The NFL's 2014 Wild Card Weekend gets kicked off when the Kansas City Chiefs (11-5) take on AFC South champion Indianapolis Colts (11-5) on Saturday, Jan. 4, at 4:35 p.m. ET.
It will be the second meeting between the two teams in the last three weeks.
Indianapolis went into Arrowhead Stadium and knocked off Kansas City in Week 16, 23-7. Thanks to an inspired defensive effort by the Colts, Alex Smith was sacked five times in that game and threw an interception in a losing cause.
Chuck Pagano's Colts come into the Wild Card Round with a steady three-game winning streak, thanks in part to the win over the Chiefs. The team won four of its last five to close out the regular season, losing to the Bengals at Cincinnati in Week 14.
Chiefs head coach Andy Reid sat 20 of his 22 starters in Week 17, knowing his Chiefs would be the AFC's No. 5 seed no matter the outcome against San Diego.
Even though Kansas City lost its last two games and five of its last seven, Reid was quick to look ahead rather than dwell on the past, via ESPN.com:
It's the start of a new season. That's how the playoffs work. You're in the dance, as they say. It's another phase of the season. You've worked very hard as a team to get into this position. Now it's important that you exhaust yourself to make sure you're right.
Once the opening whistle blows, you can throw all the regular-season trends out the window. This game will be all about executing for 60 minutes, and the team that performs the best will advance.
Here's a look at when and where you can catch the action, along with betting information and injury reports. Keep reading further for additional analysis and a final prediction.
When: Saturday, Jan. 4, at 4:35 p.m. ET
Where: Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis, Ind.
Live Stream: NFL Sunday Ticket
Betting Lines (via Covers)
- Over/Under: 46 points
- Spread: Indianapolis (-1.5)
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Can Kansas City Protect Alex Smith?
During the first meeting between these two burgeoning AFC superpowers, the Colts collected five sacks on Smith and hit him six additional times.
The relentless pressure from Robert Mathis (who led the league with 19.5 sacks), Jerrell Freeman, Cory Redding and the rest of Indy's defenders forced Smith into one of his worst games of the season.
Smith finished the contest having completed 16 of 28 passes for 153 yards (5.5 yards per attempt) with zero touchdowns and one interception.
Jamaal Charles managed to put up an impressive 106 yards and a touchdown on just 13 carries. However, Kansas City's offense couldn't move the ball through the air with any regularity, finishing the game with just eight first downs on passing plays and converting only one third-down opportunity.
Making matters worse, rookie offensive tackle (and No. 1 overall pick of the 2013 NFL draft) Eric Fisher could miss the game after injuring his groin, as reported by Adam Teicher of ESPN:
#Chiefs OT Eric Fisher injured his groin in practice Tues. Won't practice today. May not play vs. Colts— Adam Teicher (@adamteicher) January 1, 2014
Five-year veteran Geoff Schwartz is the next man up for Kansas City. He has started 26 games in his career. If he struggles and if the Chiefs can't protect Smith in this upcoming matchup, then it's hard to imagine Kansas City will have a chance of winning on the road.
Charles is brilliant—one of the best and most electric playmakers in the entire league. But he can't beat Indy by himself, as pointed out by Bleacher Report's Matt Bowen:
Jamaal Charles is a star. But is there another player on the Chiefs offense that will impact the Colts' defensive game plan? I don't see it. I'm taking Andrew Luck and the much-improved Indianapolis offense to advance at home.
Furthermore, he has a huge bullseye on his chest. Pagano has labeled him "public enemy No. 1," as Pro Football Talk's Michael David Smith relayed:
Jamaal Charles. We called him public enemy No. 1. First and foremost that’s the guy that you’ve got to take away. They’ve got other skilled athletes we know on the outside in Donnie Avery and Dwayne Bowe and [Dexter] McCluster can beat you. Knile Davis coming in as a change of pace guy running it and the quarterback can certainly beat you. But it all starts with Jamaal. We got to do a great job containing him, try to slow him down.
Which team will win?
Kansas City's defense hasn't been the same since the bye in Week 10, allowing 24.4 points per game in the last seven games.
Andrew Luck will take advantage of this ailing unit.
He'll find a way to get the Colts into the Divisional Round—one way or another—while his defense plays an outstanding game in front of the home crowd.
Colts win 27-13.
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