The NFL playoff’s begin on Saturday night, with the traditional Wildcard weekend set to get things underway, with plenty of entertainment to offer.
The top two teams in the AFC and NFC will enjoy a bye week and will join the action next weekend in the divisional round. That leaves eight teams set to battle it out this weekend in an attempt to get one step closer to the elusive Superbowl on February 2nd.
The first game will see the Kansas City Chiefs travel to the Lucas Oil Stadium to face the Indianapolis Colts at 21:25 (UK time). Few would have imagined seeing the Chiefs make the playoff’s at the beginning of the season, having finished 2-14 in 2012, but Andy Reid came in and brought a new style to Kansas City which has helped them make the playoff’s for the first time in four years.
Alex Smith was brought in to fix the problems at quarterback, and the defense was significantly improved. The Chiefs started the season in spectacular fashion, going unbeaten through the first nine games, and at 9-0, were the last remaining team with a perfect record before AFC West rivals Denver ended that impressive run.
The Chiefs’ fortunes changed after their bye week in week 10, they lost five of their last seven games, and eventually stumbled into the playoffs with an 11-5 record.
Alex Smith’s form dipped and the defense were not as imposing as they were at the start of the campaign. The week 16 loss to the Colts at Arrowhead Stadium will still be in the minds of the team heading into this game, and as a unit, Kansas City must regroup and try to rediscover some of their early-season form if they are to progress into the next round.
Indianapolis go into this game with more confidence, despite also finishing the season with an 11-5 record as well. The Colts won their last three games, outscoring their opponents 78-20 in those games, including the 23-7 victory at the Chiefs in week 16. Andrew Luck will be desperate to get a playoff win under his belt, after last year’s disappointing loss to the Ravens in the Wildcard round in his rookie season.
Luck will need to be at his best to overcome the Chiefs once more, and will need his offensive line to be as good as they were during the last 3 games, giving up just one sack per game in those matches. The Chiefs struggled to impose any kind of pass-rush on Luck when they last met, and failure to improve on this will see Luck drive the Colts through again.
The Colts endured a mid-season dip in form, following a string of injuries to important offensive members, most notably Reggie Wayne, who remains out for the season with a torn ACL. But they managed to regroup, and bounced back under the influential Luck, who got the offense playing with a much quicker tempo towards the end of the season despite playing with a highly unfamiliar wide-receiving core.
There is little to choose between the two sides going into this one, but the Colts will be more confident with homefield advantage and much better recent form than the Chiefs.
Alex Smith will need to ignore the pressure being put on him, as his doubters are out in full force once more despite an impressive start to his life as a Kansas City Chief.
I expect the Colts to edge this one, but it will certainly be a closer affair than the week 16 encounter between the two. A
ndrew Luck has the most game-winning drives in the NFL since he entered the league last season (10) and he may need to extend this record come the final-quarter on Saturday night if his side are to advance into the divisional round.
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