The Indianapolis Colts seek their second win over the Kansas City Chiefs in the last three weeks when the clubs clash in Saturday afternoon’s AFC wild card matchup at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Quarterback Andrew Luck and the Colts have won three straight, but actually wrapped up the AFC South weeks ago and fell just short of a first round bye with wins over Houston, K.C., and Jacksonville. Indianapolis would have been the No. 3 seed had they defeated Cincinnati in Week 14.
The Chiefs have been mired in injury for several weeks, and haven’t looked like the squad that began the year 9-0. Kansas City lost five of their last seven games with top pass rushers Tamba Hali (knee) and Justin Houston (dislocated elbow) and receiver Dwayne Bowe either out or limited by injury.
The Chiefs welcome back Bowe and Houston, while Hali’s status, as well as left tackle Eric Fisher’s, remains unclear.
The Chiefs rested most of their starters during last week’s 27-24 overtime loss to San Diego, hoping to dispel their injury woes. Kansas City will need their health against a Colts squad that was 6-2 at home this season and has given up two touchdowns in the last three weeks.
There are be three keys to this game, pertinent to both teams, and they begin with running back Jamaal Charles.
Only Hope To Contain Him
Charles accounted for more than 1,900 yards from scrimmage this season, and scored the Chiefs only touchdown in the Week 16 23-7 loss to Indianapolis. Even with the Kansas City offense limited to a 1-for-8 third down conversion rate, Charles rushed for 106 yards and caught five balls for another 38 yards.
If it weren’t for Peyton Manning’s recording 55 touchdown passes, Charles would be the favorite for league MVP and represents the biggest threat to Indianapolis’s 20 th ranked defense. The Colts have especially struggled against the run, allowing 125.1 rushing yards per game.
The Chiefs loss can be directly attributed to their four turnovers, including two lost fumbles by quarterback Alex Smith. Feeding Charles should limit K.C.’s turnovers and keep Luck and the Indianapolis offense off the field.
The return of Bowe certainly provides a solid distraction for Charles. Bowe recorded 40 receptions for 463 yards and three touchdowns in Kansas City wins this season.
Strike Early, Often
The Colts last loss came in Week 14, a 42-28 letdown at Cincinnati that saw the offense misfire on its first six possessions and go 2-for-10 on third down.
Neither K.C. (34.7 percent, 27 th ) nor Indianapolis (37.6 percent, 15 th) has been especially deft on third down this year, but the Chiefs were fifth in the NFL at stymieing the critical down.
Luck’s made his name early on with comebacks, but he’ll try to get the Chiefs down early. Running back Trent Richardson also needs to pick up his play. Thus far a major disappoint, Richardson’s scored one touchdown in the last 12 games of the season and has averaged 3.0 yards per carry this season.
Keep QBs Upright
The Indianapolis offensive line let up 32.0 total sacks this season, the sixth best mark in the NFL, and the Kansas City pass rush accumulated 47.0 sacks, also sixth best in the NFL. In the first eight games of the season Luck was taken down 19 times, and but since then the Colts o-line has let up one or fewer sacks in six of the final eight games of the season.
The Chiefs were first in the NFL and were on pace to remain on top in sacks until Hali and Houston went down. Houston hasn’t played since the Week 12 41-38 loss to San Diego, and hasn’t notched a sack since Week Eight against Cleveland.
Hali sat out last week’s game, and while banged up he’s still expected to play despite missing practice on Wednesday. Hali has two sacks in his last eight games and both he and Houston might have the most critical role on Saturday.
The Colts weren’t far behind with defensive end Robert Matthis leading the NFL with 19.5 sacks, and his running mates in Jerrell Freeman and Cory Redding are far healthier than K.C.’s frontline.
K.C.’s Smith was sacked 39 times this season, five of which came in the Indianapolis loss.
Betting Odds: Indianapolis -3
Over/Under: 47 points
Time: Saturday, 4:35 p.m. ET
Prediction: Indianapolis 24, Kansas City 20