On Friday — before we knew which team the Kansas City Chiefs would be playing on Saturday — I wrote that there is no reason to fear the NFL postseason. Along similar lines, we also shared with you an excellent FanPost by JHodes saying that the 2018 postseason should mark a new beginning for the Chiefs franchise.
And on Monday, Kent Swanson explained not only why the Chiefs should “break the cycle” in 2018, but also why Chiefs fans don’t even need a victory against the Indianapolis Colts this weekend to put the franchise’s playoff past behind us.
If you haven’t yet done so, you should stop what you’re doing and read Kent’s article right now. And then share it on social media with the hashtag #BreakTheCycle. Then print up copies to give to your co-workers. Just do it, OK?
If it wasn’t for the fact that a significant portion of the Chiefs fanbase is convinced their team can’t win in January — especially against the Colts — maybe we wouldn’t have felt like we needed to go through all of that. But you know it, and I know it: a lot of Chiefs fans feel that way, and you can’t blame them.
But now that we have gone through that exercise, let’s get down to cases.
I will leave it to Kent and his AP Nerd Squad colleagues Craig Stout and Matt Lane to go through the film and delve more deeply into Xs and Os of the matchups between these two teams. But for right now, let’s start with a top-line look at what the Chiefs will face this Saturday.
1. 2018 Colts = 2015 Chiefs
Very much like the Chiefs in 2015, the Colts started the season 1-5, and then finished the season 9-1 to break into the playoffs as the sixth seed. As you’ll recall, the Chiefs started 1-5 in 2015, and then won 10 straight to make it into the postseason as the fifth seed.
But also just like the Chiefs in 2015, a big contributing factor in the Colts’ season-ending run was the strength of their opponents during that 10-game stretch. In 2015, the Chiefs’ opponents were 67-93. In 2018, the Colts’ opponents were a bit better at 73-87.
While it’s true that during this run, the Colts narrowly defeated the Houston Texans and trounced the Dallas Cowboys — two teams that would make the postseason — they lost to their AFC South rival Jacksonville Jaguars 6-0, and won their other meeting with them by only a field goal. And they defeated the hapless New York Giants by only one point.
By some curious quirk of history, both teams handily defeated the Texans at home in the Wild Card round. The Chiefs, as you’ll remember, lost by a touchdown to the second-seeded New England Patriots at The Razor in the divisional round.
Does it really seem all that unreasonable that the Colts might suffer the same fate to the first-seeded Chiefs at Arrowhead?
2. Don’t fear the rusher
Some of us who watched the Colts-Texans game on Saturday came away wondering if the Colts were going to shred the Chiefs rushing defense — and with good reason: the Colts gained 200 yards on the ground against the Texans. But over the season — even though they rushed for over 150 yards in four of their nine season-ending wins — the Colts have averaged a below-average 4.2 yards per attempt, ranking 22nd in the league.
They ran for a lot of yards against the Texans because they could afford to do so. The Colts were up 14-0 by the end of the first quarter and went into the locker room leading 21-0. The Texans didn’t score until the beginning of the fourth quarter. In other words, it was a perfect time for the Colts to run the ball — and they did.
They rushed for 5.7 yards a carry against a very good Texans run defense, but down by at least two scores from the second quarter on, the Texans had no choice but concentrate on keeping Andrew Luck at bay. They were willing to concede yards on the ground in order to keep the Colts from lighting them up even worse.
So if you’re concerned that the Colts will concentrate on a superior run game to move the ball on an inferior Chiefs run defense in order to keep Patrick Mahomes off the field... don’t be. The Chiefs will still get the ball at the end of every Colts possession. Unless the Colts are able to run out to a big lead early — which no team facing the Chiefs at Arrowhead has done this season — their rushing attack will likely stay closer to the average.
3. But... but... but... Andrew Luck!
It’s true that Andrew Luck has had a good season in 2018 — in fact, you could argue that it’s been a career year for the former No. 1 overall pick. But let’s remember that Luck’s season is being viewed through a particular prism: he missed all of 2017 and much of the previous two seasons due to injury, so the fact that he’s come back to something pretty close to his 2014 form is being heralded as big news. And in all fairness, it is.
It would be a mistake to underestimate Luck. But at the same time, let’s remember that this is a quarterback who was being touted as a “generational talent” when he was drafted in 2012. He’s a good — even a very good — quarterback. But let’s be honest: he hasn’t yet lived up to the expectations most had of him in 2012. Check this out:
Which of these three quarterbacks — each shown in their best season to date — has lived up to their expectations? Which of these quarterbacks would you pick as your quarterback this Saturday?
And before you say, “But... but... but... the Chiefs defense!” you should know this: the pass defenses of the Chiefs and the Colts are roughly similar; the Chiefs have allowed an opponent passer rating of 92.7 (12th in the NFL) and the Colts have allowed an opponent passer rating of 93.5 (16th in the NFL). The two quarterbacks should be on pretty even ground against the opposing defense — which should give the advantage to Mahomes.
That said, the Colts do have the reputation of having a good offensive line. They have, in fact, allowed just 18 sacks in 2018, which leads the NFL. This could conceivably tilt the balance towards the Colts if they are able to negate the Chiefs’ top-notch pass rush. But based on a tweet on Monday, I suspect that when Craig Stout has finished going through the film for the Colts, he’s going to have something to say about that:
Indianapolis Colts haven't played a Top 10 pass rush (in sacks) since Week 3. Their opponent ranking in each game this year:— Craig Stout (@barleyhop) January 7, 2019
28th, 7th, 8th, 11th, 30th, 16th, 26th, 32nd, 22nd, 16th, 29th, 22nd, 11th, 16th, 30th, 16th, 11th.
That's 19.5 on average.
To be sure, that’s a top-level read on the Colts offensive line. I will leave it up to Craig to flesh that out with better analysis than I can give.
So there are three reasons for you to chew on. More are on the way. Let’s do this!