Fans of the Kansas City Chiefs should be afraid …
The anxiety isn’t limited to the ghosts of postseasons past, that scary time when the Chiefs have consistently flopped like no other NFL team. By now the numbers have been committed to memory, and every Chiefs’ loyalist can quote them.
KC has lost 11 of its last 12 in the postseason, including six in a row at Arrowhead Stadium. For all of his brilliance as a designer of advanced offenses, head coach Andy Reid is 1-6 in his last seven postseason tests.
This horrific history must be extremely unsettling for the No. 1 seed in this year’s AFC playoff tournament. Patrick Mahomes is a sensational quarterback who carries no scars, and no sins, from the Chiefs’ previous January freezeouts. His overwhelming talent could frighten the ghosts, alter the sorry history, and set KC off on a bold, confident journey to the Super Bowl.
It sounds good … but … beware. The Indianapolis Colts are standing in the Chiefs way. The Colts are a menacing obstacle that can end the Chiefs season approximately 3 hours after Saturday’s 3:35 p.m. kickoff at Arrowhead.
The Colts are for real. You can make the case that they’re the best team in the NFL at this moment in time. And it isn’t a stretch to suggest that the Colts are big, big trouble for the Chiefs.
* The Colts have character and are amazingly resilient. This season they rallied to become only the third team in NFL history to make the playoffs after going 1-5 to begin the regular season. They’re rolling, having 10 of their last 11 games including an authoritative 21-7 road win at Houston on Saturday.
* During the 10-1 stretch the Colts have allowed an average of 15.5 points per game. In winning nine of the last 10 regular-season games, Indianapolis had the league’s best point differential (plus 117), gave up the fewest points (average of 16.4), and finished sixth in points scored (28.1 per contest.)
* We already know that the Chiefs have an awfully shaky defense, having gotten slammed for 26.4 points per game, which ranked 24th among the 32 teams during the regular season. Kansas City’s defense ranked 31st against the pass, 27th against the run, and were 31st in defending the red zone. Opponents hit up the Chiefs for points on 40.8 percent of their offensive possessions this season. Only the Bengals (46.3 percent), Raiders (44.3%), Falcons (41.5%) and Giants (40.9%) were scored on more often.
* The Indianapolis offense is legitimately versatile … and formidable. The Colts can rely on quarterback Andrew Luck to inflict severe damage on defenses. Luck fired for 39 touchdown passes this season; only Mahomes (50) had more.
* The Colts have evolved into a strong running team, especially when propelled by a healthy offensive line. Here’s a stat from The Athletic: when all five of Indianapolis O-line starters are intact the Colts have averaged 150.4 yards rushing per game and 5.0 yards per carry. This is an ominous development for the Chiefs. In dominating Houston in Saturday’s game, the Colts bulldozed a rugged Texans’ defense for 200 yards rushing, led by Marlon Mack’s 148 yards on 24 runs.
* The Mack attack was the first 100-yard-plus rushing day by a running back against Houston’s defense this season. Until Saturday, no team had rushed on Houston for more than 124 yards in a game this season. To make the playoffs, the Colts had to win their final regular-season game at Tennessee. Not an easy assignment, given the Titans’ stout defense. But Mack rushed 25 times for 119 yards and a touchdown in his team’s 33-17 win. And he followed by rumbling through Houston’s defense in the wild-card triumph. So with the Colts’ season on the line — back to back weeks of elimination football — Mack cranked it up 49 times for 264 yards (5.38 per carry) and two touchdowns.
“It feels like we can win any type of game,” said Colts offensive tackle Anthony Castonzo, speaking to reporters after the win in at Houston. “It doesn’t matter. If we need to throw it, if we need to run it, regardless of how we need to play, I feel like we can win games. And it feels good.”
* The Chiefs have one true strength on defense: A fiery pass rush that’s generated 52 sacks, tied for most in the NFL. That pressure is a major factor in creating and forcing turnovers. For all of their flaws defensively, the Chiefs had the league’s fifth-best turnover rate this season, coming up with a takeaway on 15 percent of opposing-team possessions.
* Now, for the bad news: the Colts allowed the fewest number of sacks in the league this season, 18. (That total includes only eight sacks during the Colts’ 10-1 gallop.) The Colts have been beaten for a sack on only 2.7 percent of their dropbacks this season — the lowest percentage by an NFL offense in a season since the 2010 Colts allowed a sack rate of 2.3% while protection QB Peyton Manning.
* What’s that? The 2018 Chiefs are the NFL’s highest-scoring offense? Sure. Absolutely correct. And so what? The 2003 Chiefs had the No. 1 scoring offense in the league that season — and fell to the Colts in the divisional playoff round, 38-31. And the ‘03 Chiefs had a better record (13-3) than the 2018 Chiefs (12-4.) That 2003 KC team was a plus 152 in point differential, which outshined the +144 PD by the Chiefs this season.
Many of the players have changed through the years, so the Colts’ 4-0 playoff record vs. KC — which includes two wins at Arrowhead — could be dismissed as an interesting irrelevancy … though Luck is 3-1 against the Chiefs overall during his career including 1-0 in the postseason.
None of that really matters — unless, of course, Reid is fragile going into the Indy game … haunted by ghosts of postseasons past.
Mahomes has too much poise to be rattled by a history that did not include him.
We know that Mahomes has the talent to be a game-changer.
And when the dangerous Colts come to Kansas City this weekend, Mahomes has a chance to rescue the Chiefs and his coach from this hideous vortex — the January Dread — and change the fate of a franchise.
Thanks for reading …