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Wildcard Weekend: Colts by the Numbers

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Wild Card Round - Indianapolis Colts v Buffalo Bills Photo by Timothy T Ludwig/Getty Images

Each week during the season, I will be walking through the data from the previous Colts game analyzing the numbers to form a sort of “what happened” narrative as well as comparing the Colts against all other teams in the league. For a glossary of the stats listed, reference Season Stats. Thanks to Pro Football Reference,, Football Outsiders and the nflFastR project for being awesome sources of weekly data.

I’m combining the offensive and defensive analysis into a single article because I just don’t have the heart to do this twice.

While it’s always hard to find the silver lining within the cloud of a season-ending loss, the Colts offense was that lining.

It may not show it on the scoreboard, but the Colts were moving the ball at will against the Buffalo Bills defense. The Colts had great field position and converted 27 first downs on 32 series for a 84.4% Drive Success Rate. That was the 2nd best mark of the season only eclipsed by their thumping of the Las Vegas Raiders in week 14 (86.2%).

Questionable coaching decisions and inaccurate kicking may have left points on the field, but the offense did their job getting in scoring position on 6 of 9 drives.

The defense, on the other hand, seemed to shrink to the occasion. While three 3 & outs on the first 4 opponent drives usually signal a successful defensive day, the Bills scored on the next 4 consecutive drives.

The Colts gave up first downs on 79% of the Bills offensive series and could not get a single takeaway, which was the life’s blood of this defense for so many weeks.

To their credit, however, the Colts defense stopped the Bills on their last drive giving the offense the opportunity to win the game.


Mouseover for definitions: Adj PPD, PPG, Yds, P/R%, DSR, xOPPD, Strt Fld, EPA/ply, adj TSR, 1st/ply, Pen 1st/ Yds, 3DC, 3rd ytg, Expl Plys, TO, TOP%

I won’t show defensive tables since it is just the Bills' offensive numbers. I trust your ability to follow along.

While Colts points per drive was only 4th best of all playoff teams, their DSR was easily 1st place.

I have not mentioned this stat all year, but the expected PPD (xOPPD) which is based on starting DSR, starting field position, and the average length of converted series had the Colts playing at the level of a team that scores 3.9 PPD. That is the highest of any team and the largest discrepancy against actual points scored.

The bitter lesson here is that the Colts “under-scored” their DSR, by 1.2 PPD or about 11 points total, playing like a 35 point offense. That shortfall is usually the result of turnovers and indeed the Colts had a turnover on downs. But in addition, there were mistakes (by coach and players) at critical times that prevented good drives from turning into points. The Bills on the other hand outscored their DSR by 0.57 points PPD or about +5 points, giving them the 2nd highest actual PPD for the weekend.

The Colts had the better EPA/play, which in the other 5 playoff games mattered, but not this one.

Until the Colts play their next regular-season game, 242 days from now, you can rest easy knowing that we crushed time of possession, even though we ran on < 40% of plays. We controlled the hell out of that clock right into a loss. I guess we can join Pittsburgh for a TOP celebration dinner.


Rivers’ overall efficiency was good, even better than Josh Allen’s, but I think the accuracy numbers tell the story better. Rivers -6.2% cpoe reflects some shaky passing and receiver drops, whereas Josh Allen’s +12.4% shows how on point the Buffalo passing game was.

Allen completed over 74% of passes that logged 12.5 yards per completion. That’s a back-breaker and why he had a 42.5% first down conversion rate.

I will give the defense some slack here, as Josh Allen would be MVP this year if Aaron Rodgers and Patrick Mahomes hadn’t been born.


Mouseover definitions: adj RSR, Yds, Car, TD, Fum Lost, RSR, 1st/c, YPC, 10+ #/Yd, 3rd, 3DC

Colts ran the ball well, with the highest EPA/c of any of the playoff teams and the 2nd highest conversion rate. That translates to a 3rd best success rate when adjusting for game situations.

The Bills didn’t run nearly as much but the Colts kept a lid on their production. A 33.4% adjusted success rate would rank 16th of 32 in the regular season.