The Chiefs are the favorite in their Divisional Round playoff showdown with the Colts. But Indianapolis will have a great equalizer in its corner: a whole bunch of snow.
Before the game, forecasts in Kansas City suggested Winter Storm Gia could coat Kansas City and the rest of western Missouri with between three to eight inches of snow before Saturday’s 3:35 p.m. CT kickoff. That downfall could continue throughout the first half, according to AccuWeather.
While up to half of a foot of snow could accumulate across the Kansas City area through Saturday morning, only a few flurries will remain when the Colts take on the Chiefs that afternoon: https://t.co/fwAp9U5bg8 pic.twitter.com/pE4EUzFn8h— AccuWeather (@breakingweather) January 11, 2019
Here’s what it looked like early Saturday morning at Arrowhead Stadium:
Here’s your seat for Patrick Mahomes first career playoff game. Enjoy. It’s 7 am in KC. Crews have been working all morning trying to remove the snow from the stands. #nflnetwork pic.twitter.com/McyYA4Ua8L— James Palmer (@JamesPalmerTV) January 12, 2019
Not that that deterred Chiefs fans from arriving early to tailgate:
A couple hours before kickoff, the snow was still coming down:
They're taking the tarp off the field at Arrowhead Stadium. pic.twitter.com/gYB9vSZbg5— Adam Teicher (@adamteicher) January 12, 2019
That looks pretty bad, but by the time kickoff arrived, Arrowhead Stadium was ready for some playoff football:
For all the snow in the area, the field doesn’t look too bad 30 minutes before kickoff. Both teams have headed to the locker room for final instructions. The divisional playoffs at Arrowhead Stadium kick off soon. #Colts pic.twitter.com/z375PktAci— George Bremer (@gmbremer) January 12, 2019
How it’ll affect the game remains to be seen, but Colts offensive guard Quenton Nelson was clearly unbothered:
What’s that mean for the Colts, who are used to playing indoors?
That combination of cold and swirling snow will create two factors that could hamper the Chiefs’ explosive passing game — and give Indianapolis an alarming change of scenery from the heated air of Lucas Oil Stadium.
For the Colts, that meant a handful of outdoor practices leading up to their biggest game of the season, though head coach Frank Reich wasn’t sweating the anticipated precipitation.
“I try to stay the mindset of whatever the weather is, it’s to the advantage of the best team,” Reich said at his mid-week press conference. So I just believe that travels. I believe that’s the way to approach it. That’s always how I have thought about it.
When he was asked whether the snow would benefit Indianapolis and its powerful running game, the first-year head coach demurred to an entirely uncontroversial answer.
“I literally think whatever the weather is, it favors the best team.’’
The Colts played 10 games indoors this season, going 8-2 in those games. They played seven games in outdoor environments on the road, where they went 3-4.
If it snows Saturday afternoon, several members of Reich’s roster will have to play through the still-fresh memory of the NFL’s last big snow game. The 2017 Colts played more than 68 minutes of football atop on ivory blanket last December, eventually falling to the Bills in overtime.
This 2018 Indianapolis team is light years away from than the 2017 version that finished 4-12, thanks to the return of Andrew Luck and the emergence of a bruising running game. Second-year tailback Marlon Mack has rushed for 440 yards and five touchdowns in his last four games, including a 148-yard performance in the Wild Card Round against Houston. He had just seven carries for 23 yards in the club’s snow game in Buffalo.
And if the past is any indication, the weather won’t be much of a concern for the Colts. According to FOX59 reporter Mike Chappell, Indianapolis is 7-8 in games where the temperature is 32 degrees Fahrenheit or colder at kickoff — but 3-0 against the Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium in those conditions.
Still, getting past Patrick Mahomes is going to be a nightmare
Mahomes’ first year as a starter saw him develop into 2018’s likely MVP, and his pace didn’t slow much as the weather grew colder. He threw for 13 touchdowns and averaged more than 293 yards per game over the course of five December games this season, including a 374-yard, two-touchdown, one-interception performance against the Ravens’ top-ranked defense on a 27-degree afternoon at Arrowhead Stadium.
There’s no telling how a little extra precipitation will affect his passing game, but Mahomes has stood up to tougher challenges in the past. His biggest concern Saturday may not be the weather, but erasing 25+ years of postseason struggle in Kansas City. The Chiefs are 1-10 in the postseason since 1994 — and four of those losses have come against the Colts.