When the Bills run: LeSean McCoy is closing in on 10,000 career rushing yards, needing 195 to get to the milestone. He’s up to sixth in the NFL with 851 yards, averaging 4.1 yards per carry. McCoy should have a chance to make some plays on the edge against Indianapolis. The Colts are allowing 7.47 yards on rushes to the left end, most in the league. The Colts are 13th in the NFL against the run, but placed outside linebacker John Simon on injured reserve this week, their 11th starter to be shut down for the season. Simon was the team’s best defensive player the first six weeks of the season, but a stinger and a shoulder injury limited him the last few weeks before the team shut him down. EDGE: Even.
When the Bills pass: Who will be throwing them is the biggest question this week. Tyrod Taylor did not practice Wednesday, meaning Nathan Peterman could be in line for his second start this season. There’s nowhere to go but up after his five-interception meltdown in Week 11. Peterman’s return to the lineup could coincide with that of top receiver Kelvin Benjamin, who has been out since tearing the meniscus in his right knee against the Chargers. With veteran Jordan Matthews placed on injured reserve, rookie Brandon Reilly got the call from the practice squad that fans have been clamoring for. The Colts played three rookies at cornerback last week in Jacksonville, and have the worst pass defense in the league at 271.6 yards per game allowed, so it’s a good opportunity for whoever starts at quarterback for the Bills to build some confidence. EDGE: Bills.
When the Colts run: Frank Gore is nearing the end of a Hall of Fame career, one that has gone underappreciated in some ways. Last week, he passed Jerome Bettis and LaDainian Tomlinson on the career rushing list, with his 13,697 yards now trailing only Emmitt Smith, Walter Payton, Barry Sanders and Curtis Martin. Gore has started an incredible 103 straight games, a streak that the Indianapolis Star pointed out this week is 75 games longer than any other running back. The Colts rank 24th in the league in rushing, with Gore getting the majority of the work. He’s not breaking many long runs anymore, but he put up 4.7 yards per carry last week against a strong Jacksonville defense. Rookie Marlon Mack is the heir apparent. He averaged 7.7 yards per carry last week in the loss to the Jaguars, and is a threat to go the distance every time he touches the ball. After another tough week, the Bills’ run defense has dropped to 25th in the NFL. The loss of defensive end Shaq Lawson will hurt. EDGE: Colts.
When the Colts throw: Quarterback Jacoby Brissett is coming off perhaps the worst game of his career. Against the stout Jaguars defense, he went 21 of 36 for 174 yards and one touchdown, with two interceptions and a 56.9 passer rating. Perhaps a long season is catching up to him. Brissett has been sacked a whopping 47 times, most in the NFL, and some of the same complaints about his game right now include waiting too long to throw the ball. That can lead to sacks, but the extra time also allows defensive backs time to make play. Indianapolis is 3-0 when receiver T.Y. Hilton has at least 100 yards, and 0-9 when he doesn’t. The Bills are 0-4 in games in which they’ve given up at least 100 yards to an opposing receiver. EDGE: Bills.
Special teams: Brandon Tate attempted just six kick returns the first nine weeks of the season, but has had 13 attempts since Week 10. It seems teams have found that kicking it to the goal line is a good strategy, because Tate is having trouble getting the ball to the 25-yard line. He’s averaged just 21.3 yards per return this year. Kicker Stephen Hauschka barely made his 49-yard field goal last week, and could get his first experience kicking in the true Buffalo winter, with a forecasted high in the low 20s for Sunday. The Colts replaced punter Pat McAfee – who stunned the NFL by retiring in February at 29 – with rookie Rigoberto Sanchez, and haven’t missed a beat. An undrafted rookie out of Hawaii, Sanchez ranks fifth in the NFL with a 43.3-yard net average. The Colts have given up just 83 yards on punt returns, which ranks third in the league. Ageless kicker Adam Vinatieri is 22 of 23 on field goals this season, with a long of 53 yards, although he has missed a pair of extra points. EDGE: Bills.
Coaching: After leading the Colts to the playoffs in his first three seasons, Chuck Pagano will miss the playoffs for the third year in a row. Last week’s loss guaranteed Pagano his first losing season after back-to-back 8-8 years. He’s on the hot seat as much as any coach in football. The Colts’ mismanagement of Andrew Luck’s health is borderline criminal. It’s tough to screw up a franchise quarterback as badly as the franchise has, and the head coach shares in that blame. Sean McDermott actually said “it’s a mindset of embracing that mindset” this week when asked about playing the winter weather. Amazing. EDGE: Bills.
Prediction: Bills 23, Colts 18