For the second time in as many years, and the 13th time in the last 15 years, the Colts have extended their season to the Playoffs, and unlike last year, they get to play in front of the home fans Saturday afternoon. Also attending will be the Kansas City Chiefs, the #5 seed in the AFC this year with an identical record to the Colts: 11-5. Unfortunately the Chiefs have to play in the same division as the Broncos, so they get stuck playing on the road.
I'm sure everyone is aware the Colts and Chiefs played two weeks ago in Kansas City, a 23-7 Colts win, shutting down a Chiefs Offense that had averaged over 40 points in their last four games. Donald Brown had two long touchdowns: a screen pass he took the distance and a 51 yard run, both against one of the better Defenses in the NFL. The Chiefs will get one of the best pass rushers in the NFL back this weekend, as Justin Houston is returning from a dislocated elbow suffered back in Week 12. Some may claim Chiefs Head Coach Andy Reid was playing very "vanilla" and not showing any cards, which might have a hint of truth to it, but they still committed four turnovers, something the Chiefs rarely have done this year, which can't be blamed on playing "vanilla".
Since the Chiefs started the season 9-0, they've won just two of their final seven games, both against teams with top 5 selections (Redskins and Raiders). In fact, the only team they've beaten with a winning record this season was the Eagles back in Week 3, the Andy Reid revenge game that I happily took the points Vegas was giving the Chiefs that Thursday night. You can argue they played backups last week against the Chargers and could/should have won, but as the old cliche goes: Close is only good in horseshoes and hand grenades. If the Chiefs win Sunday, it'll be their best win of the season.
The Colts come into Wild Card Weekend having won three straight games in dominant fashion, outscoring their opponents 78-20. Yes two of those wins came against the lowly Texans and Jaguars (the other was KC of course), but those games were over by halftime. We've seen a completely different Offense since halftime of the Bengals game, where we've seen the Colts run almost exclusively from the shotgun, and have been passing the ball much, much better. Obviously both teams will be making adjustments to their gameplan they employed two weeks ago, and Colts Offensive Coordinator Pep Hamilton has said they are "starting over from scratch." They've gotten it right the last three weeks. Let's hope they continue that trend.
The Colts and Chiefs have met three times in the Playoffs, with the Colts winning all three of them. The first came in January of 1996 on a 0 degree day at Arrowhead, where the 6th seeded Colts beat the 13-3 Chiefs 10-7, thanks in large part to three Steve Bono interceptions, and four Colts fumbles that all were recovered by the Colts. Then in January 2004 Peyton Manning played, in my opinion, his greatest playoff game, in a 38-31 win also in Kansas City, a game which saw neither team punt the ball (which might be a playoff record). Manning was absolutely on fire that day. The last one came in January of 2007, a 23-8 Colts win in Indianapolis that kick-started their run to win the Super Bowl. The absolutely porous Colt Run Defense stuffed Chiefs RB Larry Johnson time and again (although the Chiefs gameplan that day left much to be desired), and the Colts did enough to easily best the 6th seeded Chiefs. You ask 10 random Chiefs fans, and I bet at least half say their most hated team is the Colts, as they continually spoil some of the best seasons of recent times.
How will the game go on Saturday afternoon? Let's take a look at the numbers and find out:
Statistical Comparison between the Colts and Chiefs:
|Orange Zone Eff||55.0%||18||50.0%||13||51.0%||23||46.4%||4|
|Avg Start Pos||30.6||10||27.2||6||34.3||1||25.8||2|
|3 and Outs||3.19||5||3.43||23||3.27||6||4.28||6|
|Penalty Yds / Play||0.623||4||0.906||7||0.822||16||0.772||23|
Keys to the Game:
- I've already touched on the Turnovers, which were a huge part of the Week 16 game. The Colts cannot expect the Chiefs to turn it over four times again (although it would make winning a lot easier if they do). Because these two teams take such good care of the football (and the Chiefs Defense is good at creating them), I'm confident in saying whoever wins the Turnover battle will win this game. Most of the time it isn't this cut-and-dry, but I'd be shocked if the team with more Turnovers Saturday wins.
- What else played a huge part in the Colts earlier win? Starting Field Position. You can see the Chiefs are at the top of the league on both sides of the ball, but the Colts won this battle in the first game. Both the Colts and the Chiefs have the same number of TD drives starting at the 25 or worse (17), so look for the team that can convert long drives into touchdowns, without the drive-killing mistakes, to win.
- The one big weakness for the Chiefs Defense is in Yards per Play, and we saw that on display in Week 16 on the two long Colts touchdowns. With Houston back opposite Tamba Hali, most likely Andrew Luck won't have as long to throw the ball as he did before, so long passes may be too much to ask, but it doesn't mean they shouldn't take their shots, as they have a good chance of succeeding. Clearly this points towards T.Y. Hilton, but you may see some of the other guys step up as well on some "chunk" plays.
- I expect Jamaal Charles to get many more touches Saturday than he did in the first match-up, as the Chiefs nearly ran for 8 yards per carry, yet only ran Charles 13 times. It's pretty clear the Colts had major issues stopping him the first go-round, and a point of emphasis should be put on stopping him, to an extent. Reid is notorious for completely abandoning the run game if his team gets down early, so the Colts just need to have a good start and that will neutralize Charles without actually having to tackle him.
- With the expectation that the Chiefs will run more comes a much better Time of Possession per Drive, which was less than two minutes per drive in the first meeting. If Alex Smith has to throw the ball a lot, it'll be very good news for the Colts.
- Both Defenses are excellent inside the Red Zone, as the two teams combined for just one field goal in three attempts in the first game. Scoring a touchdown when down close will be huge for whichever team can do it consistently.
- The Colts appear to be almost fully healthy (well, at least the guys still on the active roster), which is a luxury the Colts haven't seen the entire second half of the season. The biggest key to me is how much Greg Toler can play, and how well. I expect the Chiefs to test him early, and I hope he's up to the task.
I don't see this game being dominated by one team like the first game, but I think the Colts match-up pretty well with the Chiefs, better than I had initially thought. I think the Colts need to take some chances on Defense and force the Chiefs Offense to make plays against them. This creates the possibility of more turnovers (like Week 16), or it could lead to big plays for the Chiefs (where they rank 20th). I think this is the kind of team that high-risk/high-reward type of play pays off, as they'll gladly dink-and-dunk their way down the field, killing time and tiring you out on Defense. Taking some chances may cost you some points, but you won't wear out so easily early on.
Two weeks ago I picked the Chiefs by 2, so if home field is worth three points, I'll go with the Colts by 4 this time around. These teams haven't fundamentally changed in two weeks, and while the results from the first game are good to look at and predict what may happen, I still think this one will be close and hard-fought, and most likely decided in the fourth quarter. Being at home is nice.
Colts 24, Chiefs 20