The Kansas City Chiefs have been the darlings of the NFL in 2018, dazzling observers with their high-octane, league-leading offense. One marshalled so expertly by second-year star quarterback Patrick Mahomes.
The Chiefs tallied the most yards per game (425.6) and points per game (35.3), while Mahomes was second only to Ben Roethlisberger in passing yards (5,097) – just 32 fewer than Big Ben – but he comfortably led the league in passing touchdowns (50).
However, the Chiefs have not won a home playoff game since 1993 – when Joe Montana was their quarterback! – and the AFC’s No 1 seed are set to host the in-form team in the NFL on Saturday in the Indianapolis Colts, fresh from 10 wins out of their last 11.
January 12, 2019, 9:00pm
Luck was second only to Mahomes in passing TDs in 2018, with 39. They have an improving defense, with Defensive Rookie of the Year front-runner Darius Leonard leading the league in tackles (163) and they have a beastly offensive line that has given up the fewest sacks this season (18), readied to take on the Chiefs and their NFL-best pass rush unit which has been responsible for 52 QB takedowns.
Have the Chiefs met their match? Sky Sports’ Jeff Reinebold takes a closer look at what is set to be an epic divisional-round clash…..
Mahomes vs Luck
Patrick Mahomes (50) and Andrew Luck (39) have combined for the most regular-season passing touchdowns (89) among any opposing quarterbacks in a playoff game in NFL history. Mahomes and Luck will pass Peyton Manning/Philip Rivers (87) in the 2013 Division round and Drew Brees/Matthew Stafford (87) in the 2011 Wild Card.
“These two are the two hottest quarterbacks, in terms of touchdown passes, in the league.
“Luck is back, playing in the prime of his career, while Mahomes is just getting started and is surely headed for the Hall of Fame.
“I don’t know if we’ve ever had a guy come in and take the league by storm like this kid has. Peyton Manning had a great initial run, but Mahomes – in his first year as a starter – has just been phenomenal. He plays way beyond his years.
“That’s the thing that is so impressive about him, his emotional maturity for the position. It’s well beyond most kids new to the league. We saw that with Lamar Jackson for the Baltimore Ravens only last week. A Heisman Trophy winner in college, but he melted down in the big moments. The stage was too big for him.
“That will be really interesting to see with Mahomes, in his first career playoff game. But he has given no indication throughout the year that the stage is too big for him. No matter what match-up, he has always played well.
“As for Luck, the thing people need to understand with him is he went 585 days without playing a football game after shoulder surgery. That’s an incredible amount of time off at the position that requires the most finite skill, the most accuracy, the best decision-making. It is the hardest position to play in pro sports.
“To lose a whole season of football, his career was really in the balance and there were a lot of people who really didn’t feel he’d ever be able to come back at the same level. But here he is.
“The velocity is back on his ball, the tight spiral. And they’re protecting him much better. They went out and drafted two good young players to help their offensive line.”
The battle in the trenches
The Colts have allowed the fewest sacks in the NFL in 2018, giving up just 18. The Chiefs’ defense, meanwhile, have sacked the quarterback the most, with 52 takedowns – joint with the Pittsburgh Steelers. They are the only team to have two edge rushers in the league’s top 10 in sacks – Chris Jones (3rd, 15.5) and Dee Ford (joint 8th, 13.0).
“This is going to be really fun to watch.
“Anthony Castonzo and Braden Smith at Tackle for the Colts – one a veteran, one a rookie – are both outstanding players. And then on the inside, another rookie, Quinton Nelson is fun to watch. There aren’t many offensive guards out there that you like to watch play, but he’s one of them.
“But those guys are going to have to do a great job on the edge to contain the Chiefs’ pass rushers. And I do think the likes of Justin Houston, Dee Ford, Chris Jones ultimately get some pressure on Luck.
“That said, the Colts’ scheme has changed. They’re running the football an awful lot better, and that has really allowed Luck to blossom and become the passer we all thought he could be if he could just play in an offense where he wasn’t getting hit every down.
“Because of their ability to run the ball with Marlon Mack, and the Chiefs’ inability to stop the run, if the Colts can win on 1st-and-10 and 2nd-and-medium – stay ahead of the chains and out of 3rd-and-long situations – then the Chiefs could struggle.
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Stopping the Chiefs
The Chiefs finished with the sixth-highest scoring average (35.2 points per game) in NFL history. The five teams that finished ahead of the Chiefs made it through to the Championship game.
“This could be the key to the game.
“The weapons the Chiefs bring are significantly more impressive than the Colts saw out of the Houston Texans last week, so I think they will have their hands full on defense.
“The Colts aren’t built to rush the passer. That’s not really their thing. They’re physical, and athletic in the secondary.
“They should do a good job against the run, but how do they cope against Tyreek Hill and all the stuff the Chiefs do with him? And who is going to handle Travis Kelce? He is like having a receiver out there at tight end.
“In the Texans game, they went after DeAndre Hopkins, they went out and pressed him. So I’m sure they’re going to do a lot of that, but it’s easier to take away one guy than it is to take away three or four.”
Chiefs’ home playoff curse
The Chiefs have lost their last six home playoff games in a row, with their last home win coming in the 1993 Wild Card round against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Joe Montana was quarterback for Kansas City, and Neil O’Donnell for Pittsburgh.
“It is a concern.
“When I was with the Chiefs during training camp in the early 2000s, they had great players, particularly offensively, a lot like this team. Trent Green, Priest Holmes, Tony Gonzalez, Dante Hall; but they just could not win in the playoffs.
“They had a great regular season in 2003, even had a bye into the playoffs and a home divisional-round game, but got beat, by the Colts in actual fact.
“Now, here we are again. A first-round bye, a home playoff game, and against a Colts team that is red-hot.
“It’s also a Colts team that is physical. That’s the slight advantage that the Colts have. Kansas City are a finesse team, while Indianapolis are a physical one.
“The nature of the two teams is so diametrically different. It’s going to a heck of a match-up.”
The Colts are 4-0 all-time versus the Chiefs in the postseason. In their most recent meeting, in the 2013 Wild Card round, the Colts tied the second-largest comeback win in NFL history (28 points) as they ran out 45-44 winners, having trailed 38-10 in the third quarter.
“That game back in 2013 was amazing! And I think this will be another epic, though maybe not as high scoring as some people think.
“For the Colts to win it, I think they’ll have to play really well early in the game. They can’t afford to get behind.
“The crowd in Arrowhead is a big factor. It is the loudest crowd in the NFL. So, if the Chiefs come out the blocks fast on offense and get the crowd up, they can make it really difficult for the Colts.
“I remember the first time I coached on the sidelines at Arrowhead – it was a preseason game – and I was still like ‘Wow’. Ratchet that up x 100 as it is the playoffs.
“If the Colts can run the ball, take the crowd out of the game, and hang around, then I think it could come down right to the last possession of the game to see who wins.
“But, I think the Chiefs will ultimately edge it. I don’t see Mahomes caving to the pressure of the game and I think they’ve just got too many weapons.”