Indianapolis Colts (10-6) at Kansas City Chiefs (12-4)
Saturday, January 12th, 4:35 pm EST.
It’s not often that a one-seed plays a six-seed and there’s this much question as to who has the advantage.
The Chiefs started out screaming, winning nine of their first ten games, with the lone loss coming against New England in week six. But a late season slide put their number one seed in jeopardy, and their soft defense, especially against the run has made them look more vulnerable against playoff-caliber teams. The Chiefs did just enough to hang on to the number one seed, though. So, when they host the Colts in Arrowhead Stadium on Saturday, it will be a chance for redemption for a Kansas City team that has seemed snake-bitten in the playoffs recently. In their five previous seasons under Andy Reid, the Chiefs have made the playoffs every year except 2014, when they went 9-7, but missed out on a wildcard berth. Despite that string of successful regular season campaigns, the Chiefs have struggled once they’re in, winning only one out of five playoff games. This year, they’ll look for MVP-in waiting Patrick Mahomes to light up the scoreboard and out pace Andrew Luck. For them to win, Mahomes will need to do his part. The Chiefs defense is soft, allowing more points than almost every team in the league and against the run, they’re flat-out awful, allowing 132 yards per game on the ground. That’s twenty-sixth worst in the league, sandwiched between the Browns and the Jets.
The oddsmakers in Vegas still see the Chiefs as a heavy favorite.
Here’s the thing.
Andrew Luck and crew seem to care not a whit what the pundits or opposing fans think. Indianapolis finished the season winning nine of ten. The lone loss in that stretch came in a divisional road game against the Jags. The Colts defense, as they demonstrated against Deshaun Watson and the Texans, can be flexible in zone coverage and stifling against the run. This season, they were the eighth-best run defense league-wide and they remain one of the best run-stopping units left in the playoffs following the exit of the Ravens and Bears. With Kareem Hunt gone, the Colts will look to contain Pat Mahomes and make him throw the ball into tight windows all afternoon. Colts linebacker Darius Leonard will be everywhere on Saturday afternoon. He’s the game’s leading tackler and he’ll need to continue to be exceptional in the open field to prevent short and mid- range passes from becoming big gains. Mahomes has fared well against zone coverage before, but those numbers might be a little misleading, as he had Hunt as a versatile pass catcher in the flat for many of those games. Without him, the Chiefs have become far more one dimensional. Kansas City’s momentum was definitely slowed towards the end of the season, as they lost two of their final five games.
Prediction: Is Kansas City still the offensive juggernaut that they seemed early on? I think they’re sure to score points, but if Indianapolis can run the ball with Marlon Mack the way they did in Houston, Mahomes might not get as many opportunities to do his thing. If that happens, the Colts will be in it as the game clock dwindles. If they’re in it, a little Luck might be all they need.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Check out Tom’s other playoff previews here
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