The Kansas City Chiefs travel to take on the Indianapolis Colts in the first official game of the NFL playoffs. The AFC Wild Card Round kicks off at 4:35 p.m. EST on NBC in a matchup of two teams who faced off less than two weeks ago.
Indianapolis went into Kansas City and trounced the Chiefs, 23-7, en route to winning the AFC South and claiming the No. 4 seed. For the Chiefs, losing several games down the stretch led them to a wild-card spot, but they have a stingy defense and offensive playmakers good enough to take them far into the playoffs.
With several stars set to start the second season in the NFL, including several Chiefs players that have never made the playoffs, here are the biggest stars who are set to shine for both teams.
Justin Houston, LB, Kansas City Chiefs
Welcome back, Justin Houston.
A season with 11 sacks, 14 tackles for loss, a forced fumble and four passes defended may seem like a good season. But when considering that Houston missed the last five games of the season due to a dislocated elbow, those numbers look astounding.
With Houston finally back on the field, the Chiefs defense finally looks complete. Houston made it pretty clear what he wants to accomplish on Saturday, according to the Chiefs' official Twitter account:
"Win or go home. Everybody’s mindset is we are not ready to go home." - Justin Houston | http://t.co/CjrKhFN8Fh— Kansas City Chiefs (@KCChiefs) January 2, 2014
During his three-year career, Houston has never started in a playoff game. But with a group that includes the likes of Dontari Poe and Tamba Hali, the Chiefs defense with Houston inserted back in the lineup looks like one that could help the team earn its first playoff win since 1994.
Robert Mathis, LB, Indianapolis Colts
The AP All-Pro linebacker for the Colts has been not only the leader on the defensive side of the ball but also a force that teams haven't been able to stop. Robert Mathis has been in the NFL for 11 years now, but he hasn't allowed age to slow him down yet.
One of the best descriptions of Mathis this year came from Cardinals left tackle Eric Winston, who faced Mathis twice a year with the Houston Texans from 2006-11 and was beaten for a sack-forced fumble by Mathis on Nov. 24 of this year. Winston was quoted in an article by Jim Trotter of Sports Illustrated:
You know if you’re facing him it’s going to be a long day. He’s like preparing for a knuckleball—you never know what you’ll get. He can beat you with quickness, he can beat you with a spin move, and he can beat you with a bull rush. You just know there are going to be times when you have to find a way to survive, because you’re not going to block him clean. A lot of times you’re not even going to get your hands on him clean. You have to force him in one direction and hope for the best, because if you give him a two-way go he’ll eat you up.
The man described as a "knuckleball" will put his 19.5 sacks, 24.5 tackles for loss and eight forced fumbles on the line against Kansas City when the AFC Wild Card showdown starts. Given the fact that he came away with four tackles, a sack and two forced fumbles the last time these two teams faced off, betting on Mathis to have a good game seems like a safe one.
Jamaal Charles, RB, Kansas City Chiefs
It's nearly impossible to talk about stars in a Chiefs game and not mention Jamaal Charles. But in his last game against the Colts, Charles only had 106 rushing yards, 38 receiving yards and one touchdown. (Only is an exaggeration, just to clarify.)
With the ridiculous video game-like numbers that Charles has posted this season, the fact that he didn't go off for multiple touchdowns and 150-plus yards in a game really does seem like a bad game for him.
“Whatever you ask him to do, he can do it,” Mathis told Blair Kerkhoff of The Wichita Eagle. “And take it to the house on every play. He’s a problem and a half, so we have to keep our eyes on him at all times.”
When looking at the game on a carry-by-carry basis, Charles' performance was as explosive as any he's had this season. Charles averaged five yards per carry for the regular season, but in just 13 carries against the Colts, he finished with an average of 8.2 yards per carry.
If the Chiefs plan on pulling the upset on the road in Indy, they will need another huge performance from their workhorse in both the running game and through the air.
T.Y. Hilton, WR, Indianapolis Colts
Wait, so there's an entire list of Colts players expected to have a huge game and Andrew Luck isn't one of them? Well, no. But in order for T.Y. Hilton to have a breakout game, Luck will have to excel.
In fact, thanks to Luck this season, Hilton posted his first 1,000-yard season, as the Colts' official Instagram account reports:
In his final game of the regular season, Hilton not only surpassed the 1,000-yard plateau but also finished with 11 receptions on 15 targets for 155 yards, an average of 14.1 yards per catch. While he didn't score a touchdown against the Chiefs in their first matchup, he caught five passes for 52 yards in a game where Luck only finished with 241 passing yards.
Hilton doesn't have the experience of Indianapolis receivers like Marvin Harrison or Reggie Wayne, but he did haul in eight receptions for 66 yards in his one playoff game last season.