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NFL Preview - Indianapolis (9-5) at Kansas City (11-3)
By John McMullen, NFL Editor
(SportsNetwork.com) - The Kansas City Chiefs have already clinched a playoff berth.
Now they have designs on going from worst to first in the conference as they get ready to entertain another team bound for the postseason, the AFC South champion Indianapolis Colts, in what could turn out to be a wild-card preview.
The Chiefs finished with an NFL-worst 2-14 record in 2012 but have quickly turned things around under a new head coach and quarterback combo, Andy Reid and Alex Smith.
Kansas City enters Week 16 at 11-3 and could still claim the AFC West crown and the top seed in the conference if the club wins its final two games and Denver loses one of its final two.
Indianapolis, meanwhile, had a very productive Week 15. An easy win over Houston coupled by the losses of the AFC's three other division leaders -- Denver, New England and Cincinnati -- means the Colts can still earn a first- round bye if they can win out over the final two weeks, and Baltimore -- which opposes the Patriots and Bengals over the final two weeks -- also wins out.
"Regardless of what happens with anyone else, we want to win the rest of our games and kind of be catching fire here at the right time going into the playoffs," Colts left tackle Anthony Castonzo said.
If the Chiefs are unable to pass the Broncos, who have a very desirable schedule over the last two weeks despite playing on the road (at Houston and at Oakland), Kansas City will be the AFC's fifth seed and could face the Colts again in the wild-card round in Indianapolis.
"I'll probably tell you the same thing that I told you when we played Denver, you give it the best shot your first time and then you come back, two weeks later, and give it your best shot then," Reid said when asked about the possibility of facing the Colts again with a quick turnaround time. "That's how we'll approach it."
Last week Jamaal Charles racked up 195 receiving yards and five total touchdowns in a record-setting performance which carried the Chiefs to a wild 56-31 win over the Oakland Raiders and secured a spot for the team in the playoffs.
Four of Charles' eight catches went for touchdowns and he added a score on the ground, becoming the first player in NFL history to record four TD receptions and run in another.
"I think Jamaal was special," said Reid. "The receiving yards, the receptions for touchdowns, he had one of those days."
Kansas City also received big games out of Smith and its opportunistic defense en route to sewing up a postseason berth just one year after its 2012 disaster.
Smith threw a career-high five touchdown passes in all while completing a sharp 17-of-20 throws for 287 yards, while the Chiefs forced seven turnovers in posting their second straight lopsided victory on the road. Kansas City was coming off a 45-10 drubbing of Washington the week prior.
Eric Berry accounted for two of the Chiefs' four interceptions of Matt McGloin, one of which he returned 47 yards for a touchdown.
"Anytime you can clinch a playoff spot, it's special," Smith said. "Obviously, there's still some left to go here, in the division, but yeah, it's special. It's what you're playing for, it's what you worked for all offseason to get to the postseason."
The Colts, meanwhile, have been a bit uneven in recent weeks but they are coming off an impressive performance of their own when Andrew Luck tossed a pair of touchdown as Indianapolis cruised to a 25-3 triumph over the reeling Texans.
Luck completed 19-of-32 passes for 180 yards with an interception, while Trent Richardson racked up 102 yards from scrimmage and a touchdown for the Colts, who bounced back from an ugly 42-28 loss last week at Cincinnati.
"I don't think we're that fickle where we have to lose confidence like that after a bad game," said Luck, who joined Cam Newton and Peyton Manning as the only QBs with at least 7,500 passing yards in their first two NFL seasons. "Hopefully we can get a little mojo going through these next two games. This was a good start against a good division team."
Indianapolis leads its all-time series against the Chiefs by an 11-8 margin and has won eight of the previous 10, including a 20-13 win in December of last season when Luck passed for 205 yards and a TD and the Colts defense forced three turnovers, including a 32-yard pick-six by cornerback Darius Butler.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Charles, along with Smith's steady hand and a takeaway-happy defense, has been the key to the Chiefs' resurgence. Chares could be the best dual-threat back in the NFL and leads the AFC in rushing yards with 1,181 while also amassing a team-high 65 receptions.
Charles rushed for 226 yards and a touchdown on just 22 carries against the Colts last season and he could have even more room to run this time around because the Colts were forced to place middle linebacker Pat Angerer on injured reserve with a knee injury suffered against the Texans.
Smith had the career-high five TD passes against the Raiders, has already thrown for a career-high 3,160 passing yards, and needs just three more rushing yards for the most in season by a Kansas City signal caller.
The KC defense on the other hand has faltered a bit, allowing 47 plays of 20 or more yards in the last eight games, the most in the NFL. The one thing the group has done, however, is produced a NFL-best 35 takeaways fueling the Chiefs' impressive plus-21 turnover differential, also best in the league.
"Big plays can hurt you, obviously," Reid said. "We're addressing that and we'll get that worked out. I wouldn't get hung up on it, too much now. The final score is what you're looking at, that and turnovers."
Both Indianapolis and Kansas City protect the ball fervently and are tied for the fewest turnovers in the NFL with 14 apiece. The Colts have been particularly adept at taking care of the ball on the road with just three giveaways in seven games.
Since Nov. 10, the Colts have alternated wins and losses and the only consistent thing about them has been their inconsistency, something coach Chuck Pagano is trying to write off.
"I just think these guys are able to move on, win or lose," Pagano said on his weekly radio show. "They are able to put the last game behind them, make corrections that you always have and stick to the process."
This of course would be Indianapolis' week to lose and the Chiefs have really upped their confidence by rebounding from a three-game losing streak to blister two weak opponents -- Washington and Oakland -- by a combined 101-41 score. Those trends figure to continue here.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Chiefs 30, Colts 21
12/19 13:27:27 ET
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