The Kansas City Chiefs won only two games last season but won 11 games this year. The Indianapolis Colts won only two games two seasons ago. Now, they’re making a second straight playoff appearance, having won 11 games this campaign.
The two up-and-coming teams meet to start the NFL playoffs, with the odds listed as a pick at Bovada ahead of Saturday’s 4:35 p.m. game on NBC.
Here’s what to watch for.
Chiefs X-Factor: The Offensive Line
The Chiefs’ offensive front was hammered by the Colts’ defensive line two weeks ago in a game Indianapolis won, 23-7. Kansas City’s skill players are capable of making a lot of plays, but the Chiefs won’t be able to do much if their offensive line can’t play at a high level on the road in a noisy stadium. If the offensive line sets the right tone, everything else will fall into place for the Chiefs.
Colts X-Factor: Wide Receivers
The Kansas City secondary was exposed by the Denver Broncos in the second half of the season. Kansas City has a lot of players who are vulnerable to a strong passing game. Indianapolis, though, has wobbled on offense ever since veteran receiver Reggie Wayne was injured. The other receivers on the roster, particularly T.Y. Hilton, have to step up in this contest. Otherwise, Indianapolis will have trouble scoring touchdowns.
Key Injuries: Eric Fisher (Chiefs), Fili Moala (Colts)
Both teams will have to deal with uncertain injury situations for important players. The Chiefs don’t know yet if offensive tackle Eric Fisher will play. Kansas City quarterback Alex Smith has been comfortable in the second half of the season, and that’s partly the product of Fisher providing quality pass protection. Kansas City needs him on the field, but it will be a tense wait until kickoff Saturday afternoon. The shorter week of preparation could work against Kansas City.
As for Indianapolis, Fili Moala played in all 16 regular-season games for the Colts. He fills up the middle for the team, giving it some needed heft. He started six games and played most of the available snaps for coach Chuck Pagano late in the season. If Moala is unable to play, it will definitely thin the ranks on the Colts’ run defense. Moala had a sack and two hurries against Smith and the Chiefs in Week 15.
The Chiefs rested almost all their starters in Week 17 because they weren’t playing for anything. That should help them in this game, as should the revenge factor. However, Indianapolis is playing like the team that beat Denver, the Seattle Seahawks and the San Francisco 49ers this season. The Colts have gained a second wind in December and are now getting the offensive line play they’ve needed all along for quarterback Andrew Luck. If the Colts can maintain the momentum they’ve established over the past few weeks, they should be able to win and cover. The NFL spread originally opened at -3 for Indy before dropping to a pick.