INDIANAPOLIS — The Indianapolis Colts not only survived their first playoff test last week against the Houston Texans; they thrived, knocking off the regular-season AFC South champions, 21-7.
The Colts now advance to the Divisional Round to take on the AFC's No. 1 seed in the Kansas City Chiefs out at Arrowhead Stadium on Saturday. However, the pressure is all but off of the Colts now.
Outsiders didn't expect them to make the playoffs, but when they did, many expected them to reclaim the AFC South by defeating Houston for the second time in a month. And they did. Now, the team that exceeded expectations and is playing with house money takes on the team who earned the right to be called the best team in the AFC. The Colts aren't the ones with the pressure put on them to take care of business against the lowest seed in the conference. They're the team with nothing to lose, but the one many people are saying nobody wants to play against.
WHO ARE THEY IN 2018?
When you think of the 2018 Chiefs, you think of quarterback Patrick Mahomes and that buzzsaw of an offense. They rank No. 1 in total offense (425.6 YPG) and scoring (35.5 PPG), and they're the only team in NFL history to score at least 26 points in every game of a 16-game season.
Mahomes is in his first season as a full-time starter and has made an incredible impression, as he's considered likely to win the league's Most Valuable Player award. During the regular season, the second-year pro ranked top-two in the league in passing yards (5,097), passing touchdowns (50) and passer rating (113.8). Mahomes' season truly was one for the ages, as his passing touchdowns was tied for the second-most in a single season in NFL history while his passing yards and passer rating were both eighth all-time. He even ranked 11th among quarterbacks this year with 272 rushing yards (and two touchdowns). His ability to move his feet — and his line's ability to keep him clean — was also on display as he was the sacked the fifth-fewest times in the league (26). He was, however, hit the ninth-most times among quarterbacks, so it shows that he can get rid of the ball in time.
The primary beneficiaries of Mahomes' arm are wide receiver Tyreek Hill and tight end Travis Kelce; both First-Team All-Pros along with Mahomes and Chiefs right tackle Mitchell Schwartz. Hill finished with 87 receptions for 1,479 yards and 12 touchdowns. His receptions ranked 10th among NFL wide receivers, yards ranked fourth and touchdowns were third. Kelce finished with 103 receptions for 1,336 yards and 10 touchdowns, all ranking second among tight ends.
The Chiefs had the services of Kareem Hunt at running back up until their Week 12 bye when he was placed on the Commissioner's Exempt list and dropped by the team. Since then, running backs Spencer Ware and Damien Williams have taken over and done a really nice job. Since becoming the main backs, Ware has averaged 17.5 touches per game for 90.5 yards and scored one touchdown. Williams averaged 9.4 touches for 79.4 yards and scored six times. Ware has, however, been out since Week 15 with a hamstring (and now also a shoulder) injury. He is expected to practice this week.
Kansas City's defense is not as prestigious as its offense, however.
The Chiefs are near the bottom of the league against the run, ranking 27th officially (132.1 YPG), are 31st in yards per carry allowed (5.0) and are tied for giving up the third-most rushing touchdowns (19).
It doesn't get much better in the passing game. The Chiefs officially rank 31st against the pass (273.4 YPG) and are tied for 22nd in passing touchdowns allowed (30). They've also given up the most pass plays of 20-plus yards in the league (65). One big bonus is that the Chiefs are tied for the league lead in sacks (52).
There has been a lot of mention this week about the Colts' postseason history against the Chiefs, as they're 4-0 against them in the playoffs including 2-0 in Kansas City. However, although all of those Chiefs teams had good offenses, none of them were quarterbacked by someone like Mahomes. This is a whole new ballgame.
Defensively, the Colts rank 16th against the pass (237.8 YPG) but are tied for surrendering the third-fewest passing touchdowns (21) are tied for ninth in interceptions (15). The Colts have given up the second-fewest pass plays of 40-plus yards (four), which counters the Chiefs' ability to take the deep shots downfield that they love.
On paper, Luck should be effective against Kansas City's secondary, which we already mentioned is among the league's worst. The Colts' tight ends specifically could thrive as the Chiefs have given up the most statistically to the position. Tight ends averaged 5.4 catches for 66.7 yards per game and scored 10 touchdowns against them this year.
Like previously mentioned, the Chiefs are tied for the most sacks, but if the Colts' offensive line — which has surrendered the fewest sacks (18) in the NFL — negates that, then it takes away one of the only things Kansas City's defense does really well.
The Colts' defense will be a tough test for Williams, Ware and the Chiefs run game. The Colts are one of only two teams in the NFL to not allow a 100-yard runner this season, including the playoffs. Overall, they finished as the No. 8 run defense (101.6 YPG) and were sixth in yards per carry allowed (3.9).
On the flip side, Colts running back Marlon Mack could be in for a big day in Kansas City. The second-year back had five 100-yard rushing games this year, including last week against the Texans and their No. 3 run defense. It would not be surprising at all for the Colts to look to dominate the line of scrimmage with their offensive line and get Mack, Nyheim Hines and Jordan Wilkins through some open running lanes. The Colts' line has paved the way for three 200-yard rushing games this season. Since Week 13, the Chiefs have given up 164.2 yards rushing per game and six touchdowns on the ground.
These ingredients mix together to create a gameplan in which the Colts could potentially control the clock with the run game on offense and play keep-away from the possible NFL MVP in Mahomes. With limited time of possession, the Colts' defense and its ability to defend deep passes could make things difficult for the Chiefs to score points in a hurry.
It's all easier said than done against an offense like this, but it is possible.
2018 KEY STATS
- 1st in total offense (425.6 YPG)
- 1st in scoring (35.3 PPG)
- 2nd in third-down offense (47%) and 3rd in fourth-down offense (80%)
- 2nd in red zone scoring (71.8%)
- 3rd in passing offense (309.7 YPG), and 1st in yards per attempt (8.8) and passer rating (113.8)
- 5th in sacks allowed (26)
- 6th in turnover differential (+9) and tied-7th in giveaways (18)
- Tied-1st in sacks (52)
- Tied-8th in takeaways (27)
- 24th in points allowed (26.3 PPG)
- 25th in third-down defense (42%) and tied-28th in fourth-down defense (67%)
- 27th in run defense (132.1 YPG) and 31st in yards per carry allowed (5.0)
- 31st in total defense (405.5 YPG)
- 31st in passing defense (273.4 YPG)
- 31st in red zone defense (72.4%)