The opening game of the 2013 NFL Playoffs will be a tale of opposites. The Kansas City Chiefs looked like an elite squad early in the year, but have struggled mightily down the stretch, losing five of their last seven games to conclude the regular season. The Indianapolis Colts, on the other hand, have done just the opposite. Looking shaky at times early in the season, the Colts have caught fire the right time, winning five of their last seven contests.
Although the Colts are heading into the postseason hot, this is likely the best possible first-round matchup for Kansas City. With the teams already having met just one week ago in Week 16, both coaches will have a better idea of what to expect from the other the second time around. One would be inclined to think that this will benefit the Chiefs as their talented defense will surely work on making the adjustments necessary to prevent a repeat of Week 16.
Kansas City’s biggest concern will be eliminating the Colts’ big-play potential as both of their touchdowns in Week 16 came on huge plays by Donald Brown. Kansas City allowed over 100 yards on the ground to a Colts rushing attack that has been among the league’s worst throughout the entire season. If the Chiefs expect to advance on Saturday, they simply can’t allow this to happen again.
Andrew Luck‘s elevated level of play could also be a cause of concern for Kansas City. Luck has been in his best form of the season in recent weeks, recording his best performance of the year in Week 14 with 326 yards passing and four touchdowns against a staunch Cincinnati Bengals defense. With Da’Rick Rogers and Griff Whalen proving to be legitimate threats opposite T.Y. Hilton, the Chiefs’ secondary should have their hands full.
Assuming they don’t allow another uncharacteristically good game to Colts’ running backs, in the air is where Kansas City will win or lose this contest.
Brandon Flowers covering Hilton will be the matchup that fans will be most interested to watch. Hilton has been a bit of a boom-or-bust this season, and which Hilton decides to show up Saturday will probably be the deciding factor in the game. Flowers, a Pro Bowl selection this year, has been an integral part of the Chiefs’ defense that has been among the league’s best this year. If there’s any cover corner that I like for limiting Hilton, Flowers is my man.
On the offensive side of the ball, Alex Smith will need to step up for Kansas City. While Jamaal Charles may well have a career day against a less-than-impressive Colts run defense, Smith will certainly need to put up better numbers than he did last time out against Indianapolis.
Smith threw for a lousy 153 yards with one interception the last time these two met. While the Colts’ defense is undeniably better than they were earlier in the year, they’re still just middle of the road, and are very susceptible to give up a big game to opposing offenses.
Expect the Chiefs to have a chip on their shoulder for this one as they’ve been routinely labeled as overrated by critics throughout the entire season. With their defense trying to reclaim their position among the league’s best, don’t assume that the big play potential will be there again for the Colts this time around. These are two very evenly matched teams, and the winner will probably be whoever has the ball last.
Kyle Pappas covers the Chiefs and the NFL for RantSports.com. Follow him on Twitter @KylePap.