Wild card weekend has traditionally been one of the most exciting of the entire NFL season, even to a casual fan who may not have a rooting interest in either of the four matchups that will shape the rest of the postseason. The stakes are high, and for the most part, the scores are completely unpredictable. Saturday's afternoon game will pit two of the AFC's more intriguing teams against one another, both of which could potentially travel to Foxborough next week to face the second-seeded New England Patriots.
On paper, the fifth-seeded Chiefs and fourth-seeded Colts have quite a bit in common. They both posted records of 11-5, with six of Indianapolis' wins coming at home, and six of Kansas City's wins coming on the road. Steady veteran Alex Smith and vaunted second year pro Andrew Luck put up identical numbers in two of the three major passing categories, each throwing for 23 touchdowns on the season while completing passes at a very respectable 60 percent clip. Both quarterbacks lead offenses (and conversely benefit from defenses), that sit atop the league in both takeaways and giveaways. The Chiefs finished the season second in the NFL in turnovers produced, with 36, and second in the league in turnover differential, at plus-18. Indianapolis led the league in turnovers on offense, giving the ball away just 14 times, and produced 27 turnovers for a differential of plus-13, four of which came against Kansas City. Both teams have question marks along the offensive line. Luck and Smith combined to be sacked 42, and 47 times, respectfully- – both ranking in the bottom half of the league.
But here's the thing: the stats don't matter. The coaches know it. The players know it. The only factor that truly counts in postseason play is execution, and the best indicator of such is how well teams play down the stretch.
That's where these two teams couldn't be more different. Kansas City started the season as the Cinderella story of the NFL. A team that had only won two games in the entirety of the 2012 season and was starting over at both quarterback, with Alex Smith, and at the most important position of all, tying it's wagon to recently expunged head coach Andy Reid of the Philadelphia Eagles. The Chiefs won their first nine games and looked to be a legitimate threat to challenge Denver for the AFC West crown.
Since that point, the Chiefs have lost five-of-seven overall, including each of the last two regular season games. Granted, management took a conservative approach into the postseason, opting to rest key players including Dwayne Bowe (concussion) and linebacker Justin Houston (elbow), while putting very little stock into the seeding carousel that is the final week of the regular season. Untimely injuries and inconsistent play on a once feared defense were the storylines behind KC's less than inspiring finish. Through the first nine games of the season, the Chiefs allowed just 12.3 points per game- good for the best mark in the NFL. In the last seven games, that number has ballooned to 27.7 points per game, closer to the league average.
Worthwhile storyline or not, Reid won't allow his players to have the mindset that previous games have any bearing on the one still to play. "It's the start of a new season. That's how the playoffs work," said Reid. "You're in the dance, as they say. It's another phase of the season. You've worked very hard as a team to get into this position. Now it's important that you exhaust yourself to make sure you're right."
To have any hope of advancing, Chiefs fans will hope that the new season their head coach alluded to more resembles the first half of the season as opposed to the second half.
Indianapolis on the other hand, seems to be hitting it's stride at just the right time. The Colts are winners of three straight, including a week 16 victory over Sunday's foe, Kansas City. Luck improved to 2-0 versus the Chiefs, completing 26 of 37 passes for 241 yards and one touchdown. Luck is still a very young player, having lost his first postseason start last year to the eventual Super-Bowl Champion Ravens, but the confidence of having two important wins over Saturday's opponent could provide the QB with a mental edge.
Prediction: In the NFL, it's wise to ride the hot hand, but expect Kansas City's defense to return to form with a healthy Justin Houston, and the potential return of pro-bowler Tamba Hali. Call it a gut feeling.
- Monitoring Wes Welker’s Status for Sunday Night
- Keeping Tabs on New England Patriots’ Divisional Rivals
- Patriots Storm Back to Overcome 24-Point Halftime Deficit
Short URL: http://sport-ne.ws/16cl