The first playoff matchup of the 2013-14 season will begin on Saturday, a highly anticipated matchup between the Kansas City Chiefs and Indianapolis Colts. Both teams have had different paths to reaching the playoffs, but their goal is the same: to defeat the opponent and reach the Super Bowl.
To get a good idea of what type of action will take place on Saturday, it is important to look at the journey each team has had to get to this point, and what type of things to watch for when they match up against each other this weekend.
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When: Saturday, Jan. 4 at 2:35 p.m. MST
Where: Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis
On TV: NBC
Kansas City's journey began at the end of last year, when it was the laughing-stock of the NFL. In 2012, it won a season-low two games and finished with the worst record in the league. Despites have several Pro Bowl players, it looked like a team that would be rebuilding for years to come.
When coach Andy Reid lost his job with the Philadelphia Eagles, the Chiefs made him their head coach. Reid has been known as one of the better coaches in the NFL, but with the Eagles underachieving every year recently, it seemed that Reid just needed a change of scenery.
The first order of business that Reid addressed when he arrived in Kansas City was the quarterback position. Since Reid's days in Philadelphia, he had shown interest in San Francisco 49ers quarterback Alex Smith, and now that Smith had lost his job to Colin Kaepernick, Reid saw an opportunity to get him in Kansas City. The Chiefs made a trade offer to San Francisco, and the 49ers accepted.
While a new head coach and quarterback are certainly steps in the right direction to improving any football team, the amount of difference it made for the Chiefs was shocking.
Kansas City rocketed off to a 9-0 start in 2013, the NFL's best record at the time. It improve in every aspect of the game and made it clear that it was a force to be reckoned with. The defense was physical and forced turnovers, while the offense moved the ball down the field.
The Chiefs finished the season 11-5 in one of the tougher divisions in the NFL.
The Indianapolis Colts have had a "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" season as their identity has shifted back and forth from week to week. The Colts can beat any team in the NFL any given game, but could also lose to any team in the league, as they demonstrated in the regular season.
The Colts defeated the Denver Broncos, San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks this season, all of which are the most popular Super Bowl picks. On the flip side, the Colts lost to several teams, including the Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins and St. Louis Rams, none of which made the playoffs.
Despite their bipolar reputation, the Colts finished 11-5 and are a threat to any team in the playoffs.
The Colts and the Chiefs faced off in Week 16 of this season, a game that Indianapolis won 23-7. While the Chiefs' defense has gotten a ton of credit all season, Andrew Luck picked it apart, throwing for 241 yards. Indianapolis also piled up 135 yards on the ground, making for a well-balanced offense.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Colts wreaked havoc as they sacked Smith five times in the game. The only bright spot for the Chiefs' offense was running back Jamaal Charles, who ran for 106 yards and a touchdown.
If the Colts are going to use the Week 16 game as a blueprint for Saturday, then the Chiefs need to make protecting Smith a priority.
The Chiefs are optimistic that left tackle Branden Albert, wide receiver Dwayne Bowe and linebacker Justin Houston will return from injuries in time for Saturday. If linebacker Tamba Hali also ends up playing, then the Chiefs will be in a good position to put pressure on Luck.
Most of the Super Bowl champions in recent memory have been teams that have gotten hot at the right time. The Colts have won three straight games, and they have proved over the season that they have the potential to beat anyone.
Alex Smith (Utah), Kansas City quarterback
Sean Smith (Utah), Kansas City cornerback
Stanley Havili (USC/Cottonwood HS), Indianapolis running back