Seven Things To Watch Playoff Edition: Colts at Chiefs
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INDIANAPOLIS – Another new challenge, the toughest of the season, awaits the Colts on Saturday afternoon.
The Colts are on the road for a third straight week, taking on the Chiefs in the always difficult atmosphere that is Arrowhead Stadium.
Here are 7 things to watch for as the Colts battle the Chiefs in the Divisional Round of the Playoffs:
1. Quiet The Big Plays
-No team had more big passing plays this season than the Chiefs. On the flip side, the Colts were one of the best teams in the NFL at limiting the big play to their opponents. Matt Eberflus abides by his stringent defensive philosophies for games like we will see on Saturday. A guy like Malik Hooker (who missed practice all week and will not play Sunday) and how effective the Colts are with their nickel and dime packages will be huge keys for the Colts as they try to keep things in front of them defensively.
2. Pound The Rock
-If the Colts can rush for 200 yards against the Texans, their eyes should be lighting up when thinking about the Chiefs. Kansas City ranked 31st in the NFL this season in yards per carry allowed (Houston was ranked 1st). Achieving success on the ground is nice, but it means even more in a game like Saturday. If the Colts can do that, then those longer drives will keep the ball away from Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs.
3. Red Zone Efficiency
-This is probably the biggest stat to watch for on Saturday. Who has more success in the red zone? The Colts were the No. 5 red zone offense this season. They were 11th in red zone defense. For the Chiefs, they were the No. 2 red zone offense this year. And they were the 31st ranked red zone defense. Who can convert inside the 20 is going to be massive.
4. Plan For Kelce
-No NFL defense allowed more yards per game to tight ends this season than the Colts. On paper, outside of Evan Engram, the Colts really haven’t faced an elite tight end since that 1-5 start. Well, Travis Kelce is certainly elite. Kelce had 1,336 yards this season, the second most in NFL history for a tight end. How the Colts handle Kelce is going to be key, especially if the Chiefs have to move down the field more methodically than normal.
5. Handle The Environment
-Let’s group atmosphere and weather into this key. Forget the playoff history for the Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium, this is one of the more hostile environments in the NFL. Now, if the weather gets a little dicey on Saturday (i.e. snow and high winds), that should definitely favor the Colts. The forecast for Saturday indicates some possible snow showers in the morning, which could linger around kickoff. But the winds aren't expected to be too high. If the wind does pick up, it could really impact the air assault of the Chiefs.
6. Healthy Hilton Shows Up
-What a difference a week makes for the health of T.Y. Hilton. The No. 1 wideout looked very limited in the regular season finale in Nashville (2 catches on 6 targets). He looked pretty darn healthy against the Texans (5 catches on 10 targets, including 4 third-down conversions). And Hilton confirmed this week that his ankle is feeling better. For the Colts to pull off the upset on Saturday, they will need a healthy Hilton to impact the game.
7. Stay Out Of Obvious Passing Situations
-There aren’t many strengths for the Chiefs defense. But one is how they get after the quarterback. They lead the NFL in total sacks (52) and rank 8th in sacks per pass attempt. Now, the quantity of sacks comes from them getting out to leads and forcing opponents to chuck it. The Chiefs do have some effective rushers in Dee Ford (13.0 sacks) and Justin Houston (9.0 sacks) off the edge and then Chris Jones (15.5 sacks) in the interior. The Colts need to stay ahead of the chains and keep themselves out of those obvious passing situations.
Bowen’s Prediction: Chiefs, 31-27. This is not at all your typical No. 6 vs. No. 1 playoff matchup in the Divisional Round of the Playoffs. I don’t have anywhere near the same feeling about the Colts on the road Saturday as I did in January 2014 or January 2015 heading to Foxborough. The Colts have a very real chance to win this game. Because they can establish a productive run game and play keep away to a degree, along with making sure that when the Chiefs have the ball, their success has to come through long drives, and not quick strike via the chunk play. I’m still going with the Chiefs because I think the Colts are going to see something offensively they haven’t even remotely seen in 2018. Patrick Mahomes is a rare talent and the Chiefs make defenses defend every inch of the field and stress so many areas. If the Colts can keep the Chiefs in 20s, I think they can win. But I see the Chiefs getting one score too many in a really tough place to play.