Any of the three teams that could have been facing the Chiefs this week would have made for an interesting story. However, the Indianapolis Colts are perhaps the most fascinating for me. Turning your season around from a 1-5 start to make the playoffs at 10-6 is simply incredible. The only other team in history to win a playoff game after starting the season 1-5? The 2015 Kansas City Chiefs.
Now the Colts head to Arrowhead to face a superb offensive unit in the Patrick Mahomes led Chiefs. Even with snow predicted their is a chance this game gets wild in Arrowhead.
A quick history of these two in the playoffs. The Colts are 4-0 when facing the Chiefs in the playoffs and that includes one of the most stunning playoff victory I have ever witnesses. In 2013 the Chiefs were blowing out the Colts at 38-10, only for Andrew Luck to lead the Colts to a 45-44 victory. That was the second-largest comeback in postseason history and it will surely be burned into the memory of Chiefs coach Andy Reid.
Home Field Advantage?
While that incredible comeback happened in Indianapolis the Chiefs also have a shaky history at home in Arrowhead. They have lost their last six postseason home games, the longest such streak in NFL history. In fact they have not won a home playoff game since 1993, with Joe Montana under centre.
Interestingly, these two teams have struggled to beat the other at home recently. In all of their last four regular-season meetings, the road team has come out on top. After all the talk of the race for the #1 seed we have a situation where home field may not be that big of an advantage in this game. However, that might not be the case if we see snow and the wind picks up. The Colts are ultimately a dome team and weather could be a factor. However, it is not like we have a rich history of this Chiefs offence in bad weather games either.
Additionally, Arrowhead is not a place to be taken lightly. Their fans are incredible and that place gets really loud. Luck is going to have trouble communicating and he is likely not going to have the benefit of his snap count to keep that defence off balance. However, if this game gets tight and the demons of the past start rising from the ashes the Colts may be able to spread doubt among that crowd. It will then be somewhat on the fans to fight through the panic and continue to try and inspire and help their team to victory.
The Battle in the Trenches
There is no surprise that the lines are going to be key in this game. They always are in playoff football. However, in a game with two generational talents under centre, it may seem weird the amount of emphasis I am going to put on offensive line play. For as bad as the passing statistics look for the Chiefs, they tied for the lead in sacks this season, with 52. They have constantly managed to get pressure on opposing quarterbacks and force them to rush throws. It does go kind of hand-in-hand that when you have a transcendent offence that you will also give up passing yards and get sacks, but even saying it has been clear on the tape. Chris Jones has 15.5 sacks this season and has been a constant force in the face of opposing quarterbacks. However, when opponents have had time they have shredded that secondary.
On the other side we have the Colts offensive line. They stopped Luck from being hit for five straight games. They also gave up the lowest amount of sacks in the league (18). If they can control the Chiefs defensive line luck could have a monster day. If they cannot then this could be a walkover for the Chiefs.
This carries on from the part above about the battle in the trenches. The Colts managed to sack the opposing quarterback 38 times this season. Meanwhile the Chiefs gave up 26, but many of them were attributed to Patrick Mahomes. Mahomes mobile style means he can escape a lot but sometimes it can also bring trouble. Most of the time the benefit outweighs the negatives but sometimes Mahomes does run himself into trouble, or try to do too much.
The key for the Colts will be keeping Mahomes in the pocket. It will be hard for the Chiefs to continuously break big plays if Mahomes is not running around wildly behind the line of scrimmage. They can still do it but the Colts defence has a better chance of stopping it. When Mahomes starts scrambling and receivers start going off script it becomes hard to stay with the speedy receivers the Chiefs have. So many big plays for the Chiefs this year have come with Mahomes extending the play and one of his receivers getting open. Therefore, the Colts defensive line need to do the almost impossible. Not give Mahomes time to stand in the pocket and throw, but also stop him escaping. Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa struggled to do it at times so that shows you how hard it will be.
Run Run Run
As always for me it comes back to the run game. The Chiefs have the sixth best rushing attack in terms of yards per attempt. However, they have the 23rd most rushing attempts. For a team which has led a lot this season that is a bit strange. We have seen the Colts lose games this year because they seemingly refuse to just hand the ball off and chew clock. The games against the Patriots, Rams and Chargers all had elements of clock mismanagement. That is a new accusation to levy against Andy Reid as a head coach, but the Colts are an offence that you cannot leave a single morsel of opportunity for if you want to beat them.
For the Colts the run game is key for a couple of reasons. We have talked about the pass rush and how they need to negate it. Well a good run game helps you do that for sure. Secondly, they also need to keep the ball out of Mahomes hands as much as possible. The best way to do that is to chew clock and churn the run game. The Chiefs ranks 31st in rushing yards per attempt surrendered and the Colts just ran all over the third best rushing defence. They need to commit to the run again this week, even if they are behind early.
The Mahomes Factor
You do not need me to tell you that Mahomes is good. The numbers speak for themselves. The Chiefs have scored over 25 points in all 17 games he has started. Mahomes threw for a league leading 50 touchdowns and averaged 8.1 net yards per pass.
The other aspect is how Mahomes has fared against zone coverage. No one runs zone defence a higher proportion of the time than the Colts. Evan Silva published on twitter that, when facing predominantly zone defences this year Mahomes has 14 touchdowns and zero interceptions. However, his numbers efficiency wise against zone are slightly down on his season numbers. Part of that will be due to the main aspect of Cover 2 defence being to take away big plays down the field. However, some of it will also be that the Cover 2 schemes stops when defender having to stay with the speedy Hill and that also has an effect on efficiency numbers.
The Final Word
The Colts are 10-1 in their last 11 games and have beaten six of those opponents by at least 14 points. However, they have also lost every game this season when their opponents have scored over 28 points. The counter to that is that in the last 11 games they have not allowed any of their opponents to score more points and their defence has improved through the season.
The Chiefs come into the game as 5.5 point favourites, and with that line I like the Colts. I think Luck is going to be able to throw all over this defence and score plenty of points. My feeling is that the Colts could win this game and therefore I will happily take them getting the points. In terms of the over/under, set at 56, with the potential for snow that might be a stay away for me until I see what the weather is like on the day.
I think the Chiefs will just have enough at home to prevail in this one, but it certainly will not be comfortable. It would not surprise me in the slightest if next week we are talking about the Colts on the road again in the Championship game. A season which turned from horror show to fairy tale could still have a couple more chapters left in it.
Photo credit: Chicago Tribune