By George Bremer
The Herald Bulletin
ANDERSON, Ind. —
With the continuing focus on the Indianapolis Colts’ quest to qualify for the AFC playoffs, one might be surprised to hear veteran wide receiver Reggie Wayne say the postseason already has begun.
“We are in a position now where if we win out, we’re in,” Wayne said. “There are a lot of teams that want our position. They are going to treat every game like a playoff game, and we need to do the same. Every game from now on is going to be real crucial for this ball club.”
Games played from Thanksgiving on tend to separate the pretenders from the contenders in the NFL.
For the visiting Buffalo Bills (4-6), today’s 1 p.m. kickoff at Lucas Oil Stadium could scarcely carry more importance.
Win and the Bills pull within one game of the Colts (6-4) for one of the final two playoff spots. Lose and Buffalo finds itself three games behind Indianapolis in the playoff race and on the wrong end of a tiebreaker.
With just five games remaining after this week, that likely would prove to be an insurmountable deficit.
The game this weekend, the Colts are ahead of us in the standings,” Buffalo quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick said. “This is almost a playoff game for us in terms of one we have to have at this point in the season.”
It’s been a disappointing season for the Bills, especially after the team made the biggest offseason splash by signing free-agent defensive end Mario Williams away from the Houston Texans.
That was supposed to give Buffalo one of the most feared defensive lines in the league. But Williams has played through injuries for much of the season, and the line only recently has begun to show promise of fulfilling its vast potential.
Indianapolis interim head coach/offensive coordinator Bruce Arians expects to get the Bills’ best effort today.
“This is a playoff game for us,” Arians said, sticking with the theme of the week. “We have to take that approach because Buffalo is taking that approach. They’re do-or-die. We better be do-or-die. That’s been our mindset all week.”
The Colts saw a four-game winning steak crash and burn with a 59-24 loss last Sunday at New England. But the good news is the team is as healthy as its been all season.
Cornerback Vontae Davis and tight end Coby Fleener each will be game-time decisions after missing several weeks with knee and shoulder injuries, respectively.
Defensive end Cory Redding also is listed as questionable with a hip injury suffered in the loss to the Patriots. But he vowed at midweek to be in the lineup today.
“We’ve got a playoff chase,” he said. “It’s football. You can’t sit on the sideline and watch your boys go to war. I’ve got to get up and get ready to play.”
The Colts will need all hands on deck against a Buffalo offense with more talent than it’s middling results might suggest.
Despite the prolific passing combination of Fitzpatrick and wide receiver Stevie Johnson, the Bills rank 23rd in the NFL in aerial offense, 17th in scoring and 16th in total offense.
The brightest spot has been the seventh-ranked running game, led by veteran Fred Jackson and rising young star C.J. Spiller.
Spiller is expected to start today despite a shoulder injury, and Jackson has been cleared to serve as his backup after recovering from a concussion. Spiller already has set career highs with 723 rushing yards — averaging a league-high 6.6 yards per carry — and 336 receiving yards. He has five total touchdowns.
“A lot of times guys will feel like they have an angle on him to take him down on the sideline and he will quickly prove to them that they do not,” Fitzpatrick said. “So I think the biggest thing with him is speed. He has so much confidence. That is the biggest thing I have seen in terms of his growth in the last few years.”
Wayne is plenty confident in his own right. He’s already wrapped up his eighth 1,000-yard receiving season, and he’s on pace for the best year of his storied career.
Many of his young teammates are new to the playoff race, but Wayne said the formula for success is simple.
“The more we win, the better our opportunity,” he said. “I don’t think anybody in this locker room should look at who’s in front of us and who’s behind us. Just play Colts football and win games, and we’ll be fine.”