Two playoff-bound teams meet at Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday when the Kansas City Chiefs host the Indianapolis Colts.
The 9-5 Colts have clinched the AFC South but are eyeing improved playoff seeding. The 11-3 Chiefs are tied for first place in the AFC West with the Denver Broncos but have secured at least a wild-card playoff berth. If the season ended today, the Chiefs and Colts would meet in a first-round playoff game in Indianapolis.
ESPN.com Chiefs reporter Adam Teicher and Colts reporter Mike Wells discuss the game:
Teicher: Colts QB Andrew Luck appears to be having a better season than last year. How has he progressed? In what specific ways is he a better player than he was as a rookie?
Wells: The biggest difference with Luck this year is that he has improved his accuracy. That may be hard to believe since the Colts have been without future Hall of Fame receiver Reggie Wayne for the past seven games. Luck's completion percentage has suffered some since Wayne went down on Oct. 20 because you never know which receiver is going to step up on a game-to-game basis. But ask anybody in the organization and they'll gladly take Luck's 58.7 percent completion percentage over the 54.1 percent he completed as a rookie. He's also making smarter decisions with the ball. He's more willing to take a sack rather than force a throw downfield. That's why he's thrown only nine interceptions compared to 18 as a rookie.
Chiefs RB Jamaal Charles had a game for the ages Sunday with five touchdowns. Everybody is talking about Broncos QB Peyton Manning as the front-runner for MVP, but do you think Charles deserves serious consideration?
Teicher: I do, but I think I’m in the minority. Unlike Manning, Charles has very little offensive help. Quarterback Alex Smith is having a nice season, but otherwise a huge share of Kansas City’s production is coming from Charles. He leads the league in touchdowns and is the one offensive player who has produced on any kind of consistent basis for an 11-3 team. I can’t imagine where the Chiefs would be without him, but I’m certain they wouldn’t be headed for the postseason. If Charles doesn’t win the MVP award, it won’t diminish his accomplishments, at least not in my mind.
The Chiefs allow a lot of big pass plays. With Wayne out, who are the big-play receivers -- or do the Colts have one besides T.Y. Hilton?
Wells: Take a quarter out of your pocket and toss it in the air. That’s the point it’s reached when talking about the Colts’ receivers. It looked like Hilton was going to be Luck’s big-play receiver when he had games of 121 and 130 yards immediately after Wayne went down. But then teams found a way to neutralize his speed by providing help over top. The Colts are doing things by committee at receiver these days. I expect offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton to repeat what he did in the first half against Houston on Sunday. The Colts will probably put Luck in the shotgun with some empty-backfield sets and let him spread the ball around to his receivers and tight ends. You may even see running back Trent Richardson line up on the outside some. It’s a whatever-it-takes approach in Indianapolis these days.
The Chiefs are averaging 44 points a game in their last four games. Is it because they actually have a good offense or is it because of the teams they’ve played?
Teicher: It’s probably some of both. The Chiefs have three touchdowns on defense/special teams over the last two weeks, and against the Raiders a flood of turnovers repeatedly gave the Chiefs favorable field position for some short scoring drives. But it’s also wrong to deny the progress they’ve made offensively. It starts with the line, which has improved tremendously since early in the season. Smith is playing much better, as well. He’s completing a higher percentage of his passes and is doing a better job getting the ball downfield. The Chiefs weren’t scoring like this earlier in the season against some horrible defensive teams. They scored 17 points on offense in an October win over Oakland and 49 on offense against the Raiders last week.
The Colts have clinched the AFC South but can still improve their playoff seeding. Will they go all-out to win this game, or might they back off a little and rest some key players?
Wells: The Colts aren’t a good enough team to be able to take things lightly and then all of a sudden flip a switch once the playoffs start. They’ve got too many issues that need to get fixed before the playoffs. They’re still trying to establish a consistent running game and produce steady play at receiver, as I alluded to earlier, and the defense has a tendency to give up big plays, as does Kansas City’s defense. The Colts' goal is to have some momentum heading into the playoffs. Besides, they’ve also got their sights on trying to move up from the No. 4 seed. They need to win their final two games against the Chiefs and Jacksonville, and get some help from Baltimore in its last two games against New England and Cincinnati.
There’s a chance the Colts and Chiefs could meet in the first weekend of the playoffs in Indianapolis. Do you think Chiefs coach Andy Reid will hold back some things because of that?
Teicher: The Chiefs will be all-in this week and they should be. They’re tied with the Broncos for first place in their division, and while Denver has the tiebreaker, the Chiefs have too much to gain by winning the division to back off now. If the Chiefs win both of their remaining games and Denver loses one of its two, the Chiefs would be the top seed in the AFC playoffs, get a first-round bye, and then play any of their playoff games at Arrowhead. Their fate if they are a wild card is no first-round bye and the playoffs on the road. The choice seems simple to me.