The Colts may have already clinched the AFC South, but there's still a lot of work left to be accomplished. The Colts are still mathematically alive for the #1 seed in the AFC, and if the Colts want a first round Bye, they'll need to win both remaining games. That starts on the road Sunday afternoon in Kansas City to take on the Chiefs.
The Chiefs also have a shot at the #1 seed in the AFC (2nd best to the Broncos), and are currently tied with Denver atop the AFC West. Their three losses on the season came in a row: a Chargers sandwich between two losses to the Broncos, but have won back-to-back road games, blowing out two bad teams in the Redskins and Raiders. They return home for their home finale looking to keep pace with the Broncos, and hoping that they slip up once again.
Kansas City started off the season 9-0, mostly on the strength of their Defense and a weak schedule. In fact, I have the Chiefs as playing the easiest schedule in the NFL this season. They are just 1-2 against teams with a winning record this season, with the one coming against Andy Reid's former team, the Eagles, back in Week 3. Much like we've seen from the Colts the second half of the season, it says something that you beat the bad teams on your schedule, but neither team will be seeing those bad teams in the Playoffs.
The Colts and Chiefs have met each of the last three seasons, with the Colts winning a very efficient game in 2010, the Colts playing the worst defensive game in the entire NFL in 2011, and scoring a late TD in Kansas City last year to win in 2012. Overall the Colts hold an 11-8 record over the Chiefs, which includes three playoff wins. Since moving to Indianapolis, the Colts are 11-3 against the Chiefs. Not too shabby.
How do these two teams match-up? Let's find out:
Statistical Comparison between the Colts and Chiefs:
|Orange Zone Eff||54.2%||16||51.2%||13||51.0%||23||44.0%||2|
|Avg Start Pos||29.8||14||27.9||9||34.4||1||25.5||2|
|3 and Outs||3.27||8||3.35||23||3.13||5||4.20||9|
|Penalty Yds / Play||0.629||4||0.878||8||0.822||14||0.788||22|
Keys to the Game:
- We're going to start with when the Chiefs have the ball, and they seem pretty average to below average in some of the most important categories. They are very much risk-averse, which means if the Colts do their job, they should be successful. They don't turn the ball over often (again, risk-averse), so the Colts will have to get the ball back other ways.
- A staple of the Andy Reid Offense is the screen pass, and that has me worried more than Jamaal Charles taking handoffs. We've seen too many times this season a RB take a screen against the Colts Defense and get big chunks of yards, and Charles is one of the best two or three backs in open space in the NFL. This will be especially true on third and longs. You can almost assume it'll be a screen pass, and it definitely will be deep in their own territory.
- Speaking of 3rd downs, the Chiefs are not very good, ranking 30th in the NFL. The Colts absolutely must get the Chiefs off the field, and I actually think this stat will be determined more on first and second down. The Chiefs lead the NFL in the number of 3rd and Mediums (4-7) with 78, and the only way you get there is successful 1st and 2nd downs by the Defense. If the Colts can keep them out of 3rd and short, I like their chances of winning. If we're seeing a bunch of 3rd and 3 or less, this 3rd/4th down stat goes out the window, as it's much easier to get those short downs.
- One thing the Colts have been really good at lately is Starting Field Position, which is much more meaningful this year than in previous years, and the Chiefs have the best starting field position in the NFL, starting, on average, at their own 35 yard line. The Colts need to force them to drive the field. The two Broncos games the Chiefs started at the 26 and 24. That would be excellent for the Colts.
- On the other side of the ball, the Colts cannot turn the ball over (again, playing into the field position game here). Both sides are 2nd in the NFL, so most likely whoever wins this "battle" will win the game. No interceptions, no fumbles.
- Teams have been able to throw the ball against the Chiefs, as they are just 13th in our passing stat, and are 20th in Yards per Play, so they have a tendency of giving up big plays. Pep Hamilton called a terrific game last week. This week they must take some shots down the field.
- The Chiefs Defense is excellent in a whole slew of categories, including top 2 rankings in Time of Possession per Drive, Orange & Red Zone, and Plays per Drive. Don't expect a lot of long drives for the Colts, but that doesn't mean those short drives can't result in points (hint: long plays).
- The Chiefs Defense is the polar opposite of their Offense on 3rd/4th downs, ranking 2nd in the NFL at just 32.6%. The Colts absolutely must avoid 3rd and long situations, as the Chiefs give up a league-best 14.1% on 3rd and 8+ yards. That means more success on 1st and 2nd downs to avoid those situations.
This is an interesting match-up between two teams that haven't beaten a "good" team in over two months, but both will be in the Playoffs, possibly playing each other. With such a high probability of that happening, the popular notion would be to not show the other team anything, especially in the case of the Colts, who have less to gain than the Chiefs. Remember, the Chiefs are trying to play home games in the Playoffs, while the Colts already know they'll get at least one, so I expect the Chiefs to not play any different than they normally would.
The Colts, though, should continue to throw stuff in that they haven't tried this season. You want to be able to run the best plays possible in the Playoffs, and it's much easier for a team to scout with their own team playing rather than with another team. If you only show them plays you haven't run all season, they won't be able to scout those plays they've run a whole bunch, that they know work. Plus I'd want to know before it really matters whether something will work or not. It would be really bad to "save" multiple plays for the Playoffs, only to see them flop on first try. Running it a second time will help with execution.
This is very tough to pick a winner, as neither team has played well against a good team as of late. I want to see the Colts play two games well in a row before saying they can win on the road against a good team. It'll be close throughout, with the Chiefs winning at the end. I hope I'm proven wrong, but until I see it I can't say the Colts can do it.
Chiefs 25, Colts 23