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NFL Preview - Indianapolis (9-5) at Kansas City (2-12)



By Lyle Fitzsimmons, Contributing NFL Editor

(Sports Network) - An opportunity missed is an opportunity lost.

Unless, that is, you're the Indianapolis Colts and a much better opportunity awaits this week.

The just-about-ready-for-prime-time players can punch a ticket to their 10th playoff tournament in 11 seasons on Sunday when they visit Arrowhead Stadium for a date with the hapless Kansas City Chiefs.

Given Indy's ghastly 0-13 start and 2-14 finish last season with quarterbacking provided by Curtis Painter and Dan Orlovsky, among others, it's newsworthy enough that a first season since 1997 without Peyton Manning on the roster has gone so well, playoffs or no.

But that it has, to the tune of nine wins in 14 games, which have the Colts on the precipice of a berth that can be clinched with a defeat of the Chiefs -- or a loss or tie by the Pittsburgh Steelers against Cincinnati.

Indianapolis could have secured the spot and tightened up the AFC South last week, but it dropped a shoddy 29-17 decision at first-place Houston that allowed the Texans to clinch the division title for the second consecutive season. The Colts host the Texans to wrap up the schedule next week.

Among the comedy of errors for the postseason wannabes, Indy's Mewelde Moore turned it over inside the 5-yard-line in the second quarter, the Colts had a scoring reception by Reggie Wayne nullified by a penalty and Houston blocked a punt and ran it in for a touchdown.

"We (went there) to win, not put up a respectable showing," rookie quarterback Andrew Luck said. "We'll move on to (Kansas City) and hopefully get better."

It's a more legitimate guess to happen against the Chiefs, who've won just twice in 14 games, scored just seven points in their last two and gained only 119 total yards last week in a smothering 15-0 loss to the Raiders in Oakland.

To make matters worse, Kansas City is without its most prolific passing weapon, wide receiver Dwayne Bowe, who's done for the year with a rib problem. Without Bowe last week, the Chiefs managed seven first downs. Running back Jamaal Charles finished with 10 yards on nine carries, ending a streak of three games with 100 or more.

"We continue to struggle to develop any consistency," coach Romeo Crennel said. "We're not very good on offense. This past game we couldn't run, we couldn't throw it, and it's hard to be in a game when that happens."

Short of a late-season surge, the Chiefs will finish last in the NFL in scoring offense for the first time. Kansas City has 195 points through 14 games and trails Jacksonville by 24 points with two games remaining. In fact, it has failed to reach double digits in four of five games.

Luck hadn't arrived in Indiana when the Chiefs won last season's meeting in October, but his initial tour through the league has him just 74 yards shy of Cam Newton's rookie passing record with two games to play.

He's been less impressive as of late, completing less than 50 percent of his throws in December and seeing nine passes intercepted in the last five games. Those INTs have been at least partially offset by 10 touchdowns thrown in the same stretch.

"I think guys understand what's at stake," he said. "There's a little more of a sense of urgency in terms of what to expect, but it is kind of like the playoffs."

The former Stanford star was sacked five times against a rush-happy Texans defense and will be without center Samson Satele this week due to injury. Iffy this week are right tackle Winston Justice and backup center A.Q. Shipley. Without Shipley, the ball-snapping duties fall to Mike McGlynn, normally a right guard.

The 37 sacks of Luck are fourth-most in the league, but the Chiefs' total for the year is just 24 -- 30th among 32 teams.

The Colts lead the all-time series, 10-8, and have won seven of the last nine games. Kansas City won, 28-24, in Indy last season when Matt Cassel threw four TD passes.

The Chiefs won the last matchup at Arrowhead, 45-35, in 2004 with three rush TDs from Priest Holmes and three scoring passes from Trent Green. Interim coach Bruce Arians has not faced Kansas City. Crennel is winless in two games against the Colts.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

A good way to ease the burden on a slumping rookie passer is to seek more of a split between the run and pass. Colts rookie runner Vick Ballard went for 105 yards and averaged 5.8 yards per carry against the Texans -- who are fifth in the league against the run. The Chiefs, meanwhile, are 27th with an average allowance of 136.4 per week. Those numbers add up to a heavy dose of Ballard and an as-needed sprinkling of Luck.

OVERALL ANALYSIS

These Colts are hardly a proven entity, which means a late road game in a difficult stadium could be a challenge. That said, the Chiefs aren't much of an entity either, and chances are they'll be happy to get the season's tumultuous and tragic ride over with. Expect that Luck and Co. will have eyes on the prize and not allow their big chance to clinch slip to a less likely scenario next week.

Sports Network predicted outcome: Colts 27, Chiefs 14

12/20 11:21:55 ET

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