KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The road to Super Bowl XLVIII begins Saturday, as the Chiefs (11-5, No. 5 seed) take on the Indianapolis Colts (11-5, No. 4 seed) at Lucas Oil Stadium for the first game of Wild Card Weekend.
It’s also a rematch from Week 16, where the Colts defeated the Chiefs 23-7 at Arrowhead Stadium.
Still, the second time around for the two teams around carries more significance over the regular season, as the postseason is all about win or go home.
“I know it’s going to kick up a notch, as it should,” Chiefs defensive tackle Dontari Poe said of what he expects from an intensity level. “It’s the playoffs. It’s for all the marbles. It’s win or go home and nobody wants to go home after you’ve made it this far. Everybody will be playing their hearts out.”
Meanwhile, both teams have a sense of familiarity with each other having faced off just two weeks ago.
“This is playoffs and that’s always exciting,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said during Thursday’s media session. “I was happy about the work that the guys put in. I think they have a pretty good feel of what the Colts are about.”
Chiefs safety Quintin Demps, who has appeared in seven career playoff games, said he won’t expect much difference from the first meeting given what he knows.
“Energy,” Demps said. “They’re going to come with it; they’re at home, so definitely they’re going to be hyped up about that. We expect their best and nothing less. It’s a playoff game.”
Cornerback Dunta Robinson, a 10-year pro with four career playoff starts, agreed on the outlook.
“I expect a tough-fought, hard-fought football game,” Robinson said. “I expect them to come out and give their absolute best and we’re definitely going to do the same. It’s going to be a battle.”
The optimism in the Chiefs locker room throughout the week has been high heading into the weekend.
Players know what’s at stake and they don’t want a good season to end with a one-and-done.
“Everybody’s mindset is we are not ready to go home,” outside linebacker Justin Houston said. “As long as we keep practicing the way we are practicing and everybody is putting in extra work in the film room, we are going to be all right.”
And if anything, the Colts know what to expect Saturday when the Chiefs take the field.
“We just know they’re a good team,” Colts outside linebacker Robert Mathis said during Tuesday’s media conference call. “So we’re going to approach it like they’re a playoff team, which they are.”
Tale of the tape (regular season)
• The Chiefs finished the season ranked 10th in rushing (128.5 yards per game) and 24th in passing (208.8 yards per game).
• The Colts ranked 20th in rushing (108.9 yards per game) and 17th in passing (232.8 yards per game).
• The Chiefs finished the season ranked 22nd against the run (120.2 yards allowed per game) and tied at 25th against the pass (247.6 yards allowed per game).
• The Colts ranked 26th against the run (125.1 yards allowed per game) and 13th against the pass (231.9 yards allowed per game).
The last time
The Colts defeated the Chiefs 23-7 at Arrowhead Stadium in Week 16 of the regular season.
The Chiefs and Colts have met three times in the postseason, with the Colts winning all three:
• A 23-8 victory at the RCA Dome in a 2006 AFC Wild Card Game played on Jan. 6, 2007.
• A 38-31 victory at Arrowhead in a 2003 AFC Divisional Playoff Game played on Jan. 11, 2004.
• A 10-7 victory at Arrowhead in a 1995 AFC Divisional Playoff Game played on Jan. 7, 1996.
The last time, take II
The Chiefs’ last playoff win occurred Jan. 16, 1994.
Many of the players on the current roster were toddlers, and some of the players were surprised to hear for the first time how long it’s been.
“It’s been that long?” said a stunned rookie linebacker Nico Johnson, who was 3 years old in 1994. “I’m very surprised.”
The playoff drought was even more surprising to defensive end/linebacker Josh Martin, who was 2 years old in 1994.
Martin’s reasoning surrounded some of the Chiefs teams that played in Kansas City the last playoff win.
“There’s been a lot of good players that have been here through that time,” Martin said. “It’s surprising, but then again it’s the NFL and a lot of things happen.”
Players don’t often monitor a streak like the current one the Chiefs are on for a simple fact – they weren’t on any of the teams through the past 20 years ago.
However, younger players are aware what it would mean to a loyal fan base to end the drought, especially for the supporters making the trip to Indianapolis to watch the game in person.
“Our fans have been there for a while, they’ve been through it all,” Johnson said. “To have them there as far as supporting us in a playoff game and getting a win, it’s going to mean a lot.”
Guard Jeff Allen, who was 3 years old in 1994, agreed.
“That would be special not only for us as an organization, but for the entire city,” Allen said. “All the fans, they’ve been waiting a long time to get a playoff win. We’re determined to go out there and give our best effort to come out with a victory.”
Still, potentially ending a piece of dark history takes a backseat to what the Chiefs are hoping for this season, as pointed out by defensive back Ron Parker, who was 6 years old in 1994.
But of course, starting a new playoff winning streak would accomplish two things.
“It would be very important to end that streak because we’re on a mission,” Parker said. “And if we don’t end that streak, then our mission stops.”
Public enemy No. 1
Pagano on the most important factor facing the Chiefs–Jamaal Charles: “We call him Public Enemy No. 1 and he still is.”
— Kevin Bowen (@KBowenColts) December 31, 2013
Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles will be a marked man Saturday, as noted by that comment from Colts coach Chuck Pagano.
Nevertheless, Charles, who rushed for 106 yards rushing and a touchdown on 13 carries in Week 16, is ready for whatever role he’s asked to perform.
“I really want this, I really want to go far,” Charles said during Tuesday’s media session. “And I know if I have to put the team on my back I will. I’m really excited to take this role.”
As for facing the Colts twice in three weeks, Charles said he and his teammates took some lessons learned and are ready for Saturday.
“We know it’s a playoff game and it’s going to be faster and everybody’s going to have their best game plan and their best players on the field,” Charles said. “We know what’s at stake here. So as a team, we all know that we have to play faster and play harder than them.”
The Chiefs were thought to enter the first round of the playoffs relatively healthy, but that’s no longer the case.
Right tackle Eric Fisher suffered a groin injury during Tuesday’s practice and hasn’t practiced the past two days.
The good news is the team has offensive lineman Donald Stephenson, who has seven starts on the season (three at right tackle, four at left tackle).
A bigger blow potentially arrives at the linebacker position.
While the Chiefs get outside linebacker Justin Houston back from an elbow injury he suffered in Week 12, there’s uncertainty surrounding outside linebacker Tamba Hali (knee), who missed a second straight day of practice Thursday.
Hali hasn’t practiced since his knee swelled up following Week 16’s game against the Colts.
Still, Chiefs coach Andy Reid said even though Hali has missed practices, he’s the type of player who many not need it in order to be ready for Saturday’s game.
“I think at this point in the year he knows the scheme and he has it down,” Reid said during Thursday’s media session. “The important thing is that the swelling is out of his knee and you’re sure that what’s causing the swelling is in a position where it isn’t hurting him for the future.”
If Hali can’t go, linebacker Frank Zombo will draw the start on the right side of the defense.
Chiefs coach Andy Reid when asked how Tuesday’s morning walkthrough went:
“They normally walk well,” Reid responded to a chorus of laughter.
Chiefs linebacker Derrick Johnson when asked what it’s like playing with outside linebackers Justin Houston and Tamba Hali, and defensive tackle Dontari Poe causing havoc up front:
“I sit back and make plays,” Johnson said. “It’s great.”
Chiefs defensive tackle Dontari Poe, who was 3 years old the last time the Chiefs won a playoff game, when asked if he remembers watching that game:
“3 years old, I don’t remember watching too much,” Poe said with a smile.
Colts outside linebacker Robert Mathis channeled his inner Axel Foley with the Colts media on Monday:
Robert Mathis w the best line of the day: “Don’t fall for the banana in the tailpipe” when asked if KC will be the same team from 2 wks ago
— Mike Wells (@MikeWellsNFL) December 30, 2013
Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri to the Colts media on Saturday’s rematch:
— Ken Bud Sothman (@KenSothman) December 30, 2013
Conspiracy theorists believe the Chiefs purposely held back against the Colts in Week 16.
And they could have a point if people are into those theories, especially when considering the Chiefs turned in arguably the worst performance of the season.
Still, the past is the past, so whatever happened three weeks ago doesn’t matter Saturday.
The past week of preparations boil down to a simple fact as all the players know: The playoffs are all about winning in a single-elimination format.
On the surface, the first-round matchup could be viewed as a tale of two teams passing each other in the night.
Indianapolis ended the regular season heading in the right direction on a three-game winning streak.
Conversely, the Chiefs finished the season 2-5 after starting 9-0.
But the postseason plays a role in why Andy Reid was brought aboard in the first place.
Prior to becoming the Chiefs head coach, Reid amassed six division titles and made five appearances in the NFC Championship game, advancing once to the Super Bowl, while with the Philadelphia Eagles. He holds a 10-9 postseason record as a head coach.
Meanwhile, there are plenty of reasons to believe the Colts should win Saturday’s rematch.
The Colts clearly outplayed the Chiefs in Week 16; the Colts seem to have the Chiefs’ number in the postseason (three wins); the Colts are hot at the right time; and the Colts have the home-field advantage.
But there are two thoughts why the Chiefs could win: Jamaal Charles and Reid.
Charles was an afterthought in the second half of the Week 16 meeting, and Reid made it a point to mention that in his first presser the day after the game.
“He’s a great football player,” Reid said of Charles on Dec. 23. “You want to make sure that you do give him enough touches. What that number is, I don’t know, but I know that you need to give it to him a few more times the second half.”
The Chiefs under Reid are all about learning lessons from past games. And it would absolutely stun to see them go away from the team’s top offensive weapon in a game with everything at stake.
With Charles leading the way, look for the Chiefs to stun the favored Colts in a close one.
Outcome: Chiefs 31, Colts 28
Thursday’s official NFL Injury Report, as released by the league:
NOTE: Player designations of out, doubtful, questionable or probable won’t be determined until Friday.
Kansas City Chiefs
Did not practice
Wednesday: RT Eric Fisher (groin, shoulder), LB Tamba Hali (knee)
Thursday: RT Eric Fisher (groin, shoulder), LB Tamba Hali (knee)
Wednesday: LT Branden Albert (knee), WR Dwayne Bowe (concussion), LB Justin Houston (elbow), C Eric Kush (ankle), CB Ron Parker (finger, ankle)
Thursday: LT Branden Albert (knee), WR Dwayne Bowe (concussion), LB Justin Houston (elbow), C Eric Kush (ankle), CB Ron Parker (finger, ankle)
Did not practice
Wednesday: NT Aubrayo Franklin (knee), DT Fili Moala (knee)
Thursday: DT Fili Moala (knee)
Wednesday: WR Darius Heyward-Bey (hamstring)
Wednesday: S Sergio Brown (groin), CB Darius Butler (quadricep), CB Vontae Davis (groin), DT Ricky Jean Francois (foot), LB Robert Mathis (not injury related), G Mike McGlynn (elbow), DE Cory Redding (shoulder), CB Gregory Toler (groin), LB Bjoern Werner (ankle)
Thursday: S Sergio Brown (groin), CB Darius Butler (quadricep), CB Vontae Davis (groin), DT Aubrayo Franklin (knee), WR Darrius Heyward-Bey (hamstring), DT Ricky Jean Francois (foot), LB Robert Mathis (not injury related), G Mike McGlynn (elbow), DE Cory Redding (shoulder), CB Gregory Toler (groin), LB Bjoern Werner (ankle)