Kansas City Chiefs (11-5) at Indianapolis Colts (11-5)
This is the game I’m staying away from, simply because of how inconsistent Indianapolis has been this season. They’ve been alternating multiple game stretches where they’ve looked like a 13-3 team and a 6-10 team, with nothing really in between. Last season, they were nowhere near as good as their 11-5 record, as that was powered by 7 wins by 7 points or fewer against teams that finished 7-9 or worse. They started out looking like that team, barely beating Oakland and losing to Miami in back-to-back home games. However, then they went on a roll over a 6 game stretch that included wins over good teams (Denver, Seattle, San Francisco) and blowout wins (34 point win in Jacksonville) that their 2012 season just didn’t have.
However, then after the bye they came out and looked like their 2012 team or even worse, with 3 point wins over Tennessee and Houston and then an 8 point win over Tennessee, but also a 29 point loss against Arizona, a 14 point loss against Cincinnati, and a 30 point loss against St. Louis. They had a -59 point differential over a 6 game stretch in which they got blown out by every decent team they faced and barely beat mediocre football teams. It reeked of 2012. However, since then, they’ve blown out the Texans by 22, went into Kansas City and won convincingly by 16 against a good football team, and then blew out Jacksonville by 20, in a game that was never really close.
Overall on the season, they’ve averaged out as an 11-5 team that’s lucky to be 11-5, with a 5-1 record in games decided by a touchdown or less and a pretty easy schedule. In terms of rate of moving the chains differential, they’re only 14th, which is the lowest among playoff teams who had their current starting quarterback start all 16 games. They move the chains at a 72.21% rate and allow opponents to move the chains at a 71.52% rate, which is good for a differential of 0.70%. Football Outsiders echoes this, as they rank 13th in DVOA and rank 11th in what’s known as “estimated wins” with 9.5. After San Diego, they’re probably the worst playoff team when you look at their season on the whole, but they never play like that 9 or 10 win team. They’re either great or terrible.
They also rank 29th in terms of variance on Football Outsides, which means they were the 4th most inconsistent team. There are actually playoff teams with very high variances, including Philadelphia who ranks 32nd, but there are always good explanation for why certain teams have high variances. Philadelphia changed quarterbacks mid-season. Green Bay (28th) lost Aaron Rodgers for a large chunk of the season. New Orleans (25th) has a huge home/road disparity. The same is true of Cincinnati (21st). Indianapolis’ seems to be unexplainable. For that reason, I actually kind of hope they lose, regardless of what I end up picking, because it would make my life easier.
Making matters even worse, Kansas City is 23rd in variance. There’s is somewhat explainable. They’ve just struggled with good teams this season. They’ve had arguably the easiest schedule in the NFL this season and won all 10 games against teams that finished under .500, but they’re just 1-5 against .500 or better teams. Sure one of those losses came in a meaningless game against the Chargers week 17, but also their only win came against Philadelphia, before Nick Foles took over as starting quarterback. That bodes well for Indianapolis’ chances this week, provided they don’t go cold, as they’ve obviously been prone to doing.
Kansas City, however, has had the better season overall. While Indianapolis ranks 14th in rate of moving the chains and 13th in DVOA, Kansas City ranks 7th in both. They move the chains at a 72.08% rate, as opposed to 67.81% for their opponents, a differential of 4.27%. Using rate of moving the chains, this game should be a pick ‘em, as opposed to Indianapolis being favored by 2.5. The Chiefs also are getting Justin Houston back this week, which will be very big for their defense. In the first 10 games of the season, they allowed 13.8 points per game. In their last 5 (excluding the meaningless week 17 games), which includes a game Houston started, but left earlier with injury, they’ve allowed 26.0 points per game.
That’s not all Houston’s absence, as they’ve had a tougher schedule, but they also held Denver (27) to their 2nd lowest point total of the season in Denver when Houston was healthy. Without him, they surrendered 35 to them at home. They also surrendered 31 to Oakland, without him, a total they didn’t surrender to anyone with him. He was playing like a Defensive Player of the Year candidate before he got hurt, so having him back in the lineup, provided he’s 100%, is going to be huge.
In spite of that, Indianapolis is actually the side I’m going with, if I had to, gun to my head (or for a pick ‘em/against the spread pool) for 3 reasons. I already mentioned Kansas City’s issues against good teams this season. The 2nd reason is that Kansas City is a public underdog. I love fading the public whenever it makes sense and that works as a good tiebreaker. I especially love fading public underdogs because, whenever the public thinks there will be an upset, it usually doesn’t happen. The 3rd reason is just that Indianapolis happens to be hot right now. Sure we’ve seen them go cold off of a hot streak before and vice versa, but it’s worth mentioning. As long as this line is under a field goal, Indianapolis is the pick. I might take Kansas City with the field goal though. It’s that close.
Indianapolis Colts 23 Kansas City Chiefs 20
Pick against spread: Indianapolis -2