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Red zone efficiency could determine Colts-Chiefs Divisional Round matchup

Wild Card Round - Houston Texans v Indianapolis Colts Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

Excitement for both team’s fanbases is sky high leading up to the AFC Divisional Round matchup between the Indianapolis Colts and the Kansas City Chiefs. Nearly everyone is scurrying to find some historical statistic, or a specific matchup that could indicate that one team or the other has the advantage.

Fans frequently attempt to look at the most recent group of games to find trends giving some suggestion for appropriate expectations, but we’ve seen teams buck momentum in the playoffs. With this in mind, we’re going to look at one set of numbers that appears to have a meaningful effect on the outcome of games, one that absolutely looks to give the Colts a bit of an advantage.

Sure. We could look at the fact that the Chiefs have given up over 2,100 rushing yards this season, or the fact that they’ve averaged 9 points fewer per game in their last five outings, but let’s be honest, 32 points per game is still a lot of points. We could also look at the fact that they’re 3-2 in their last five games, with their largest margin of victory being 7 points in their second meeting against a broken Raiders team, or that they had to go to overtime in order to get rid of the Baltimore Ravens.

While it is worth mentioning those observations, red zone efficiency is where games are won and lost, especially in the playoffs. Forcing a team into multiple field goal attempts, turning over teams in the red zone, and finding a way make a late-game goal line stand are ways to change momentum in an important game.

It just so happens that the Colts have the advantage in this area.

Offensively, both teams are very good inside their opponent’s 20-yard line. The Chiefs a little better than the Colts, in fact, as they were second in the league with a red zone touchdown percentage of 71.8% (51 of 71 attempts). This high-level efficiency will be a real challenge for the Colts’ defense, regardless of how impressive they’ve been playing this season.

However, the Colts’ defense hasn’t just been good this season, they’ve been especially good in the red zone as well. The Colts have only allowed 23 touchdowns on their opponent’s 43 trips inside the 20-yard line (53.5%) which was good for 11th in the league. The Colts defense will have to force a turnover at some point Saturday in order to improve their chances of winning, and doing it inside the 20 could bring about a massive swing in this matchup.

The Colts, on the other hand, were 5th in the league on offense in the red zone with a touchdown rate of 68.8% (44 of 64 attempts). Just as a side note on this topic, tight end Eric Ebron had 10 regular season catches inside the red zone, and all of them were touchdowns. That’s nearly a quarter of the Colts RZ scores right there, so be looking for that Luck-to-Ebron hookup as a potential focus for Frank Reich and his play-calling.

And this is where it gets very one-sided.

The Chiefs are nearly pathetic in the red zone defensively. They’ve allowed 42 touchdowns on their opponent’s 58 trips inside the 20-yard line, for a whopping touchdown rate of 72.4%. That’s ‘good’ for 31st in the league, and that’s not going to be a good thing when they bang heads against the Colts’ 5th ranked red zone offense.

Just like any other statistic, or trend, either one of the these teams could flip their regular season numbers upside down. The Colts could struggle in the red zone offensively, and the Chiefs’ defense could look phenomenal for one game. Or the Colts’ defense could put a stop to the Chiefs offensive efficiency inside the 20 as well — you never can really know what to expect in the post season.

The Colts haven’t really given up too many big-yardage plays throughout the season and that will be key in stopping the league’s top offense as well. If the Chiefs do march down the field with some consistency, forcing field goals — as they’ve done all year long — would be imperative to Indy’s hope for success.

Also noteworthy is that the Chiefs are dead last in the NFL in allowing plays of 20 yards or more (65), but were also tied for the league lead in sacks as well (52) so there will be a fine line in how the Colts can attack deep in between the twenties, but also go after their defensive weaknesses in the red zone.

This will be a massive test for the Colts, but if anyone is counting them out, well, they’re just ignoring the major potholes in the Chiefs’ game and choosing to solely rely on their offense to get them through to the AFC Championship.

This is setting up to be one of the most exciting games of Divisional weekend.