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NFL Preview - Kansas City (3-0) at Indianapolis (2-2)



By Tony Moss, NFL Editor

(Sports Network) - Though the standings may reflect the fact that the Kansas City Chiefs are the NFL's lone remaining undefeated team as they enter Sunday's matchup with the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium, respect is not yet an area where Todd Haley's team tops the charts.

The oddsmakers have installed the 3-0 Chiefs as more than a touchdown underdog in Indianapolis on Sunday, and the Week 5 contest against the reigning AFC champs will see Kansas City attempting to win over at least a few more skeptics.

The Chiefs stand alone within the ranks of the unbeaten thanks, at least in part, to the vagaries of the NFL schedule. While 28 teams played their fourth game of the year in Week 4, Kansas City had the luxury of watching from its bye-week perch last Sunday as both the Steelers and Bears were dealt their first losses of 2010.

Those results place the target squarely on the Chiefs' collective back, and the team's play during the season to date has attracted plenty of attention as well.

Kansas City got to 3-0 by hammering the 49ers, 31-10, in Week 3, a game that saw Haley and Co. put together its most complete victory of the season. The Chiefs rolled up 457 yards of total offense in the romp, rushing for 207 yards behind Jamaal Charles (12 carries, 97 yards) and Thomas Jones (19 carries, 95 yards, 1 TD), while quarterback Matt Cassel had his best day of the year by far, throwing for 250 yards and three touchdowns with just one interception.

The Chiefs maintained control of the AFC West lead with the win, and are 3-0 for the first time since the 2003 team jumped out to a 9-0 start en route to a 13-3 finish. Kansas City is two games up on both Denver (2-2) and San Diego (2-2) in the division loss column as it heads to Indianapolis.

The Colts, meanwhile, come in smarting from a 31-28 loss at division rival Jacksonville last week, a game that led to criticism of head coach Jim Caldwell's management of the clock.

With the score tied at 28-28 in the final minute and the Jaguars looking content to play for overtime, Caldwell surprisingly called a timeout prior to a 2nd-and-2 play for Jacksonville at their own 31-yard-line. The timeout led the Jags to change to a more aggressive approach, with David Garrard subsequently completing two passes, totaling 28 yards, to wideout Tiquan Underwood, to get the team in position for a long field goal try.

Josh Scobee's 59-yard field goal, the third-longest game-winning field goal as the clock expired in NFL history, dropped Indy to 2-2 in the AFC South, one game back of the 3-1 Houston Texans.

Though Caldwell has been criticized in the wake of the loss, a defense that allowed Garrard (17-of-22, 163 yards, 2 TD, 44 rushing yards, 1 rushing TD) and Maurice Jones-Drew (121 total yards, 2 TD) to have big days also bears some of the responsibility for the defeat.

Offensively, Peyton Manning (33-of-46, 352 yards, 2 TD, 1 INT) was relatively sharp as usual, but a pair of second-half turnovers ended up being costly in the loss.

SERIES HISTORY

The Colts hold a 9-7 lead in their all-time regular season series with Kansas City, and have won six of their last seven against the Chiefs. Indy was a 13-10 home winner when the teams last met, in 2007. The Chiefs won the previous regular season meeting, a 45-34 affair at Arrowhead Stadium in 2004. Kansas City is 0-3 in Indianapolis all-time, and hasn't won a road game of any kind in the series since a triumph in Baltimore in 1980.

Indy has won all three postseason tilts with Kansas City, claiming a 2006 AFC First-Round Playoff (23-8) at the RCA Dome, a 2003 AFC Divisional Playoff (38-31) at Arrowhead Stadium, and a 1995 AFC Divisional Playoff in its home stadium (10-7).

Caldwell and Haley will be meeting each other, as well as their counterpart's respective teams, for the first time as head coaches.

WHEN THE CHIEFS HAVE THE BALL

Perhaps the most promising aspect of the Chiefs' Week 3 blowout of the 49ers was the work of Cassel (494 passing yards, 4 TD, 3 INT) and the passing game, which had struggled mightily during the season's first two weeks. Cassel threw three touchdown passes in the win, with all-purpose rookie Dexter McCluster (5 receptions, 2 TD) and rookie tight end Tony Moeaki (12 receptions, 2 TD) both finding the end zone, along with No. 1 wideout Dwayne Bowe (7 receptions, 1 TD), whose 45-yard touchdown catch in the third quarter broke the game open. Bowe and Chris Chambers (5 receptions) will try to get more involved this week after a relatively slow start to the season for both. But Kansas City's preferred method of travel will continue to be the ground, with both Jones (217 rushing yards, 1 TD) and Charles (238 rushing yards, 1 TD) seeking to maintain or improve the run game's standing of third in NFL rushing offense. Charles is averaging a robust 7.0 yards per carry while working behind an improving o-line that has allowed just two sacks of the plodding Cassel this season.

Injuries are beginning to take their toll on an Indianapolis defense that ranks a disappointing 23rd in points allowed and 24th in yards surrendered as Week 5 begins. Safety Bob Sanders (biceps) remains out indefinitely, a familiar circumstance for Indianapolis but one that got tougher after his replacement, Melvin Bullitt, was placed on season-ending injured reserve earlier this week with a shoulder injury. Ex-Chief DaJuan Morgan (1 tackle), a third-round 2008 pick of Kansas City who was released following the 2010 preseason, could start at safety for Indianapolis on Sunday alongside Antoine Bethea (29 tackles). Corners Kelvin Hayden (25 tackles) and Jerraud Powers (18 tackles, 1 INT) will have primary responsibility against Bowe and Chambers, with pass rushers Dwight Freeney (8 tackles, 3 sacks) and Robert Mathis (13 tackles, 4 sacks) attempting to hone in on Cassel. The work of the hot-and-cold Colts run-stopping crew will be integral to the team's success on Sunday. Indy is near the bottom of the league in rushing defense, with a light group led by middle linebacker Gary Brackett (26 tackles) and tackles Daniel Muir (8 tackle) and Fili Moala (10 tackles) needing to get pushed around a little less often.

WHEN THE COLTS HAVE THE BALL

Though the Colts are a disappointing 2-2, there's been no drop-off from Manning, who leads the NFL in touchdown passes (11) and passer rating (112.2) as Week 5 begins. Manning (1365 passing yards, 1 INT) threw touchdown passes to both Austin Collie (32 receptions, 5 TD) and tight end Dallas Clark (28 receptions, 3 TD) last Sunday, while Reggie Wayne (2 TD) had a huge day with 15 receptions for 196 yards. Wayne, whose big game was set back slightly by a lost fumble, leads the league in receptions (33) and receiving yards (456) heading into the Kansas City contest. Wide receiver Anthony Gonzalez (ankle) remains out for the Colts. The Colts have received very little traction from the running game thus far, with both Joseph Addai (228 rushing yards, 2 TD, 13 receptions) and Donald Brown (81 rushing yards, 1 TD) averaging fewer than four yards per carry for a team that is 29th in NFL rushing offense. Addai did score twice against the Jags, however. Brown was inactive last Sunday due to a hamstring problem and remains a question mark for this week. Manning was sacked once last week and has been dropped four times on the year to date.

Getting pressure on Peyton Manning is one of the more difficult objectives to accomplish in the NFL, but the Kansas City group chasing him on Sunday carries some momentum into this matchup. The once-maligned group sacked the 49ers' Alex Smith five times last time out, with three of those coming from top pass rusher Tamba Hali (8 tackles, 3.5 sacks). Seeking to contain Wayne, Collie, Clark and others on the back end will be a developing secondary including rookie safety Eric Berry (17 tackles) and improving corners Brandon Flowers (9 tackles, 2 INT) and Brandon Carr (11 tackles). Flowers had an interception against San Francisco last time out. Up front, controversial end Shaun Smith (15 tackles) has been a major difference-maker for the Chiefs from an on-the-field standpoint, and his presence has helped allow inside linebackers Jovan Belcher (21 tackles) and Derrick Johnson (24 tackles) to be effective as well. Smith had seven tackles against the 49ers, while Belcher and Johnson combined for 15 stops in a game that saw the Niners' Frank Gore manage just 43 yards on 15 carries.

FANTASY FOCUS

This will be a game worth watching for fantasy purposes, and not just because of the Colts. Yes, the likes of Manning, Wayne, Clark, Collie and probably Addai remain starting certainties, but the once-struggling Chiefs attack also inspires some intrigue. The running backs Jones and Charles should both be in lineups against an Indy front seven that struggles to stop the run, and the rookie tight end Moeaki is becoming a frequent target for Cassel as well and is worth considering.

OVERALL ANALYSIS

The Chiefs have been among the NFL's most encouraging stories through four weeks, as one of the league's best and most historic franchises is long overdue for a winner. But Kansas City is about to face a major step-up in class this week, and is probably facing an angry Indianapolis team at exactly the wrong time. The Colts, now a game back in the AFC South and 0-2 within their own division, know they can't afford to slip further behind the field with a loss on their own turf. What's more, the matchup for Kansas City isn't particularly advantageous. Freeney and Mathis should be able to tee off on the slow-of-foot Cassel, which figures to lead to the kind of short fields on which Manning cashes in all too frequently. The Chiefs defense has been a strength, but isn't going to have enough positive moments against Manning to fuel a fourth straight win.

Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Colts 26, Chiefs 10

10/07 13:49:19 ET

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