Newyorkjets.com is profiling each playoff game in this NFL postseason, with a special eye on Jets angles in each of the matchups. Today: the AFC Wild Card Game to be played late Saturday afternoon:
(5) KANSAS CITY (11-5) at (4) INDIANAPOLIS(11-5), 4:35 p.m. ET, NBC
Two teams that have gone through vastly different coaching situations are prepared to lock horns in a closely matched AFC Wild Card Game under the Hoosier Dome roof.
Kansas City brought in Andy Reid after his final season in Philadelphia and he guided the Chiefs to the season's best turnaround, from 2-14 in 2012 to 11 wins and this year's playoff berth. He did it by first trading with San Francisco for steady QB Alex Smith, then leaning on Jamaal Charles in the running game, opportune defense led by LB Tamba Hali and S Eric Berry, excellent special teams, and mistake-free football.
“Anytime you can be a part of a turnaround, it’s a special feeling,” said Smith. “These guys have worked hard and deserve a ton of credit. It’s special to be a part of this."
Chuck Pagano, on the other hand, got to enjoy his first full season as head coach of the Colts, after coming through last season's 12-game hospital stay to guide his team into the playoffs. The regular season was remarkably similar to the year before: 11-5 record, playoff berth, this time as AFC South champion.
"We know the postseason’s a whole different ballgame and it’s one-and-done,” said Andrew Luck, in his second season leading the Colts offense. “We’re excited about that.”
DE Robert Mathis is Indianapolis' only Pro Bowler at the moment, but if anyone's going from I-town, it has to be him — Mathis had a monster season with an NFL-leading 19.5 sacks and he's set to turn up the pressure on Smith in the KC pocket.
Here's an example of how close things could be on Saturday:
The Chiefs were 7-1 on the road in the regular season, with their only loss understandably coming at Denver. They led the NFL most of the season in turnover margin before finishing second behind Seattle at plus-18. On the road, actually, that margin in those eight games was plus-19.
The Colts were 6-2 at home in the Dome, but one of those wins shows what the Horseshoes can accomplish Sunday — one of those wins was by 39-33 over Peyton Manning, in his "homecoming," and the Broncos, who suffered their first loss of the season in that game and one of only three on the year.
Luck was a middle-of-the-pack passer with an 87.0 passer rating, 60.2% completion rate, and 23 TDs to 9 INTs. But his strength has been simply winning: In his two seasons in the NFL, Luck and the Colts are 22-11, including a loss in last year's first post-Peyton playoff appearance.
Smith had a quite similar seasons: 89.1 rating, 60.6% accuracy, and 23 TDs to 7 INTs. He's backed by Charles, the AFC's leading rusher with 1,287 yards at 5.0 yards per carry and 12 TDs, and by Dexter McCluster, one of the most dangerous returners in the game with an 11.8 average and two PR scores.
Quintin Demps was third in the league with a 30.1-yard kickoff-return average and the Chiefs were first overall in KR returns, but Demps could be neutralized by the big leg of punter/kickoff man Pat McAfee.
The Colts haven't won a playoff game since the 2009 AFC Championship win over the Jets, 30-17, under the dome. They're 0-3 since then, 11-14 overall in Indianapolis, and 19-21 as a franchise, which includes the Baltimore Colts' playoff appearances from 1958-77.
KC's playoff droughts have gone on longer. This is the Chiefs' first playoff appearance since a 30-7 loss to the Ravens in a 2010 AFC Wild Card Game, and they've lost seven in a row since their last postseason victory, by 28-20 over the Houston Oilers in 1993. Their all-time playoff record is 8-14.
The Colts and Chiefs have met three times in the postseason, with all three going to Indy: by 23-8 in an '06 wild-card game, by 38-31 in an '03 divisional-round game, and by 10-7 over the then-top-seeded Chiefs in a '95 divisional game.
Green & White fans who tune in this AFC matchup will recognize two big Jets defensive names from 2012, plus a few familiar coaching faces, on the Hoosier Dome field.
Mike DeVito, the six-year Jets D-lineman, left to become a stalwart starter at RDE in the Chiefs' 3-4 alignment.
As for coaches, Bob Sutton, the longtime Jets defensive coordinator and LBs coach, coordinated Reid's and DeVito's defense this year. Sutton's yardage rankings weren't eye-popping — the Chiefs were 24th in the NFL overall, 22nd against the run, tied for 25th vs. the pass — but two other rankings showed Sutton's input: second with 36 takeaways and tied for fifth with 19.1 points allowed per game.
Meanwhile, Colts offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton was on the Baltimore Ravens staff with Rex Ryan in 2002, then made a formative stop in his coaching career with the pre-Rex Jets from 2003-05, where he served as offensive quality control and as offensive assistant/quarterbacks working with Chad Pennington. Pep's offensive rankings: 15th in overall yardage, tied for 20th in the run, 17th in passing yards, tied for 14th in scoring.