INDIANAPOLIS —Bundle up: this one's going to be a little cold.
The Indianapolis Colts on Sunday wrap up a two-game road swing when they travel to New York to take on the Buffalo Bills at New Era Stadium.
The Colts (3-9) are coming off a 30-10 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars at EverBank Field, in which the Jaguars jumped out to a 10-0 lead and didn't look back from there. While Indy was able to contain Jacksonville's potent run game — and was able to find success on the ground themselves — the Colts had a tough time defending Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles, who completed 26-of-35 passes for 309 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions.
The Bills (6-6), meanwhile, remain in the AFC playoff hunt, but are coming off a 23-3 home loss to the New England Patriots. Buffalo trailed 9-3 at halftime, but New England went on a 14-0 third-quarter run, which was all she wrote in this AFC East Division rivalry matchup.
So what should fans be looking for in this Colts/Bills Week 14 matchup on Sunday at New Era Field?
1. Taylor Or Peterman?
The Colts this week have been preparing to face one of the top dual-threat quarterbacks in the league, Tyrod Taylor, but there's also a good chance rookie Nathan Peterman will be the man under center for the Bills on Sunday. Taylor suffered a knee contusion last Sunday against the New England Patriots and did not return to the game, and after missing practice on Wednesday, he was a very limited participant in practice on Thursday and Friday. The Bills are calling it a gametime decision — perhaps to their advantage, because of the distinct differences in Taylor and Peterman's games, as Taylor is more of a threat to run with the ball, while Peterman is more of a traditional drop-back passer. So while the Indy defense wants to be ready for the unique talents of Taylor, they'll be sure to be ready either way. "There are going to be things that we have up and we can call if Tyrod is in there, and then there are some things that we don't have to utilize. That's not taking anything away from (Nathan) Peterman," Colts head coach Chuck Pagano said. "So, we've addressed it. We've prepared the plan accordingly based on that, and you're going to have to make adjustments along the way as well. So, ready for either guy."2. Baby It's Cold Outside
It's December and it's Buffalo — cold and snow are just part of the deal. And that's exactly what the Colts are expecting — and preparing for — on Sunday. With a forecasted temperature of 29 degrees — which will feel more like 16 degrees — for the 1 p.m. kickoff, as well as the possibility of some snow showers adding on top of what will have already fallen in western New York, the Colts spent the week trying to simulate the conditions the best they can at their central Indiana practice facility, where temperatures outdoors were similar to Buffalo's, but without the snow or the possibility of 20 mph winds. Pagano said he expects the game to come down to a battle within the trenches; old-fashioned football: "Yeah, it's one of the first things we talked about was one of the challenges is handling the elements, not only the weather but the crowd, the crowd noise. It's an extremely difficult place to play without it (weather)," he said. "At least we got out in the cold – dealt with that. Wet ball drills.It's supposed be mid-20s, low-20s, wind chill in the teens. Supposed to get some snow. You've got to deal with it, and if you can stop the run and you can run the ball and you can move the chains and be good on third down, it'll help."3. Run Rudolph Run
Speaking of running the ball, the Colts hope to continue the Bills' defensive woes when it comes to stopping the run on Sunday. Buffalo currently allows 120.4 rushing yards per game, which ranks 25th in the league, and it is giving up about 4.3 yards per carry. The key, though, will be utilizing the run game not only to combat the weather conditions, as Pagano alluded to, but to help solve the Colts' red zone woes, and they'll certainly have a chance to do just that against the Bills, who have allowed 18 rushing touchdowns this season — the most in the league. "Sometimes those things get in your head, and it just takes one time of being successful and guys feeling good about things and you get on a roll," Colts offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski said of his unit's performance in the red zone. "And that's how, you look at these seasons, there are stretches of different things that become challenges, and you have to address them and look to improve and get better at."**
- Light Up Shady** On the flip side, whether Taylor or Peterman is at quarterback, the Colts will have to contend with one of the better all-around running backs in recent memory in the Bills' LeSean McCoy. McCoy comes into Sunday's game ranked sixth in the NFL in rushing (851 yards, with four touchdowns and a 4.1 yards-per-carry average), but he's oftentimes just as dangerous as a pass catcher out of the backfield; he has 48 receptions so far this season, which ranks 48th among all pass catchers in the NFL, and is eighth among running backs. The Indy defense has been a confident bunch against the run this season, particularly in recent weeks, as they've gone five straight games without allowing 100 total yards rushing — that's the first time a Colts defense could claim that feat since the 1971 season. Indy also hopes to bottle up McCoy & Co. on first down; according to Pro Football Focus, the Colts are allowing 2.92 yards per carry on first down this season, which is tops in the league. Still, easier said than done against "Shady" McCoy. "Their usage of him is any way they can get the ball in his hands, they're going to do it as often as they can," Colts defensive coordinator Ted Monachino said. "The situation doesn't matter. He's the short-yardage and goal line back. He's the third down back. He's the featured running back on first, second and third down. He's unique. He is a special, special talent and has been since he came into the league. When you look at the tools that he has, I don't know that there are any that are really lacking."5. Trial By Fire Sticking with the Colts' defense, the team will be leaning on youth at the cornerback position for a second straight week on Sunday against Buffalo. Two weeks ago, top corner Rashaan Melvin injured his hand during a play in which he intercepted Tennessee Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota; Melvin has not been able to practice since, and is out against the Bills. Then, last week, No. 2 cornerback Pierre Desir suffered a torn pectoral muscle against the Jacksonville Jaguars; his season is now over. So now Monachino likely turns to two rookies — Kenny Moore II and Quincy Wilson — to take over starter duties on Sunday against the Bills, while two second-year corners, Chris Milton and D.J. White — will be their backups. "They are preparing their tails off," Monachino said of the young group. "It's just a matter of when the ball is in the air, are we going to be good enough to make some of those plays? They'll compete and they'll play their tails off and they'll show that they can do it in practice. It's just a matter of carrying it over to the game and having the confidence to do it, even if you give one up, to have the confidence to do it the next time. Where we are at corner is just where we are at corner. We've got to do what we can to help it so they don't have as long to hold the ball and they don't have to cover as long."6. Lean On Vinny Should Sunday's game turn into a smashmouth battle between the two teams, then the Colts could very much lean on the leg of their 44-year-old kicker to send them home with another elusive road victory. Adam Vinatieri has quietly put together another extremely solid performance throughout the 2017 season, hitting 22-of-23 field goal attempts (96 percent) and 17-of-19 extra points (90 percent), including an 8-for-8 conversion rate on kicks from 40-plus yards (hitting four each from 40-49 and 50-plus). And not only does Vinatieri obviously have plenty of experience making kicks in cold weather, he's had plenty of success against the Bills in his career; in December 2001, for example, he hit four field goals in Buffalo, including a 23-yarder in overtime, to lead the New England Patriots to a 12-9 victory. Whatever the elements are on Sunday, Vinatieri has been there, done that. "You kind of expect weather like I'm sure what we're going to be getting. It's part of the thing," Vinatieri said. "You go and you get mentally prepared for it. We'll be practicing outside all week long and it's pretty chilly out here as well, so hopefully we'll be prepared. If it snows, if it rains, if it sleets or if it whatever, we'll be ready to go."7. Milestone Watch
Here are a few milestones to keep an eye on Sunday, courtesy of Colts PR:
• Quarterback Jacoby Brissett needs one touchdown pass of 60-plus yards to tie John Unitas (five in 1960) for the most such games in a single season in franchise history.
• Tight end Jack Doyle needs five receptions to tie Jacob Tamme (67) for the third-most receptions by a tight end in a single season in Colts history.
• Running back Frank Gore needs one 100-yard rushing performance to tie O.J. Simpson (42) for the 16th-most in NFL history; he needs one rushing touchdown to tie Ricky Watters (78) for 21st on the NFL's all-time list; he needs 138 scrimmage yards to pass Curtis Martin (17,430) for eighth on the league's all-time list.
• Wide receiver T.Y. Hilton needs one reception to tie Lenny Moore (45) for the eighth-most consecutive games in franchise history with a reception; he needs one receiving touchdown to tie Marcus Pollard (35) for the ninth-most in franchise history; with a 150-plus-yard receiving performance he would tie Marvin Harrison (11) for the most such games in franchise history.
• Kicker Adam Vinatieri, with one field goal from 30-39 yards, would tie John Carney (165) for the fourth-most made field goals from that distance in NFL history; if Vinatieri connects on one field goal from 50-plus yards, he'll tie Jason Elam for the seventh-most made field goals from that distance; he also needs 17 points to reach 100 for the season and extend his NFL record to 20 such seasons.