With the Kansas City Chiefs only a few days from playing against the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium, it's time to start running through a few things to watch.
There are plenty of topics to choose from, many of which won't be discussed here but likely sorted through in the comments below. In a game of this magnitude, anything and everything could become the storyline.
Here are my top five keys (excluding penalties, because of course no penalties):
1. Run the ball, Jamaal
Jamaal Charles has had a heavy burden to shoulder this season, touching the ball 329 times (259 carries, 70 receptions). However, the best running back in football is coming off a virtual bye week and is facing the 26th ranked rush defense, giving up an average of 125.1 yards per game.
Pagano: One more time on Charles. "If he doesn't touch the ball 30 times, I'd be shocked.'— Mike Chappell (@mchappell51) December 31, 2013
Normally, I'm all for about 20 carries and six receptions for Charles. This game, I'm cool with the Chiefs giving him around 25 carries. The Colts have a major problem stuffing the run and Kansas City should take advantage. Nothing against Knile Davis who has proven dangerous, but I want Charles toting the rock.
When you combine Branden Albert being back, turf, a bad rush defense and Charles, I get excited. Run baby.
2. Turnovers, turnovers, turnovers
Two weeks ago against Indianapolis, the Chiefs turned the ball over four times while dropping two easy interceptions. Kansas City can't afford to lose the turnover battle, having feasted on other team's mistakes all year.
Alex Smith had an uncharacteristic game in the aforementioned contest, throwing a pick and fumbling twice. If the Chiefs can protect Smith and the ball, they should be in good shape.
Hell, here is a proclamation: If Kansas City wins the turnover battle, they will win the game, guaranteed.
3. Get off on third down
In the 23-7 loss in Week 16, the Chiefs defense let the Colts go 7-for-18 on third down. What that stat doesn't show is the amount of dumb penalties Kansas City took to keep drives alive. Andy Reid's group needs to stop the run and force Indianapolis into 3rd and long. With Justin Houston back, that would be a beautiful thing.
Of course, the other benefit of getting off quickly on third down is getting the ball back for your offense. In the previous matchup, Kansas City had the ball for a grand total of 21:40. Give the ball back to the offense, get rest, and enjoy the show.
4. McCluster causing chaos
Dexter McCluster has had one of the best punt return seasons of all-time. His 686 yards in that category rank him first in the NFL this year and fourth all-time in league history for a single season. Two weeks ago, McCluster only had three return opportunities and amassed just 23 yards. We need to see that number improve.
McCluster doesn't need to break one to the house (although he can if he wants) but simply change field position and perhaps momentum. Everybody always forgets about special teams, but they can absolutely win you a game. Ask last year's Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens about Jacoby Jones.
According to Football Outsiders, the Chiefs have the best special teams in the league. The Colts? 22nd.
5. Secondary receiving
Outside of Dwayne Bowe and Charles, you may have noticed our other receivers struggle to be consistent. Not to beat the dead horse again, but two weeks ago Kansas City did not have a receiver break 50 yards, and only Donnie Avery had more than 19 outside of Bowe and Charles.
Indianapolis rolled coverage all day over Bowe and Charles, creating man-to-man matchups everywhere else. The Chiefs need Anthony Fasano, Sean McGrath, Junior Hemingway, A.J. Jenkins, not Chad Hall, and McCluster to find open space. Smith needs to have options, otherwise we will see a ton of three and outs.