Thursday, January 2, 2014

NFL Wild Card Playoff Predictions 2014: Chiefs vs Colts

Kansas City Chiefs vs Indianapolis Colts: KC +1.5 (Pinnacle)

Market Watch

Las Vegas opened up the Indianapolis Colts as -2.5 point favorites for this game and that's where it has sat all week long. It was uncertain which direction this line would go, but we are finally seeing some movement as money is coming in on KC. Most sportsbooks have moved it down to -1.5.

How far will it move? If my numbers are correct, this line should be close to a 'pick em', so I wouldn't be shocked if we saw a little bit more movement before kickoff.

So far, 53 percent of the total bets have come in on the Colts. As always, this doesn't tell us how much money is on each side (which is more important for line movement), but it does indicate what the average bettor is doing.

Keep an eye on

This game will be decided by three key areas.

It's true that Jamaal Charles and Andrew Luck will have a monumental impact on this game, but for me the most obvious factor will be the turnover margin. When these teams met in Week 16, the Chiefs were -4 in that category. The Colts capitalized on those mistakes by scoring two touchdowns directly off those miscues.

I don't see that happening again in this rematch because Alex Smith has been fantastic at protecting the ball in his career. That game stands out as an anomaly as the Chiefs have dramatically improved their turnover differential in 2013.

Another reason why I think things will be different is directly related to the second key area of the game - pass protection.

The first time around, the Colts didn’t have Thornton at guard, Jean-Francois at DT, or a healthy Toler at CB. These guys will all start on Saturday, which should provide the Colts with quality depth, but it's a different story for KC. They didn’t have Pro Bowler Albert at LT or Pro Bowler Houston at OLB.  With their return to the lineup, you can expect a significant difference in the trenches on Saturday.

I must give credit to Castanzo at LT because he's only allowed two hits and zero sacks in the month of December. That's a huge benefit for Luck's blindside. At the same time, KC's defense slipped from 5th to 15th when Houston was out of the lineup. In relief against the Colts, Zombo only had two QB hurries and one hit in 32 rushes. Now that you have Houston and Hali on the field at the same time, along with a stout Dontari Poe in the middle, it's going to really test the Indy offensive pass protection.

On the flip side, all the focus will be on Mathis. He's the second highest rated 3-4 outside linebacker in the league, and he played a big role in taking down the Chiefs a few weeks ago. It helps the entire OL out to have Albert back at LT, but they can also contain Mathis with an adjustment in play-calling.  We all know that Andy Reid is one of the best coaches off a bye, which is basically what they had in Week 17, so I feel pretty confident that he'll make the necessary changes on the line of scrimmage.

Finally, the last key area I'm focusing on is special teams. The Chiefs might not have the best field goal kicker, but they do have the best overall special teams unit in the league. A direct result of this is the best average net starting field position in the NFL. The Colts are very mediocre in this phase of the game, so if this is as close as expected, special teams could play a significant role. 

Bottom Line

Andrew Luck is 14-2 in games that are decided by one score or less, which is enough to scare anybody backing KC,  but the overall picture is more favorable for the Chiefs. 

It's unlikely that they'll repeat the same mistakes that happened in their prior meeting this season and they add two key pieces to the lineup that missed that game. 

I agree with the recent line movement in support of KC and given that this should be a 'pick em' on the point spread, any points that the sportsbooks want to give us is a bonus. I think the Chiefs win this game.

NFL Pick: KC +1.5.