Usually a little Luck isn’t good enough for the Colts. They usually need a lot of Luck. Well, in the win over the Houston Texans, Indianapolis was able to get by with a little Luck. It was the Marlon Mack Show and the defense did the rest. Will that formula work against the Kansas City Chiefs? We’ll have to wait until Saturday to find out, but it’s safe to say that Andrew Luck will need to be better if the Colts are to advance to the AFC Championship Game.
It seems like there is interest on both sides early in the week for this matchup. The Chiefs opened -4 and quickly got bet up to -6, but now we’ve seen the number settle in the -5 range with a total of 57.
All bettors could be a tad perplexed with this game. This may not even end up a sharp vs. public split, as both offenses are sexy enough to split public action and the defensive edge, which does belong to the Colts at this stage, may be nominal with what the Chiefs do on offense. Being right in the “dead” zone between 4 and 6 makes a ton of sense.
Ain’t No Lie, Baby, Bye, Bye, Bye Week
The Kansas City Chiefs got to enjoy a MUCH-needed week off. The running game has been in shambles since video became public of Kareem Hunt assaulting a woman and then Spencer Ware got hurt to make matters worse. Perhaps most importantly, Tyreek Hill had some time to get healthy. Hill was still out there making plays, but he only managed a 51.2 percent catch rate on his 43 targets over the last five weeks.
Hill only had 13 catches on 23 targets over the last three weeks. Two of those games were losses for the Chiefs.
The Colts didn’t get the luxury of a week off. In fact, they’ll be playing their third consecutive road game now and this one comes outside at Arrowhead Stadium.
Don’t You People Have Mahomes?!
Paraphrasing the cantankerous Judge Smails, the Chiefs have to be excited to go into this game with Pat Mahomes off of a record-setting regular season. But, the guy in white and blue is having a terrific season as well and he’s got a lot more playoff experience. Andrew Luck was not great against the Texans, as he was only 19-of-32 for 222 yards with a couple touchdowns and a pick, but he got the ball out and didn’t take any sacks. He stayed out of harm’s way.
Can Mahomes do the same? Luck is now 4-3 in seven career playoff games with 292 pass attempts. Up until last week, he hadn’t played in the postseason since 2014. Mahomes didn’t play too many big games at Texas Tech and has no NFL playoff experience. He had 35 career pass attempts coming into this season.
Most handicaps are about sorting through the noise to determine what really matters. Does Mahomes’s lack of playoff experience really matter to you? There isn’t anything overly quantifiable with regards to first-time playoff starters. Recent history suggests that it is tough with Lamar Jackson’s first-round exit and Jared Goff’s last postseason.
Return of the Mack
Nobody wants to play the Colts right now. This defense is rapidly improving and we all know what Luck has done with the offense. How about Marlon Mack? Mack, who missed a couple weeks early in the year and seemed to battle injuries off and on, has rushed for at least 119 yards in three of his last four games. He only had two such games the rest of the season.
This young coaching staff has gelled quickly and the team’s performance in all facets of the game has improved. This is a far more balanced Indianapolis team than what we saw earlier in the season.
Look for the Mack Attack to play a big role this week, as the Chiefs rank 31st in yards per carry allowed. It also wouldn’t hurt to keep Mahomes and the Chiefs offense off of the field.
There is one seemingly large mismatch that Andy Reid and Eric Bieniemy should look to exploit. No team in the NFL allowed more receptions to tight ends than the Colts. Travis Kelce should eat in this game. While the Colts only allowed five receiving scores to tight ends, opposing TEs caught 106 of 133 passes for 1,234 yards. No other team in the NFL allowed more than 1,075 yards to that position.
After hitting a high-water mark for the season with 168 yards in Week 13 against the Raiders, Kelce averaged just 10.6 yards per catch with 24 grabs and 254 yards over the last four games of the regular season. We knew that Hill was limping around, but Kelce didn’t appear to 100 percent towards the end of the season either.
Be on the lookout for some Travis Kelce prop bets this weekend, as he should find some open field.
While Frank Reich didn’t directly work under Andy Reid, he was the offensive coordinator in Philadelphia under former Andy Reid disciple Doug Pederson.
Colts GM Chris Ballard was the director of player personnel for the Chiefs in 2013-14 and then the director of football operations in 2015-16. Ballard was basically the architect of the Chiefs team that we currently see. He will certainly have a lot to say in meetings this week.
Red Zone Report
Last week, the Colts had a huge edge in the red zone. The edge isn’t nearly as big this week, as the Chiefs were second in TD% on offense, but the Chiefs also gave it back on defense by being 31st in the NFL. Houston was bad in both areas. At least the Colts still outshine the Chiefs defensively inside the 20.
This feels like a high-variance game and this is the start of what could very well be a high-variance weekend in the NFL overall. In some respects, this could be a “last team with the ball wins” scenario. It could also be a much different game with Kansas City as healthy as possible after dealing with some key injuries in recent weeks and Indianapolis in a really tough spot with a third straight road game and an outdoor playoff game.
Because the Colts are so balanced on offense right now and are playing so well on defense, they’d be the preferred side for the full game. A stronger play is to take Indianapolis in the first half, as the Chiefs will likely be shaking off some rust early in the game.
As far as the total goes, it may hinge on the effectiveness of Indianapolis’s running game in playing keep away. The Colts have really buckled down defensively over the last six games by allowing more than 21 points just once, but this is a much more potent offense than any that the Colts have faced. I’d lean over the total here, but ever so slightly.