NFL Playoff Preview: Kansas City-Indianapolis

The Indianapolis Colts host the Kansas City Chiefs in the game that will kick off the NFL playoffs late on Saturday afternoon (4:35 PM ET, NBC). The Notebook Nine, our nine key points to take into the Kansas City-Indianapolis game are drawn from the matchup itself, history and the Vegas line.

        • *Anyone in Kansas City with a memory has to be ready for this matchup. Indianapolis has come into Kansas City twice in recent years to burst Chiefs’ hopes. Peyton Manning beat a high-powered KC team in 2003. And a loss in 1995, when Kansas City was a heavily favored #1 seed was even more painful. The 10-7 defeat was sealed when Chiefs’ kicker Lin Elliot missed the last of his three field goals to end the game.
        • *Oddsmakers apparently think Kansas City is the better team, but the homefield factor still has Indianapolis a narrow one-point favorite. The Over/Under is 46.5, so that would play out to a 24-23 Colts’ victory. In the spirit of what Kansas City has suffered over the years, we have to assume this would be Andrew Luck leading an 88-yard drive in the closing minutes to win it.
        • *It won’t surprise anyone to know that it’s been a long time since Kansas City won a playoff game. It was 1993 and the Chiefs beat the Houston Oilers (today’s Tennessee Titans) on the road with Joe Montana at quarterback. In fairness to Kansas City, they have reached the second round via a bye three times since then (1995, 1997 and 2003), but no playoff victories since ’93.
        • *Indianapolis isn’t going to be an easy out for anyone in the postseason. The Colts follow the physicians’ motto of “First of all, do no harm.” Luck has made tremendous progress in cutting down his interceptions, and the Colts are the AFC’s best at taking care of the ball. They’re also one of the best at avoiding sacks. They don’t allow too many negative plays on offense.
        • *The Colt defense is more the X-factor with this team. They rank a solid ninth in points allowed, but have been up-and-down throughout the year. They rank poorly in both completion percentage allowed, and yards given up per pass. The rush defense is even worse. What they do well is get sacks, notably Robert Mathis, with his 19.5. The D is the opposite of the offense, geared towards the big play.
        • *T.Y. Hilton has emerged as a very good big play threat for Luck. The question that looms over this receiving corps since the loss of Reggie Wayne though, is who will be the bail-out option. Coby Fleener has caught 52 passes from the tight end spot, and is a much better target than Kansas City counterpart Anthony Fasano. If this game goes the way both teams want, and the way the oddsmakers say, the tight end that can move the chains might end up the difference.
        • *Kansas City is another defense that looks for big plays and outside linebacker Justin Houston is healthy for the first time in over a month. Tamba Hali on the other side is more up in the air. He’s listed as questionable, and I’m sure he’ll play, but will that injured knee hold him back?
        • *The Chiefs aren’t known as an offensive team, but their reliance on short passes and the running game shouldn’t obscure the fact they are tied for sixth in points scored. While the Indianapolis defense looks to make big plays at the expense of defending the run, Kansas City’s Alex Smith knows how to take care of the football and running back Jamaal Charles is going to get his share of MVP votes after a year that saw him rush for 1,287 yards and get nearly 700 more receiving.
        • *Both of these teams are excellent at taking care of the ball, and both further excel at taking it away on the defensive side. That makes both of them a legitimate Super Bowl threat, even allowing that trips to Denver or New England (and probably both if they are to go all the way) are ahead.

I’m picking Indianapolis to win this game, and thereby to cover the spread. I’m also taking the game to go Over, because I think we’re going to see the defenses makes some big plays that can create points. My reasoning is this—while Kansas City is by far the more consistent team, Indianapolis is the team with the big upside. The Colts beat San Francisco, Carolina and Seattle during the season and beat these same Chiefs decisively in Week 16.

When Indy is focused, they’re as a good as anyone. They’re playing at home, and since they made the playoffs and lost in the first round last year, I’m sure there’s going to be a little extra dose of hunger that prevents any sort of “we’re just happy to be here” mindset from sneaking in.