When the Colts have the ball: Andrew Luck came out of the gate firing on Houston’s hapless secondary in the best QB performance of wild-card weekend. Amazingly, he wasn’t sacked for the seventh time in the Colts’ past 12 games, and he led long TD drives on three of Indy’s first four possessions, getting T.Y. Hilton and Eric Ebron involved early.
If Luck’s was the best QB performance to open the playoffs, RB Marlon Mack might have been the singular most impressive player. He rushed for a career-high 148 yards on 24 carries against one of only two NFL defenses that didn’t allow a 100-yard runner during the season. He ran with determination and explosion, but we again must mention the superb job up front in opening holes and minimizing the impact of J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney.
After what appeared to be a midseason steadying by the Chiefs’ No. 24 scoring ‘D’ (31st in yards), it allowed an average of over 35 points in its final five games of consequence. With Pro Bowlers Chris Jones and Dee Ford (28.5 combined sacks) and stalwart Justin Houston (nine sacks, five FF), Bob Sutton’s unit can wreak havoc up front.
But it’s awful on third down and in the red zone and cedes too many big plays in a scotch-tape secondary that’s missed a healthy Eric Berry. A heel injury sidelined him for the first 14 weeks, plus the regular-season finale, after he missed virtually all of 2017 with a ruptured Achilles.
When the Chiefs have the ball: MVP front-runner Patrick Mahomes, 23, is a breathtaking magician with elite arm talent and improvisational skills, engineering one of the more prolific offenses in NFL history. He distributes to All-Pros Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill, both of whom Andy Reid does a masterful job scheming for in a spread-west coast hybrid built around getting elite playmakers in space.
RB Damien Williams somehow stepped in for exiled Kareem Hunt with very little drop-off, averaging 88 yards from scrimmage and 1.5 touchdowns in four games as the feature back. Kansas City is anchored up front by All-Pro RT Mitchell Schwartz. In addition to Berry, Sammy Watkins (foot) and Spencer Ware (hamstring) are injury question marks.
Led by fast-rising DC Matt Eberflus, the Colts’ red-hot ‘D’ ranked No. 10 in scoring during the regular season and allowed only one touchdown to the Texans, the fifth time in the past eight games Indianapolis surrendered one or fewer.
All-Pro rookie outside backer Darius Leonard is the unit’s most impactful performer, but it gets quiet contributions from all three levels. Margus Hunt and Denico Autry are the run stuffers. Jabaal Sheard helps heat up the edges. And Pierre Desir and slot Kenny Moore, who picked Deshaun Watson last week, are good on the back end.
The Colts ranked 20th in passing yards per attempt allowed (6.6), while the Chiefs were the only NFL offense to average more than eight yards per pass play.
Special teams: The Chiefs’ third phase, overseen by revered Dave Toub, again was great in coverage and returns and received consistent kicking from PK Harrison Butker and P Britton Colquitt. The Colts, also solid in their kicking game, don’t have a threat like RS Tyreek Hill but led the NFL in punt coverage.
Coaching: Andy Reid and Frank Reich have been tremendous. The creative and aggressive Reich thoroughly out-coached Bill O’Brien last week, while Reid’s mentoring of Mahomes has been as impressive as any HC-QB dynamic in recent memory. But Reid’s occasional game management issues are well-documented, as is his 1-4 postseason record with the Chiefs, who have dropped an NFL-record six consecutive home playoff games, beginning in 1995, when the Colts knocked off the top seed at Arrowhead.
Prediction: Indy has the right stuff to pull off a second consecutive upset: the NFL’s best third-down offense, taking pressure off their sound ‘D,’ the experience edge behind center and the conference’s hottest back and NFL’s best O-line. But no stage so far has been too big for Mahomes, and we’ll choose to believe this one is only after we’ve seen it.
Chiefs 31, Colts 24