AFC Wildcard game 1 Kansas City Chiefs @ Indianapolis Colts

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The Wildcard round of the playoffs always throws up at least one surprise result and with both these teams recent form it would be quite surprising if either of them won.  The Chiefs were the league’s early season pace setter’s starting with a 9-0 record, but since their bye in week 10 they’ve only won twice against Oakland and Washington and in their 7 games since the bye week they’ve conceded on average 28 points per game.

3 of the Colts 5 defeats this season have similarly come since their bye which occurred in week 9, they however went 2 months without beating a team with a winning record until they played the Chiefs in week 15.  The Colts suffered recent defeats against two of the league’s stronger defences in Cincinnati and Arizona in their last 6 games and in their meeting with the Chiefs 2 weeks ago the Colts won 23-7 at Arrowhead Stadium.

The bookmakers have the Colts as clear favourites to repeat their victory, but it may not be as cut and dried as it appears on first inspection.  At the start of the season the Chiefs relied on their defence to keep a lid on opposing teams points totals so they didn’t need to put up a lot of points themselves and whilst they do have talent on the offensive side of the ball it’s their defence that is star studded.  This season the Chiefs offence have relied heavily on one man, their leading rusher, Jamaal Charles recording 1,287 yards on the ground at an average of 5 yards per carry Charles is also their leading pass catcher totalling 693 yards through the air at an average of 9.9 yards per catch.  The Colts have struggled to stop anybody running this season and ended up the 26th best run defence on the NFL, the worst of all the Wildcard teams.  The one area in which the Colts defence has been effective is in stopping the pass, but the Chiefs are more reliant on their ground game to gain yards.  In Jamaal Charles the Chiefs have the highest points scorer in the NFL this year who isn’t a place kicker.  His 19 touchdowns are 3 more than the second place Jimmy Graham of the Saints, who are renowned for their high powered offence.

The Chiefs defense this season finished in the bottom 10 of the league for both passing yards and rushing yards allowed, but they have only conceded 9 touchdowns on the ground and they do lead the AFC in defensive turnovers with a +/- differential of 18 and that’s despite them surrendering the ball 18 times of their own.  They have managed a fairly healthy 21 interceptions and scooped up 15 fumbles and their 36 total takeaways is ranked second in the league to a much vaunted Seattle defence.  The Colts are second in the AFC turnover stakes with a differential of 13, including 27 defensive takeaways with 10 interceptions on the offensive side of the ball.

As comprehensive as the Colts victory was earlier in December this promises to be a very intriguing start to the post season as two teams with similar records who are developing a very taut rivalry.  In recent seasons the Colts have beaten the Chiefs 3 times compared to a solitary victory for the Chiefs.  It should be a clash of styles with the Colts wanting Andrew Luck to run the show and the Chiefs putting the ball and responsibility to spark the offence firmly in Jamaal Charles’ hands.  The Chiefs raised a few eyebrows by resting a large number of their players in the last week of the regular season and while this can have a negative impact on a team’s momentum the extra week of preparation could be key and may have been just what a jaded Chiefs’ defence needed.  If they start the playoffs the same way they started the regular season, allowing on average just 11 points per game, they will be tough to beat but if the Colts can force turnovers then the Chiefs offence could struggle late on if it has to score quickly and often.  The Colts are favourites to win by between 1-6 points, and it’s hard to see how the Chiefs can correct the slide in they’ve experienced since their bye week but for some reason I have a feeling the Chiefs will sneak it by a touchdown.

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