The Kansas City Chiefs and the Indianapolis Colts will square off on Sunday afternoon at Arrowhead Stadium with playoff implications abound.
Kansas City comes in 11-3 and behind the Denver Broncos for the AFC West by virtue of tiebreak alone. The Chiefs have locked up a playoff spot and can't fall any lower than the No. 5 seed. With one more win over the last two games than the Broncos, Kansas City would be the No. 1 seed in the conference.
Indianapolis has already clinched the AFC South, guaranteeing it a home game and no worse than the No. 4 seed. If the playoffs started today, the Colts and Chiefs would be pitted against each other and playing at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Meet the Colts
Andrew Luck is the lifeblood of this team. Luck has thrown for only 3,299 yards on a 58.7 percent completion percentage, but has made the big plays when needed. Under offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton, Indianapolis has tried to become a more ball-control, power offense team, which has hurt Luck's numbers.
However, the second-year pro is still getting the job done even without Reggie Wayne, who was lost for the season back in October with a torn ACL. Luck's top target is T.Y. Hilton, who has 66 catches and 876 yards on the year. Former Stanford teammate Coby Fleener has also been productive with 49 receptions and 575 yards.
The defense is shaky, but Robert Mathis is not. The 32-year-old has 16.5 sacks on the season, leading the NFL. Mathis has been able to do all of it without much help pressuring the quarterback. The next highest sack total on the Colts belongs to Cory Redding and Jerrell Freeman, who each have 3.5.
Meet the Chiefs
Over the first 10 weeks, Kansas City scored more than 30 points once. In the last four games, the Chiefs have scored 35 points or more on three times and 28 points on the other occasion. An major reason for the resurgent offense is the offensive line, which has begun to gel with the emergence of rookie right tackle Eric Fisher and the insertion of Geoff Schwartz into the starting lineup.
Alex Smith has played very well behind the big uglies, amassing a career-high 23 touchdowns against only six interceptions. Smith has thrown for 3,160 yards on a 60.8 completion percentage, very similar to Luck's numbers. Of course, Smith has Jamaal Charles to help carry the load. Charles is having one of the best seasons a running back has ever enjoyed, totaling 1,836 yards from scrimmage and an NFL-leading 18 touchdowns.
Defensively, the Chiefs are led by Tamba Hali and Justin Houston, when healthy. Houston has been out the previous three game but could return this Sunday. Hali and Houston each have 11 sacks to lead the team, aided by nose tackle Dontari Poe's 4.5 sacks. Derrick Johnson leads in tackles with 102 while Eric Berry is second with 66 to go with 3.5 sacks, three interceptions and two touchdowns.
Local take: Indianapolis
Whalen's impact on the game was made even more impressive by how, just a week prior, he'd been on the practice squad. All season long, Whalen has floated between the Colts active roster, their practice squad, and unemployment. Like his follow, one-time practice squad mate Da'Rick Rogers, who was himself elevated to the active roster recently, Whalen is making the most of his opportunities.
Local take: Kansas City
Joel Thorman of Arrowhead Pride discusses the upcoming week and what to expect:
The Colts have demonstrated a higher ceiling this year than the Chiefs, beating the 49ers, Seahawks and Broncos. They've also lost to Miami and St. Louis. Outside of one three-game winning streak at the end of September, the Colts have alternated weeks with a win and then a loss, a win and then a loss, and so on. Last week? They won, so if the trend holds, the Chiefs will win. I guess the Chiefs consistency could win this round.
Follow the fun
Add these fine follows to your Twitter timeline:
2013 NFL Playoff Scenarios: Colts Have A Shot At No. 2 Seed http://t.co/R68o2AQbHG— Brad Wells (BBS) (@StampedeBlue) December 18, 2013
No surprise: Jamaal Charles named AFC offensive player of the week http://t.co/QyOVeafV2o— Arrowhead Pride (@ArrowheadPride) December 18, 2013
Kansas City has been on an offensive roll lately, and should be able to keep it going against a suspect Indianapolis defense. Alex Smith has thrown 12 touchdowns and completed over 69 percent of his passes over the past four games, perhaps turning a major corner. Of course, there is Jamaal Charles who is leading the league with 18 touchdowns. Andrew Luck will get his yardage against a Chiefs defense who all of a sudden can't rush the quarterback, but it won't be enough.
Pick: Kansas City 34, Indianapolis 24
The Chiefs are favored by 7.5 points at home. The over/under is 44, according to Oddsshark.com.