INDIANAPOLIS — Jamaal Charles spent this week dissecting the Chiefs’ first game against the Colts.
On Saturday, Charles and his Kansas City teammates will finally get a chance to show they’ve learned from all those mistakes.
“They’re going to have their best game plan and best players on the field,” Charles said. “We know what’s at stake here. We have to play fast and we have to play harder than them.”
In Week 16, the Chiefs had four turnovers and Indianapolis (11-5) spent most of the game negating Charles by playing keep-away.
Nobody expects a replay this week — not Charles, not Andrew Luck, not even Andy Reid or Chuck Pagano. The two coaches understand most playoff rematches come with a surprise twist, even when the sequel is two weeks after the original.
How much can really change in 13 days?
For starters, the game will be played on Indianapolis’ climate-controlled home turf rather than the raucous, outdoor atmosphere of Arrowhead Stadium. And facing a potentially loud crowd on the road may force the Chiefs to stick with the game plan a little longer than they did in Round 1.
“I’m sure we’re going to see Jamaal,” Pagano said, referring again this week to Charles as public enemy No. 1 even after he had only 13 carries in the first meeting. “If he doesn’t touch the ball 30 times I’d be shocked.”
Kansas City (11-5) could have a noticeably different look, too.
Receiver Dwayne Bowe was knocked out of the first matchup with a concussion and was still sidelined last week. Tamba Hali also hurt his knee against Indy, while fellow linebacker Justin Houston sat out that game with a dislocated elbow. Bowe has already been cleared to play and Houston is expected to return this week, too, though Hali hasn’t practiced all week.
If Hali does play, he and Houston may force Luck to cope with even more pressure than just winning his home playoff debut.
But the bigger question for the Chiefs is whether they’ve fixed the miscues that proved so costly against the Colts two weeks ago.
“As a coach it’s a little bit like a farmer: Your work is never done, right?” Reid said. “There are always areas to work on, and that’s how it goes. We’re always striving to be better.”
Here are five things to watch Saturday at Indianapolis.
MOMENTUM vs. HEALTH — The Colts wanted to build momentum for the postseason. The result: They went 4-1 in December. Once the Chiefs fell out of contention in the AFC West, they tried to get healthy. Kansas City is 2-5 since the bye week, has lost two straight, hasn’t beaten a team with a winning record since Week 3 and has dropped seven in a row in the playoffs. Saturday’s result will show which coach made the right call.
GOAL TO GO — Indy achieved one of its goals by winning the AFC South to host its first home playoff game in three years. It can’t achieve the next two — an AFC championship and a Super Bowl title — without protecting its home turf. The Colts understand six of the last eight Super Bowl winners played on wild-card weekend, and the last two world champs, the Giants and Ravens, were seeded No. 4. Indy has a chance to extend that streak.
OPPORTUNITY KNOCKS — No team has been better at minimizing mistakes than Indianapolis, which had a league-low 14 turnovers and 66 penalties. This game features the AFC’s top two teams in turnover ratio. Kansas City has forced 36 turnovers. The team that stays closest to its regular-season form is likely to be celebrating Saturday night.
WHO’S NO. 1? — Luck and Alex Smith were both No. 1 overall picks. While Luck has been incredibly successful in his two NFL seasons, Smith had to be more patient and eventually became Kansas City’s solution to last season’s turnover-prone ways. Luck was the clear winner of this matchup in the last game, and if he plays that well again, the Colts should be in good shape.
LOOKING FOR PROTECTION — If there’s one equally troubling bugaboo for both teams, it’s their inability to protect the quarterback. Injuries have forced both coaches to mix and match starters along the offensive line. That could be an especially big problem this week with the likely return of Houston and with Robert Mathis, the newly crowned NFL sacks champion, playing on the same field.
NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE
KANSAS CITY (11-5)
at INDIANAPOLIS (11-5)
OPENING LINE — Colts by 1
RECORD VS. SPREAD — Kansas City 9-7, Indianapolis 9-6-1
SERIES RECORD — Colts lead 15-8
LAST MEETING — Colts beat Chiefs 23-7, Dec. 22, 2013
LAST WEEK — Chiefs lost to Chargers 27-24, OT; Colts beat Jaguars 30-10
AP PRO32 RANKING — Chiefs No. 9, Colts, No. 8
CHIEFS OFFENSE — OVERALL (21), RUSH (10), PASS (24T)
CHIEFS DEFENSE — OVERALL (24), RUSH (22), PASS (25T)
COLTS OFFENSE — OVERALL (15), RUSH (20T), PASS (17)
COLTS DEFENSE — OVERALL (20), RUSH (26), PASS (13)
STREAKS, STATS AND NOTES — Chiefs have lost two straight and five of seven since bye week. ... Kansas City has beaten only one team that finished over .500 this season: Philadelphia in Week 3. ... Chiefs have lost five of last six in series and are 0-3 vs. Colts in playoffs, including wild-card loss that started Indy’s Super Bowl-winning run following 2006 season. ... Chiefs have lost seven straight postseason games dating to 1993. ... Kansas City led NFL in turnover margin at plus-13. ... QB Alex Smith making third consecutive playoff appearance, first with Chiefs. ... Jamaal Charles led AFC, was third in NFL in yards rushing (1,287), and was Chiefs’ top receiver (70 catches, 693 yards). Charles led NFL with 19 touchdowns, 1,980 yards from scrimmage and was top scorer among non-kickers (114 points). ... KR Quintin Demps was AFC’s top kick returner at 30.1 yards. ... Linebackers Tamba Hali and Justin Houston each had 11 sacks, tied for fifth in AFC, but fought injuries down the stretch. ... Colts won last three regular-season games by combined 78-20. ... Indy had fewest turnovers (14) and fewest penalties (66) in NFL in 2013. ... Lucas Oil Stadium playing host to first postseason game since Giants won Super Bowl after 2012 season and first Colts home playoff game since Peyton Manning threw final pass with Colts in 17-16 loss to Jets in January 2011. ... Andrew Luck can move past Bert Jones and Earl Morrall into fourth on franchise’s postseason list with 26 passing attempts, 10 completions and 380 yards. With two TD passes, Luck can tie Morrall and Jack Trudeau for No. 4 on Colts’ all-time postseason list. ... Pro Bowl LB Robert Mathis became second Colts player to win NFL sacks title (19½). ... CB Darius Butler has eight interceptions since joining Colts in 2012. ... K Adam Vinatieri holds NFL career postseason records for points (196), field goals (48) and consecutive games scoring in playoffs (25). Vinatieri needs five extra points to tie Gary Anderson (57) for No. 2 in NFL playoff history. ... Last time Indianapolis won playoff game without Manning was Jan. 7, 1996 at Kansas City. Jim Harbaugh was Indy’s quarterback. ... Indy’s last playoff win was 30-17 over Jets in AFC title game on Jan. 24, 2010.