Playoff Primer vs. Colts a Final Test for the Kansas City Chiefs

Christopher Hansen@ChrisHansenNFLNFL AnalystDecember 21, 2013

If the Chiefs are to be successful Sunday, Dontari Poe needs to help them stop the run.
If the Chiefs are to be successful Sunday, Dontari Poe needs to help them stop the run.Kyle Rivas/Getty Images

There are basically two ways to view the Kansas City Chiefs this season. They are either one of the best few teams in the NFL or they are a product of a weak schedule.

Until the Chiefs win a game against a quality opponent, those who think they are the product of a weak schedule will continue to have a logical argument. It also makes this Sunday’s game against the 9-5 Indianapolis Colts one of the most important games of the season for the Chiefs.

Not only could they meet again in the playoffs, but the Chiefs would almost certainly have to play the Colts on the road. The Chiefs can gain a lot of respect by winning, which might be all that can be gained by either team on Sunday.  

Neither team’s playoff seeding will change with a victory without help, but a win could still be the difference between playing at home or on the road in the playoffs. If the Denver Broncos were to be upset over the final two weeks, the Chiefs could win the AFC West and get the No. 1 seed.

The Colts could also get a first-round bye week if the New England Patriots lose to the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday. Since the Ravens are playing for a playoff spot, the Colts’ window to the No. 2 seed may go through the Chiefs.

The Chiefs are 1-2 in games against teams with a record above .500. It’s a small sample size, but it’s notable that they beat the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 3 when Michael Vick was still the starting quarterback. The Eagles also have the weakest strength of schedule of any of the teams with an 8-6 record.

Depending on your opinion of Tony Romo, you might say the Chiefs haven’t defeated a good quarterback this season. For weeks they beat up on backup quarterbacks, and then they lost three straight games against Peyton Manning and Philip Rivers.

The Colts have Andrew Luck.

One of the main points in support of the Chiefs this season has been the fact that they can only play the teams on their schedule. The Chiefs have taken care of business against inferior competition, but they also haven’t been able to have much success against good quarterbacks.

The schedule has now presented an opportunity for the Chiefs to defeat a good team with a good quarterback. In the playoffs, the Chiefs will have to defeat multiple good quarterbacks if they want to reach their goal, so it’s a skill they so desperately need to demonstrate to be taken seriously.

Loser’s Luck

Unlike a lot of quarterbacks, Luck’s performance doesn’t really dip while playing on the road vs. at home. The Colts are 5-2 at home and 4-3 on the road with Luck under center this season, so the team’s performance seems to track pretty closely with his performance.

The difference between Luck's at-home and road statistics is one completion, eight attempts, 79 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions. That’s about as little difference as you will find in the NFL.

Luck's passing yards in wins (green) vs. losses (red).
Luck's passing yards in wins (green) vs. losses (red)

Considering Manning and Rivers averaged 4.5 touchdowns, 1.0 interception and 397.5 passing yards in Kansas City, the Chiefs have much to worry about. Even Matt McGloin threw for nearly 300 yards against the Chiefs, which is cause for concern even though they were able to intercept him four times.

Fortunately for the Chiefs, Luck’s performance this season has been anything but consistent. Luck is actually averaging 58 fewer passing yards in wins than losses, but he’s averaging more touchdowns and significantly fewer interceptions.

From this it is pretty easy to determine that the Colts are a run-first team. Offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton has taken some heat this season, but the numbers don’t lie. The Colts aren’t winning without the ground game, and Luck’s arm isn’t carrying the team any more than Alex Smith’s is in Kansas City.

Taming the Colts

When the Colts rush for over 100 yards, they are 8-1 this season. When the Colts rush for under 100 yards, they are 1-4. The lone win when the Colts didn’t rush for 100 yards came in Week 9 over the Houston Texans—the worst team in the league.

The Colts' Rushing Reliance
GameRushing YardsResult

Stop the run, and beating the Colts is a lot easier. Only the Miami Dolphins in Week 2 beat the Colts when they rushed for more than 100 yards. It was also the only game in which Luck passed for over 300 yards and the Colts rushed for 100 in the same game this season.

Putting the offense on Luck’s back is not necessarily a good thing for the Colts, so the Chiefs should stack the box and force him to beat them. Unfortunately for the Chiefs, that could be easier said than done.

The Chiefs have held opponents under 100 yards rushing just once in the last six games after doing so five times in the first eight weeks. The good news is that opponents are averaging 88.9 yards on the ground in Kansas City compared to 140 yards on the ground on the road.

Holding Back?

As much as the Chiefs need to send a message that they can beat good teams and good quarterbacks, they would be wise to hold something back on Sunday. If the Chiefs face the Colts again in just a couple weeks in Indianapolis, they don’t want to give away all their secrets.

Although totally anecdotal, some people believe that the team who wins the regular-season game between two teams loses the playoff game. One theory is that the team that gives more away in the regular season has fewer advantages the second time around.

The difference between winning and losing in the playoffs might be one big play, so if the Chiefs identify a few weaknesses, they would be wise to sit on a couple of them. If the coaches do end up going with a vanilla game plan, the winning of the game will probably be the more talented team or the team that executes better.

Keep in mind that doesn’t mean not trying to win the game. Superior execution and talented players are often more important than anything else. Teams often know what plays Manning is going to run, but that doesn’t make stopping him any easier.

If the game against the Colts is the final regular-season test for the Chiefs, they should consider holding something back like bonus extra credit that carries over to the next semester. Coaches often try to exploit certain looks, but if the Chiefs find a glaring weakness that can be exploited for a big play on offense or special teams, they might just want to save it for a rainy day. 


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