The Kansas City Chiefs and the Indianapolis Colts are near mirror images of each other. They both combine turnover-adverse offenses with stout red zone defenses featuring elite pass rushers. The Colts don't have an offensive playmaker to match the magnificence of Jamaal Charles, but the offense has been humming the last three weeks behind Andrew Luck in a win streak that includes a takedown of the Chiefs in Week 15.
If the Chiefs hope to exact revenge, they'll need to hold on to the ball (something that wasn't a problem in 15 other games this season) and protect Alex Smith better than they did in Week 15, where they gave up five sacks. With that said, here are a few players to watch for both teams who may need to have big games if either team is to advance to the Divisional Round of the playoffs.
Brandon Albert, LT
Albert versus Mathis may be the most important matchup of the game. Albert has been a quality starter for the Chiefs this season and was graded positively by Pro Football Focus. There hasn't been a more difficult matchup for left tackles than Robert Mathis this season, however, as he had a league-leading 19.5 sacks during the regular season, including one against Kansas City two weeks ago. Albert will need to be on top of his game if the Chiefs are going to move the ball.
Dexter McCluster, RB/WR/PR/KR
This year, McCluster is having one of the all-time best seasons by a punt returner. His 686 yards during the regular season rank first in the NFL and fourth all-time by a single return man. He was bottled up for just 23 yards on three returns two weeks ago, however. If McCluster gets loose, he could change the complexion of Saturday's game quickly.
Eric Berry, S
Like McCluster, Eric Berry has the ability to shift the game's momentum with a single play. Kansas City's pass rush should be at full strength with Justin Houston returning. Berry will have to make the most of whatever opportunities he has to take the ball away from a cautious Luck. Houston combined with Tamba Hali and Dontari Poe will do their part to make sure Luck has little time to scan the field.
Donald Brown, RB
The Chiefs own one of the strongest red zone defenses in the NFL. The unit is allowing teams to enter the red zone just over twice per game. Once there, teams come away touchdown just 51 percent of the time. Donald Brown may be the Colts' best weapon against the Chiefs' clamp-down defense, however. Brown is an adept pass catcher, and he has been stronger runner between the tackles this season, averaging 5.3 yards per carry. His versatility could be key as the Colts approach the goal line.
T.Y. Hilton, WR
T.Y. Hilton wasn't the superstar that fantasy owners hoped he would be as the Colts' top wideout. Not that a 1,000-plus yards receiving season is anything to sneeze at, but Hilton's big performances were interlaced with disappearing acts. Against the Chiefs two weeks ago he was efficient but unspectacular, catching five of seven targets for 52 yards. He will need to do better against an aggressive defense that gives up a league-high 11.9 yards per completion. Completing passes against the Chiefs is a difficult task, but there are yards to be had after the catch.
Jerrell Freeman, LB
Jamaal Charles averaged 8.2 yards per carry against the Colts two weeks ago, but had just 13 carries with the Chiefs throwing more often to dig themselves out of sizable turnover-induced deficit. Assuming turnovers regress to the mean, Charles will be touching the ball much more often, leaving the tall task of slowing him down to Jerrell Freeman and company. Stopping Charles will take a team effort, but Freeman gets singled out as the team's leading tackler. He's a plus-run stopper according to Pro Football Focus, and if he can limit Charles' yards beyond the line of scrimmage, the Colts will have a great chance of advancing pas the wild card round.