NFL Preview - Buffalo (4-6) at Indianapolis (6-4)
By Lyle Fitzsimmons, Contributing NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - To steal a tagline from the early days of Saturday Night Live, the Indianapolis Colts last week proved to be the NFL's latest "not ready for prime time players."
Riding high with six wins in nine games after last season's 2-14 debacle, the Andrew Luck-led upstarts got a bitter taste of elite reality in the form of a 59-24 loss to the New England Patriots -- which turns this week's home game against Buffalo into a referendum on how quickly a young squad can rebound from emotional apocalypse.
The Colts had won four straight heading into New England, but were quickly exposed while facing their first foe with a winning record since Week 2. Indianapolis turned the ball over four times, including a pair of interceptions from Luck that were returned for back-breaking touchdowns.
Overall, Luck threw three INTs for the first time since his debut. On the plus side, his 334 yards were his fifth time at 300 or better, which broke a rookie record held by one of his Indianapolis predecessors, some guy named Peyton Manning.
"You realize (last week is) just one loss," Luck said.
"It doesn't count any more or any less in the column and realize that we're still in a decent position, I think that some other teams would like to be in. Our goals are still obtainable."
At 6-4, the Colts are 3 1/2 games behind AFC South front-runner Houston, but they're even with Pittsburgh at 6-4 and would be in the playoffs were the season to end today.
Another rookie, wide receiver T.J. Hilton, caught six passes for 100 yards and a score last week, marking the third time he reached triple digits. Conveniently, Buffalo is among the league's worst defenses with 401.1 yards and 29.9 points allowed per week.
Though, while the Bills have been particularly bad against the run -- giving up a conference-worst 153.3 yards per game -- it remains a question mark whether Indianapolis can take advantage.
Starter Donald Brown has been hampered for much of the year with a bum knee and his fill-in, rookie Vick Ballard, has gone for just 57.3 yards per game in six starts.
Ballard had 72 yards on 16 attempts last week against New England.
The Bills, who've not played since a Thursday night defeat of Miami on Nov. 15, gave up just 184 total yards to the Dolphins and could get a jolt in the form of defensive end Chris Kelsay, who's not played in two weeks with a neck ligament injury.
At 4-6, Buffalo is tied for second in the AFC East and two games in back of the Colts and Steelers for the aforementioned wild card positions.
"If we can win these ballgames coming down the stretch, and get healthy to make a push for the playoffs, that's huge," Kelsay said.
Also back is running back Fred Jackson, who hasn't played since a concussion in Week 10. He'll team with C.J. Spiller, who gained 91 yards against Miami and leads the team for the season with 723 -- along with four touchdowns.
Buffalo's run game is third in the conference with 140.8 yards per game. More importantly, it limits the game-changing role of erratic quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who's 6-1 since the start of 2011 when throwing fewer than 30 passes.
When he throws 30 or more, he's 4-15.
The Colts, against Tom Brady and his merry men, were gashed for 446 yards along with the plethora of points last week.
"Last week, it was keeping the season alive, and it's the same thing now," Buffalo's Stevie Johnson said. "If we win, we know we still have hope of the playoffs."
The Bills lead the all-time series, 35-30-1, though the Colts have won seven of the last nine.
Buffalo coach Chan Gailey is 1-1 in his career against Indianapolis, while the hosts' interim coach, Bruce Arians, has never faced the Bills.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Since reeling Fitzpatrick in while instead focusing on a strong running tandem, the Bills have found success. It could be continued this week against a Colts team that's just 21st in the league against the run -- allowing 119.8 yards per game -- along with a per-carry clip of 4.7 yards that's fourth from the bottom of the 32-team collection.
If Buffalo can get an early lead or at least keep the game within one score, that run game should continue to flourish with Spiller, who's rattling off 6.6 yards per rush.
Though Arians has proven to be a master of emotion this season in the absence of head coach Chuck Pagano, his team took a hellacious beating against the Patriots last week and may quickly find a confidence void if the Bills have success early.
Provided Buffalo's defense comes in anywhere near the level it showed against its last rookie QB -- Miami's Ryan Tannehill -- the offense should be up to the challenge of winning a grinding, slow-tempo road test.
Sports Network predicted outcome: Bills 20, Colts 17
11/23 08:47:10 ET