The Indianapolis Colts host a Wild Card game for the first time since the 2010 season. The Kansas City Chiefs come to Indianapolis after hosting the Colts just two weeks ago.
The Chiefs started out the season 9-0, but have won just two of their final seven games. They didn’t manage to beat a single team with a record above .500 this year. When the two teams met in KC, the Colts ran away with the game 23-7.
The defense shined in that game and linebacker Jerrell Freeman was named AFC Defensive Player of the Week. It was a solid effort on the road that surprised many, myself included. It gave fans hope that this team could win more than one game in the postseason, and reaffirmed that the Colts are in fact a good team.
As I write this though, there is a possibility that this game could be blacked out in Indianapolis due to ticket sales. There are roughly 3,000 tickets left that need to be sold before the blackout is lifted and its the NFL’s fault. Cincinnati and Green Bay are in a similar situation, but have higher quantities of tickets left.
How did the NFL make such a mess? By forcing season ticket holders to decide if they wanted to buy their playoff tickets in early December and making them purchase not just the Wild Card game by also the AFC Championship as well (a game unlikely to be played in Indianapolis). The cherry on top was not offering automatic refunds if the AFCC wasn’t played, rather putting that towards season tickets for next season. That is basically giving the NFL an interest free loan of $10,000,000.
Simple economics dictate when and how people buy tickets. Asking people to fork over upwards of $600 a week before Christmas in blue collar cities is just ridiculous. Aside from the fact that blackout rules are insipid (especially considering the bulk of the NFL’s money is from TV contract) this policy is just a new level of greed from the NFL and if anyone of these games are blacked out, it will be a huge black eye for the league.
But regardless of whether or not the game is on TV in Indy, it will still be played.
Here’s what to watch for in the playoff rematch:
- The Heater. Andrew Luck has been playing extremely well the past few weeks. Its not impossible that he could put this team over the top with his play alone. We see this all the time in other sports. A pitcher or goalie gets hot and leads his team on a postseason run. Even Joe “Give Me All the Money at the Expense of My Team” Flacco did it last season. Just watch how sharp Luck looks, he’s put this team on his back before, don’t be surprised if he does it again.
- The Well. Pep Hamilton and Chuck Pagano love the jumbo set. I-form, one wide receiver. You probably know the play; its the one that doesn’t get them very many yards. When the Colts spread the formation out, like they’ve done on pretty much every scoring drive in the past few weeks, they finish in the end zone. If the Colts continue to utilize the spread formation, they can win this game and likely one or two more. Luck excels in the spread formation, as it utilizes mismatches and speed to keep a defense guessing. Rather than telegraphing a run play up the middle. Its clear which style works better.
- Jamaal Charles. Pagano referred to him as “public enemy number one.” That sounds about right. He makes the Chiefs offense run, literally. Alex Smith isn’t talented enough to carry a team and if the game is put on his shoulders, this ends up looking a lot like the game two weeks ago. Limiting his first and second down yardage will force Smith to make throws he’s uncomfortable with.
- Donald Brown. Brown is one of the more underrated running backs in the NFL. The biggest issue in his career has been injuries, and when healthy he is a dynamic player. He had the second best DVOA (value per play) for a running back in the NFL and was 14th in DYAR (value overall). He finished the season with a 5.3 yards per carry average behind a mediocre offensive line.
- Pace. What kind of game will this be? Pagano loves to slow down the game and play ball control. For this game, that will be just fine. As a general rule of thumb, the job of the offense is to score points, not play keep away. Chiefs coach Andy Reid doesn’t want to get into a shootout when his gun is Smith. This can be a slugfest, and for this week, that’s just fine. If the Colts end up in Denver next week, that’s a different story.
The Colts have been exceptional in big games all season long. Seattle, San Francisco, and Denver were all the sort of wins that many teams dream of having. I’d say the Wild Card qualifies as a big game.
The Chiefs have been in a tailspin for weeks now, and the Colts are rising.
Colts move on to the Divisional round, 21-10.
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