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Indianapolis Colts vs. Kansas City Chiefs Preview

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Wild Card Playoffs - Kansas City Chiefs v Indianapolis Colts Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

The Indianapolis Colts (3-4) will host the Kansas City Chiefs (4-2) this Sunday as they look to put together back-to-back wins for the first time since weeks 16 and 17 of last season.

The Colts have dominated the series with the Chiefs in recent years, owning a 16-8 record all-time against them. The series has been even more lopsided recently, however, with the Colts having won each of the last three matchups, six of the last seven, and 13 of the last 15 (dating back to 1990). In fact, in their last 15 meetings the Chiefs have only won two games against the Colts, and in one of those games Indy’s quarterback was Curtis Painter. The Colts own a 4-0 postseason record against Kansas City, and their last meeting came in the 2013 playoffs: when Andrew Luck went into Superman mode and carried the Colts to a thrilling 45-44 comeback.

That history doesn’t have much bearing on this Sunday’s game, however. This year’s Colts are just trying to string a couple of wins together and try to reach .500 for the first time this year. The Chiefs, meanwhile, haven’t been below .500 once this year, and they’re right in the thick of the AFC West race, which might be the best division in football this year. Numerically, the Chiefs aren’t anything special - they’re 18th in points per game scored and 12th in points per game allowed, 19th in yards per game and 23rd in yards per game allowed - but they’ve still managed to win four of six games and are having a good season. And if you take out losing a 43-14 debacle to the Steelers in week four, the Chiefs are allowing just 16 points per game, and in the past two games have limited the Raiders to ten points and the Saints to 21.

Offensively, the Chiefs are led by a very solid quarterback and a dangerous running game. Alex Smith has completed 67.8% of his passes for 1,511 yards (7.1 yards per attempt), seven touchdowns, and two picks this year for a passer rating of 95.0, once again playing safe, smart football. In the passing game, Jeremy Maclin (27 catches for 333 yards and a score) and Travis Kelce (27 catches for 276 yards and two touchdowns) are dangerous weapons, while Tyreek Hill leads the team with three touchdown receptions and Spencer Ware is second on the team in receiving yards. Ware is also the team’s leading rusher, as he’s rushed for 492 yards and two touchdowns this year while averaging 5.2 yards per carry, and that’s in addition to him catching 15 passes for 285 yards and a score as well. Combined, he’s totaled 777 yards and three touchdowns in six games, averaging 129.5 yards per game this year. That mark ranks fourth in the NFL in total yards from scrimmage per game this year.

The Colts, meanwhile, have a terrible defense - one that may in fact be the worst they’ve had since moving to Indianapolis. The Colts are 28th in points per game allowed, 28th in yards per game allowed, 25th in passing yards per game allowed, 24th in rushing yards per game allowed, 31st in team defensive DVOA, 29th in pass defense DVOA, and 32nd in run defense DVOA. They’re a bad defense that has had trouble against the run (each of the Colts’ last three opponents has had a 100-yard rusher), and Spencer Ware could have a big day against them. The Colts will be without two of their three starting defensive linemen in Kendall Langford and Henry Anderson, and while Zach Kerr is ready to step up and has arguably been their best defensive lineman this season, it’s still a significant loss. It’s an even bigger loss because of the linebackers playing behind that defensive line, as that’s the weakest part of Indy’s defense. So with two of three starting linemen out and a very weak linebacker group, Ware could have a big day.

That once again puts all of the pressure on Andrew Luck and the Colts’ offense to be perfect once again, but the good news for Indy is that so far Luck has risen to the occasion. Don’t let the Colts’ 3-4 record deceive you: Luck is having a career year and is playing like one of the best quarterbacks in football - in fact, he’s playing at an MVP level. Luck is completing 64.9% of his passes for 2,074 yards (7.5 yards per attempt), 14 touchdowns, and four interceptions, and in four of seven games he’s topped 300 yards passing. Luck is third in the league in passing yards behind only Drew Brees and Matt Ryan, he’s fifth in touchdown passes, and despite throwing more passes than all but two quarterbacks, there are still 14 quarterbacks with more picks than Luck this year. If the Colts are going to win, it’s going to be because of Andrew Luck (all three wins this year have been on come-from-behind, game-winning touchdown passes from Luck). In the second halves of games this year, Luck’s passer rating is 108 and he has a 9-to-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio (plus a rushing touchdown). The Colts have some other playmakers on offense too, such as T.Y. Hilton (who’s fourth in the NFL in receptions and second in receiving yards) and Jack Doyle (who has really emerged as a legitimate threat in the passing game), plus the Colts should get Donte Moncrief and Phillip Dorsett back this week. Frank Gore is having a productive season and is doing everything the Colts need him to do, while the offensive line is gradually getting better. The Colts are scoring 27.7 points per game (fourth in the NFL) and racking up 372.4 yards per game (tenth), so their offense is playing at a very high level.

Unfortunately for the Colts, it hasn’t always been enough. Owner Jim Irsay, who ironically was defending GM Ryan Grigson, recently said that “we’ve got to score in the thirties” to win games. It’s obvious to everyone watching the Colts this year that the main question is whether Luck and the offense is going to be good enough to overcome the defensive failures. In every game they’ve kept it close in the fourth quarter, and in three of them they’ve pulled out comebacks. And if the Colts hope to get another win this Sunday, it likely will be a similar story: a close game in the fourth quarter that Luck and the offense manage to pull out.

This game is absolutely a winnable one for the Colts. With Andrew Luck playing well the Colts will be in it until the end, but I’m taking the Chiefs in this one in a really close one. But good news, Colts fans: I’m not doing a great job of picking games this year, so this might actually be a good thing.

Score Prediction: Chiefs 28, Colts 27