The career paths of No. 1 overall picks Andrew Luck and Alex Smith both diverted as soon as they started their first NFL games.
Luck will make his second postseason start in as many career seasons, and it will be Smith’s third in eight years when the Kansas Chiefs take on the Indianapolis Colts in Saturday’s AFC wild card game at Lucas Oil Stadium.
It took Smith far longer to live up to the hype associated with being the No. 1 pick back in 2005. Saturday will be the fifth time in playoff history two No. 1 picks have met. The last time was Smith versus New York Giant Eli Manning back in 2011's NFC title game. New York would win 20-17 in overtime.
Coming out of Utah, Smith struggled with his accuracy and a coaching carousel, but found his groove in his final three years in San Francisco until he was traded to the Chiefs before the season began. He had two career playoff starts both in 2011, totaling five touchdown passes, 495 yards, and a 101.0 passer rating.
Luck immediately lived up to the hype and takes the Colts into the playoffs for a second straight year. Indianapolis reclaimed the AFC South after a two-year absence and was even in line for a first-round bye as the regular season wound down. Still, Luck played like a rookie in his first postseason start last year, completing 28 of 54 passes for 288 yards and one interception in a 24-9 loss to eventual champion Baltimore.
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Smith hasn’t been asked to do too much this season but deliver the ball to running back Jamaal Charles and give the Chiefs talented defense a breather on the sidelines. Charles gained more than 1,900 all-purpose yards and 19 touchdowns, and also led the Chiefs in receiving with 70 receptions.
K.C.’s defense was stalled by injuries in the second half of the season, after bursting out of the gate with a dominant pass rush. Linebacker Justin Houston (elbow) is expected to return to the lineup, but linebacker Tamba Hali (knee) remains a game-time decision.
Charles might have some difficulty gaining yardage with starting right tackle Eric Fisher ruled out with groin and shoulder injuries. Fourth-year lineman Geoff Schwartz is behind Fisher on the Chiefs depth chart, but guard Branden Albert is expected to slide over after missing the last four weeks with a hyperextended knee, according to NFL.com.
The Colts finished the regular season 26th against the run, allowing 125.1 yards per game and 14 total touchdowns. Indianapolis couldn’t contain Charles’s 106 yards in Week 16, but instead sacked Smith five times and allowed one third down conversion in the 23-7 victory.
Luck went 26-for-37 for 241 yards and one touchdown, with running back Donald Brown stepping up with 110 total yards from scrimmage and two touchdowns.
Brown has fared far better than fellow running back Trent Richardson, who’s proven a disappoint thus far after Indianapolis traded a first-round pick for him back in September. Brown led the Colts with 537 rushing yards on 102 attempts, compared to 458 yards on 157 carries for Richardson.
After Reggie Wayne was lost for the season with an ACL tear, receiver T.Y. Hilton has been Luck’s top target all season, with 82 receptions for 1,083 yards and five touchdowns, followed by tight end Coby Fleener’s 52 catches for 608 yards and four scores.
The Colts are arguably the healthiest team entering the playoffs, with only second-string defensive end Fill Moala (knee) and starting nose tackle Aubrayo Frankling (knee) listed as questionable on the injury report.
Betting Odds: Indianapolis favored by 1
Over/Under: 46.5 points
Time: Saturday, 4:35 p.m. ET
TV Channel: NBC
Live Online Info: SNF All Access here
Prediction: Indianapolis 24, Chiefs 20