By Sam McPherson
It ass an ugly game two weeks ago at Arrowhead Stadium, and now the Kansas City Chiefs need to rebound from a 2-5 finish to the 2013 regular season if they want to extend their 2013 postseason.
In Week 16, the Chiefs hosted the Indianapolis Colts in a regular-season contest that had major playoff implications, and the Chiefs came up flat, losing 23-7. Kansas City goes on the road to Indy now in a playoff matchup Saturday to see if they can reverse recent history and make a run to the team's first Super Bowl appearance since the 1960s.
Both teams finished with 11-5 records, but Indy will host as they are the AFC South division champions.
After starting out the season on a 9-0 run, the Chiefs came back to reality with a weaker second half, but Kansas City is still a strong enough club to beat the Colts this weekend.
First, there's the old football adage that defense wins championships, and the Chiefs tied for fifth in the NFL this season for the fewest points allowed, giving up just 19.1 points per game. Yes, the team struggled more defensively with star pass rusher Justin Houston injured late in the season, but Kansas City's +18 turnover differential this year was the second-best mark in the league.
Strangely, the Chiefs defense finished just 24th in total yards allowed, but the ball-hawking defense enabled the team to keep opponents from scoring a lot. They'll need to force turnovers to beat Andrew Luck and the Colts in Lucas Oil Stadium this weekend.
Unfortunately, Indianapolis was the second-best team in the AFC this season in that same category with a +13 effort, and the Colts actually turned the ball over the least amount of times in the conference in 2013 (10 interceptions with just four fumbles lost).
Perhaps it will simply come down to which team has the best turnover fortune in this game, as the bounce of the ball can sometimes be fickle as any NFL fan knows.
Second, the Colts defense isn't very good, so offensively-minded Kansas City head coach Andy Reid should open his bag of genius and unleash perhaps the league's best player any way possible against Indianapolis: running back Jamaal Charles had 1980 total yards this season, and the Chiefs need to ride the best player on the field Saturday as hard as they can.
The Colts only gave up ten yards less per game than the Chiefs, while surrendering two more points per contest. That doesn't seem to be a lot on paper, but considering what Charles did to the similarly-ranked Oakland Raiders defense on the road a few weeks ago when he caught four touchdown passes and gained almost 200 yards in receiving, Kansas City needs that kind of lightning from its star running back to win on the road.
In the end, however, this game will come down to whether or not the Chiefs defense can stop the Colts offense: in the loss to Indy in Week 16, Kansas City's defense couldn't get Luck and his friends off the field. Alex Smith and the Chiefs offense had the ball for only 21:40, and the KC defenders were on the field for a long time that day.
The Colts offense was 8-for-19 in third- and fourth-down conversions combined, and Luck guided four drives of nine plays or more that took 23:27 off the clock and led to nine points total (three FGs). That kind of ball control just can't happen again if the Chiefs want to advance to the divisional playoffs.
So look for Kansas City to get back to its own ball-control offense with a lot of Charles and just enough Smith mixed in to keep Luck off the field on Saturday.
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