With the regular season finale and its controversial late-game officiating in the rearview mirror, a new season begins for the Kansas City Chiefs. The Chiefs finished the season 11-5 after their 27-24 loss to the San Diego Chargers, but for the first time in three seasons, they’re back in the NFL playoffs. Kansas City is slated for a rematch with the Indianapolis Colts this Saturday in the Wildcard Round. This is the fourth time the Chiefs have drawn the Colts as their opening postseason opponent. Unless you’ve been in hiding, or are well under the age of 18, you know the Chiefs are 0-3 in the previous three matchups.
As much as it might pain Chiefs Kingdom for me to revisit that history, I’m anxious to determine whether or not Kansas City is doomed to repeat it. These two teams met a few weeks ago at Arrowhead Stadium. Indianapolis took advantage of Kansas City in that game, winning 23-7 in a lopsided affair. Saturday’s game will be played at Lucas Oil Stadium and there are serious questions about the Chiefs’ ability to exact their revenge. Before we dive headlong into the possibilities, let’s take a look at the postseason past between these teams.
1995: Arrowhead Stadium – Colts win 10-7
Alex Smith’s former head coach Jim Harbaugh was at the helm for the Colts the first time they met up with the Chiefs in the postseason. Kansas City finished the ’95 season with the best record in the NFL and homefield advantage throughout the playoffs. With the Chiefs off for the Wildcard Round, the Colts began their Cinderella run by toppling the Chargers 35-20. Their second test would be an opportunistic and stingy defense that gave up the fewest points in the NFL that year.
Offensively, neither team was anything to write home about. Both scoring offenses averaged fewer than 23 points per game that year. Most everyone expected a low-scoring game, and neither team disappointed. There were 530 yards of offense between the two teams and a total of just 17 points. The Chiefs and Colts each mounted successful ground games that day. The two backfields went for more than 125 rushing yards in the game.
One of two difference makers in this contest was Indianapolis’ ability to avoid (and produce) turnovers. It was the Chiefs who had a +12 takeaway/giveaway differential on the season, but they turned the ball over 4 times against the Colts. Indy gave the ball away only once on a Harbaugh interception to free safety Mark Collins. Conversely, Steve Bono threw a trio of picks to Ashley Ambrose, Quentin Coryatt, and Eugene Daniel. Indianapolis also had the edge on special teams. Kicker Cary Blanchard attempted just one field goal, but was true from 30 yards. The much-maligned Lin Elliott, on the other hand, missed three attempts from 35, 39, and 42 yards.
2003: Arrowhead Stadium – Colts win 38-31
The ’03 team appeared to be the most viable contender Kansas City had fielded since the aforementioned Chiefs of the mid-90′s. The Dick Vermeil-led squad posted thirteen wins, won the AFC West, and earned a bye along with the #2 seed in the AFC. That team was the polar opposite of its 1995 counterpart, leading the league in scoring that year. On the other side of the ball, despite being the 19th-ranked scoring defense, they too were opportunistic and owned the best turnover differential in the NFL.
The Colts were the 2nd-best scoring offense in the NFL in 2003. Two well-oiled offensive machines figured to make for a postseason shootout. Especially since the Chiefs and Colts were respectively 19th and 20th in points allowed. With the game scheduled for Arrowhead Stadium, where they’d gone a perfect 8-0, it appeared that Kansas City had the edge. What would happen next still vexes even the most loyal members of the Kingdom.
For the first time in NFL history, there were no punts in a playoff game. The two teams combined for 842 yards of offense. Indianapolis quickly got out to a 7-0 lead on a 10-play, 71-yard drive and never looked back. After the Colts initial score, they led Kansas City for the rest of regulation.
A brilliant effort by Kansas City’s offensive and special teams units was ultimately marred by defensive failures and a single turnover by runningback Priest Holmes. Holmes had a magnificent performance otherwise (amassing 208 yards from scrimmage and 2 touchdowns on 29 touches). Dante Hall’s 92-yard kickoff return late in the third quarter ignited the crowd, but it simply wouldn’t be enough down the stretch. The Colts extended their lead to two scores early in the fourth quarter and were able to stave the Chiefs’ comeback efforts off until it was too late.
2006: RCA Dome – Colts win 23-8
In 2006, the Kansas City Chiefs entered the postseason as the AFC’s 6th-seeded team. Their 9-7 finish bought them a trip to face AFC South-winning Indianapolis in the Wildcard Round. This game would turn out to be the least compelling of the three postseason meetings between the Chiefs and Colts. Kansas City had no idea at the time that their opponent would go on to win Super Bowl XLI.
The Colts, like the 2013 Chiefs, began the regular season with nine straight wins. Indianapolis also wilted down the stretch, winning just three of their final seven games. In fact, the similarities between the ’06 Colts and ’13 Chiefs are striking (compare their schedules). Indy peaked at the perfect time and drew a Chiefs team that posed no real threat to one of the worst defenses in the NFL.
Kansas City had a pitiful offensive showing in this game, managing just 126 yards of total offense. They had 7 first downs the entire day, possessed the football half as long, and posted only one score (at the end of the third quarter). The Chiefs did their best to help the Colts by forking the ball over thrice in the game. Runningback Larry Johnson was completely ineffective, gaining only 32 rushing yards on 13 carries.
Peyton Manning threw three interceptions in the game, but you would never have known it. The Chiefs didn’t capitalize on any of them. To Kansas City’s credit, they hung around for the first half. The Chiefs punted five times in quarters one and two, but the Colts still only led by nine points going into halftime. The wheels ultimately came off as the game wore on though. The Chiefs turned the ball over in each of their last three possessions. This was easily the most forgettable game in the Chiefs-Colts playoff trilogy. It wasn’t in any way competitive. In some respects, it reminds me of Chiefs-Colts I in 2013 (which brings us back to the present day).
2013: Lucas Oil Stadium – ???
It’s tough to say what we can expect from Saturday’s game in Indianapolis. The first time these two teams met in 2013, the Chiefs looked completely unprepared to play. This time, they’ll be much healthier and have a few key players back in the lineup. Justin Houston, Branden Albert, and Dwayne Bowe all figure to play this weekend. Only two of those three suited up in the regular season contest.
Houston’s return from injury should aid a pass rush that was only able to sack quarterback Andrew Luck once in the December 22nd matchup. On the opposite side of the ball, Albert’s presence on the left side of the offensive line could help slow down OLB Robert Mathis. He harassed Alex Smith for most of the day in the first game, sacking him once and forcing an errant throw that was picked off by linebacker Jerrell Freeman.
The regular season numbers suggest the Chiefs are the more well-rounded team. They finished in the Top 10 both in offensive and defensive scoring categories. They also boast one of the NFL’s best special teams coverage and return units. While the Chiefs appear more balanced, the Colts may be better prepared to face top competition in the postseason. They beat four teams that will play in the 2014 NFL playoffs (San Francisco, Seattle, Denver, and Kansas City).
Indianapolis has also fallen asleep at the wheel a few times versus inferior competition. They were run out of Lucas Oil Stadium by the lowly-Rams (who trounced them 38-8 in early November). They were also taken to the wire by the Houston Texans and Tennessee Titans. This game will be won by the defense that can bring consistent pressure and create turnovers. The first time around, that was the Indianapolis Colts. A healthy and well-rested Chiefs team hope to return the favor on Saturday.
If the Chiefs show up at 500 South Capitol Avenue on Saturday and put all three phases together, they’ll have a great shot at winning their first postseason game in over 20 years. Kansas City at its best offensively and defensively will give Indianapolis a real run for its money. The Colts don’t have much of a running game and outside of T.Y. Hilton have very few offensive weapons. If the Chiefs can disrupt Luck’s timing with pressure, the Colts could be in for a long day. Kansas City figures to benefit from playing the game on that Indy turf. That fast track could really benefit fleet-footed players like Houston, Hali, Johnson, Charles, McCluster, Davis, and Demps, making them all potentially more dangerous.
Can the Chiefs finally get off of the postseason schneider and avoid another one-and-done playoff run? Will they re-discover their pass rush and make life difficult for Andrew Luck? Will the Chiefs’ offense show up this time around? Will Andy Reid’s Week 17 plan of resting his starters pay off? Use the comment section below to chime in. As always we appreciate your readership and support.
Until next time, Addicts!
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