INDIANAPOLIS – An NFL season can be somewhat measured as a 48-hour crunch. Sixteen games lasting roughly three hours each means a year's work is distilled into a small increment of time.
Six hours remain in the regular season for the Colts. The final three hours next week against Houston will be defined greatly by Sunday's outcome in Kansas City.
If the Colts win or tie, they are in the post-season. A loss throws uncertainty with tiebreakers against the AFC North into next week.
Opportunity knocks. Answer it.
Getting their 10th victory is the aim for the Colts on Sunday, and here are SEVEN THINGS NEEDED TO WIN:
TURNOVERS/RED ZONE – One area has been a season-long issue and the other became an issue last week. The Colts are minus-17 in turnover ratio, the franchise's worst mark since 1961. Last week's only turnover came at the Houston one-yard line, costing a sure score. Indianapolis is minus-15 on the road, giving the ball up 20 times. The Colts are minus-14 in losses, giving it up 15 times. Kansas City's minus-22 ratio is tied for the NFL's worst. The Chiefs' 12 takeaways are tied for the second-fewest in the league behind the Colts' 10. Protect the ball, get it done and score down deep. A three-game red zone success trend took a hit last week.
NEGATE THE CROWD – Arrowhead Stadium is one of the league's special venues. Chiefs partisans are among the heartiest, most loyal and most ardent fans. This is their last home game of the season, and the players would love to send the home crowd away as happy as possible. The Colts need to seize momentum early and never relinquish it. Make their cheer at the end of the anthem be their loudest of the day.
CHARLES NOT IN CHARGE – Brady Quinn, a battler, is starting a fifth straight game. Dwayne Bowe is on injured reserve. Jamaal Charles is second in AFC rushing. The team has rushed 47.6 percent of the time, one of the league's best run:pass ratios. Limit Charles and his 4.9 average.
WIN THE EARLY DOWNS – Quinn has cited his offense having a number of third-and-longs. Keeping an offense tilted toward the run in that predicament can help. Indianapolis can help its pass rush by tightening up on early downs. Offensively, the Colts need to average better than their 5.4 average. It is almost half a yard less than desired by Bruce Arians. The Colts have converted only five-of-20 first downs in the last two games. Help yourself offensively and keep the defense fresher by succeeding on early downs.
UNDERSTAND HISTORY – Overlooking opponents is not the nature of the 2012 Colts. The last time the franchise faced a team with 12 or more losses was in 2008 against 0-13 Detroit. A late scoring burst was needed to win. Players know the danger every NFL team possesses. Cory Redding says too much ground has been conquered to stop now. He's right. Play 60 in KC.
SOLID PROTECTION –Arians said Andrew Luck has been making a concerted effort recently to remain in the pocket. Pressure has made things a little uncomfortable there recently. The line is a gutty unit, and it will fight. The Chiefs can bring heat from the outside. Protect Luck and keep a clean pocket. With time, he will attack vertically.
PUT THE HAMMER DOWN – The last two weeks, the Colts have had a "win-and-in" scenario with the playoffs. When opportunity presents itself, you must take advantage. This is stating the obvious, but getting past this Sunday without locking a berth down can be a real, real issue.
QUOTE TO NOTE: Bruce Arians (on possible return of Chuck Pagano on Monday)
"It's still in the air. He feels great. He looks good. His (blood) counts were good. We've got our fingers crossed. The perfect thing would be to come in Christmas Eve. It would be a great Christmas present for all of us. Our goal is hopefully he can start (next) Monday."