After winning nine of ten just to reach the postseason as the second wild card team in the AFC, the Indianapolis Colts defeated the Houston Texans on Saturday evening to wrap up a scintillating trilogy.
Now, they have earned the right to take on the top-seeded Kansas City Chiefs and prospective league MVP Patrick Mahomes.
But despite heading into Arrowhead Stadium next Saturday as the likely underdog, the Chiefs may actually be the most favorable matchup for the Colts with respect to the teams still remaining in the AFC bracket.
Despite ranking as the highest-scoring team in the NFL and one of the more prolific offenses of this decade, Kansas City was rather lackluster on the defensive side of the ball. The Chiefs ranked 24th in terms of scoring defense, and allowed 405.5 yards per game to opposing offenses.
Although they led the NFL in sacks and possess defensive playmakers like Justin Houston, Chris Jones and Dee Ford, the Chiefs gave up the second-most passing yards in the NFL and also conceded the sixth-most rushing yards. They have thrived on takeaways in big moments, but the holes in their secondary are evident.
Meanwhile, the Colts finished 11th in terms of scoring defense and fifth in scoring offense, stating their case as arguably the most well-balanced team in the AFC.
Indianapolis marched into Houston to face a Texans side that was the third-best team against the run. What did they do? Oh, simply rack up 200 yards on over 5.7 yards per carry against J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney.
Not only did the Colts establish the run early and often, but Andrew Luck was not sacked a single time, and found success extending plays outside of the pocket. His pocket presence and footwork were on full display as he found the likes of T.Y. Hilton and Dontrelle Inman for big gains in huge third-down situations.
And on the other side of the ball, Deshaun Watson completed under 60 percent of his passes and Texans running back Lamar Miller was held to just 15 yards on eight carries. Sure, Watson was able to escape the pocket and find running room here and there, but Matt Eberflus’ Tampa 2 scheme completely limited big plays downfield.
None of these factors are likely to appeal to a Chiefs team that thrived on big plays all season long. Mahomes is similarly adept at moving around and making plays outside of the pocket, but he does not possess the same running ability as Watson and could be hard-pressed to find open receivers against the soft zones the Colts often employ.
Of course, Indianapolis will not be able to key in on a single receiver like they were able to do to DeAndre Hopkins. Mahomes spreads the ball around very well, and with Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce and Sammy Watkins all proven playmakers in the passing game, they will have to be more creative in finding ways to slow down this Chiefs offense.
It goes without saying that this Chiefs offense can take over games, especially at Arrowhead (where the Chiefs were 7-1 this season). But the loss of Kareem Hunt has made Kansas City slightly more one-dimensional, something Eberflus will look to exploit.
And with Luck playing perhaps the best football of his career behind a stacked offensive line, Colts fans should be bubbling with excitement for next Saturday.