the team is active and will be able to play."
It does not appear the Bills-Colts game will be sold out in time to be televised locally. Jerry Foran, the Bills' director of ticket sales, said there were about 13,000 tickets remaining through Tuesday. The game must be sold out by 1 p.m. Thursday.