This game is a showdown of superstar quarterbacks, one rising and the other resurrected.
On one side is the Kansas City Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes, the NFL’s leading MVP candidate, who set franchise records with 50 touchdown passes and 10 300-yard passing games.
On the other is the Indianapolis Colts’ Andrew Luck, the probable comeback player of the year after sitting out last season with a shoulder injury. He turned around a team that started 1-5, leading the Colts to 10 wins in their last 11 games.
Along the way, he was sacked an NFL-low 18 times, which is especially remarkable because, in his first five seasons, he was hit and sacked more than any other quarterback in the league.
If history is a guide, the Colts are at an advantage, even though they’re on the road. They are 4-0 in the postseason against the Chiefs, including 2-0 at Arrowhead Stadium.
But the past means little to nothing to these Chiefs, who were 7-1 at home this season. They scored 565 points, which are not only a club record but also the third most in league history.
The yellow flags could fly, as the Chiefs were the most-penalized team (137), while the Colts led the NFL in penalties called on opponents (154).
Kansas City is looking to play host to the AFC championship game for the first time and is 0-5 in divisional games played at home. The Chiefs reached the title game in the 1993 season but lost in Buffalo.
Weather or not
Snow is in the forecast for the game, and the Colts have been practicing outside to prepare for that possibility.
The last time they played in those conditions was the “Snowmageddon” game in Buffalo on Dec. 10, 2017, when the whiteout was so severe that the Bills’ grounds crew had to use snowblowers during the game simply to see the yard markers.
The Colts ran the ball on 20 of their first 21 plays, becoming the first team of the 2017 season not to throw a pass in the opening quarter. They lost 13-7 in overtime.
Everyone knows the Chiefs can score. (They scored 51 against the Rams).
But can they stop anyone? (They gave up 54 against the Rams).
That will be the challenge for Kansas City’s 24th-ranked scoring defense, which has been especially unreliable when it comings to tackling and stopping the run.
The Chiefs, who are facing a Colts offense ranked fifth, are able to pressure the passer. They had sacks on 7.4% of pass plays, which was even better than the Khalil Mack-led Chicago Bears.
Then again, the Colts’ offensive line hasn’t given up more than one sack in a game since the first month of the season.
At least the Chiefs are coming into their first playoff game on a defensive high note. They beat Oakland 35-3 in their regular-season finale.
“We just have to keep it rolling,” linebacker Justin Houston told reporters. “It’s a great time for us to play like this. We were firing on all cylinders from the front to the back end [against Oakland] and now we just have to build off it.”
By the numbers
How teams compare statistically in the regular season. All stats are per-game averages, except for turnover differential and sacks, which are for the season (league rank in parentheses):
CATEGORY: INDY | KC
Points scored: 27.1 (5) | 35.3 (1)
Points allowed: 21.5 (10) | 26.3 (24)
Pass offense: 278.8 (6) | 309.7 (3)
Rush offense: 107.4 (20) | 115.9 (16)
Pass defense: 237.8 (16) | 273.4 (31)
Rush defense: 101.6 (8) | 132.1 (27)
Sacks: 38 (T19) | 52 (1)
Penalty yards: 59.6 (19) | 72.0 (32)
Turnovers: +2 (T13) | +9 (6)
Sam Farmer’s pick
This is not a good draw for the Chiefs, because the Colts can score with them, and they have the type of stingy defense that can give Kansas City problems. Andrew Luck keeps it rolling on the road.