The Indianapolis Colts will host the Kansas City Chiefs to kick off the 2014 NFL Playoffs. The matchup comes just two weeks after the two teams last met at Arrowhead Stadium. The Colts won handily, 23-7, with help from an uncharacteristically sloppy performance by the Chiefs. If the Chiefs are to make amends for the loss, step one will be holding on to the ball. They turned the ball over four times in Week 16.
Both teams enter the game coming off 11-5 seasons, but the Colts are arguably hotter. Over the last seven weeks of the season, the Colts won five games while the Chiefs lost five. There is no underestimating the power of a proverbial chip on the shoulder, however. The Chiefs should be fired up for revenge.
Meet the Colts
There's no question that the Colts have been playing inspired football as of late, particularly on defense. After surrendering 42 points to the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 14, they proceeded to give up just three, seven and 10 points to the Houston Texans, Chiefs and Jacksonville Jaguars, respectively. Robert Mathis has been the unit's biggest catalyst for success, with an NFL-leading 19.5 sacks this season.
The Colts are a middle-of-the-road team offensively, averaging 341.8 yards and 24.4 points per game. The Colts have made up for humdrum production by being excellent at taking care of the ball. Their 14 giveaways this season are the fewest in the NFL by significant margin. Andrew Luck is averaging just 6.7 yards per attempt, but he has just nine interceptions to 23 touchdown passes.
Meet the Chiefs
The Chiefs have followed a similar recipe for success as the Colts this season. They rank second in the NFL with just 18 giveaways, and also have a stout defense. The Chiefs ranks fifth in the NFL giving up 19.1 yards per games (the Colts are ninth at 21.0 PPG). They are also excellent at rushing the passer, with 47 sacks to rank sixth in the NFL (the Colts are 11th with 42).
Key to the Chiefs' success Saturday could be the return of defensive end Justin Houston. He had 11 sacks before suffering an elbow injury in Week 12. The Chiefs' defense has struggled since. They had not given up more than 17 points in any outing until Houston got hurt. Over the Chiefs' final six games, they gave up totals of 41, 35, 31, 23 and 24 points in regulation.
The offense is Jamaal Charles' territory. He had at least 120 yards from scrimmage in each of the Chiefs' final five games. If Kansas City puts up a lot of points, Charles will almost certainly be the culprit. Alex Smith, like Luck, has been sturdy, with just seven interceptions to his 23 touchdowns. He is also averaging a less-than sterling 6.53 YPA.
Local Takes: Colts
Brad Wells at Colts blog Stampede Blue has been critical of the Colts' coaching staff this season, but he has been impressed by the Chucak Pagano's coaching job late in the year:
After stating in early December that he wanted the Colts to start playing tough, "lunch pail" football to close out the regular season, his team proceeded to get its ass handed to them thoroughly by the Bengals. Pagano, who so insanely emphasizes running the ball and stopping the run in a league where both don't equate to winning, was made to look foolish. It was hard to listen to him during press conferences and not think, this guy has no clue. But, since that game, Pagano and his offensive coordinator, Pep Hamilton, have done what many other coaches often fail to do when seasons appear to spiral out of control.
They swallowed their pride, changed the team in several key ways, and coached their butts off.
Local Takes: Chiefs
2. Turnovers, turnovers, turnovers
Two weeks ago against Indianapolis, the Chiefs turned the ball over four times while dropping two easy interceptions. Kansas City can't afford to lose the turnover battle, having feasted on other team's mistakes all year.
Alex Smith had an uncharacteristic game in the aforementioned contest, throwing a pick and fumbling twice. If the Chiefs can protect Smith and the ball, they should be in good shape.
Hell, here is a proclamation: If Kansas City wins the turnover battle, they will win the game, guaranteed.
Follow the Fun
Add these fine follows to your Twitter timeline:
Just declined a trip with some old pals because the Chiefs will be playing in the Super Bowl that weekend— Arrowhead Pride (@ArrowheadPride) December 31, 2013
Adam Vinatieri went 4-6 on FGs longer than 50 this year and made more FGs from 40-49 than anyone else (14-17). One of his best seasons ever.— Brad Wells (BBS) (@StampedeBlue) December 31, 2013
@adamteicher -- Chiefs beat writer
More from Charles: "I know what’s at stake. I really want this. I really want to go far. If I have to put the team on my back, I will.''— Adam Teicher (@adamteicher) December 31, 2013
@mchappell51 -- Colts beat writer
Worth noting. #colts 3-0 all-time in playoffs vs. Chiefs. 23-8 in '06 SB run, 38-31 in '03 playoffs, 10-7 in '95 Ice Bowl— Mike Chappell (@mchappell51) December 31, 2013
SB Nation's panel of six NFL experts was divided on this one. Three picked the Chiefs -- Ryan Van Bibber, Joel Thorman and Stephen White -- while three picked the Colts -- David Fucillo, Jason Chilton and Matt Ufford. For the full wild card picks, go here.
The Colts opened the week as 1-point favorites, and are now favored by as many as 3 on some sports books, according to OddsShark.
The NFL playoffs re-seed after each round, so winner of Saturday's game could theoretically play the No. 1 seed Denver Broncos or the No. 2 seed New England Patriots in the Divisional round next Sunday or Saturday, respectively. If the No. 3 seed Cincinnati Bengals beat the No. 6 seed San Diego Chargers this Sunday, the winner of Chiefs-Colts will play the Broncos. If the Chargers upset the Bengals, the Colts-Chiefs winner will play the Pats.