It's the same story, different location for the Indianapolis Colts.
If the Colts can beat the Kansas City Chiefs this Sunday in Kansas City, they'll clinch a wild-card playoff berth. They can still clinch it with a loss (if Cincinnati beats Pittsburgh), but they would rather not feel like they're backing into the playoffs.
“We win, were in, and that's our focus,” safety Antoine Bethea said. “Simple as that.”
The Colts (9-5) will play the Chiefs (2-12) at 1 p.m. Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium. The Colts failed in their first attempt to clinch a playoff berth, falling 29-17 at Houston last Sunday. While some injuries remain – center Samson Satele remains out and backup center A.Q. Shipley is questionable – the Colts hope to have the most uplifting 1-2 punch of the season this weekend.
A Colts' win and playoff berth on Sunday might be followed by the return of coach Chuck Pagano on Monday. Pagano has been out since late September being treated for leukemia. The team hopes he can be on the sideline for the home finale against the Texans on Dec. 30.
“The perfect thing would be (for Pagano to) come in Christmas Eve,” interim coach Bruce Arians said. “It'd be a great Christmas present for all of us and that's what our goal is. Hopefully, he can start Monday.”
Many observers expected the Colts would lose at Houston because the Texans have been a superior team all season.
But Arians said the team took the loss hard since it eliminated a shot at the AFC South title, and the Colts are equally determined this week.
“We had to reset our goals,” Arians said. “Our goal was to win the division. Obviously, we can't do that now, so we reset the parameters of our goals and that is to win this game. We'll play this week and see what happens next week.”
The Chiefs have been a huge disappointment this season, but still possess one of the best running backs in the game in Jamaal Charles. Charles ranks sixth in the NFL with 1,230 yards at 4.9 yards per carry. The quarterback spot is up in the air. Matt Cassel failed to ignite this season and his replacement, former Notre Dame standout Brady Quinn, is questionable with a rib injury. Ricky Stanzi, a second-year player out of Iowa, is next in line.
The Colts should be heavily favored to win and clinch their playoff berth. It would be an improbable turnaround from 2-14 of last season and would make rookie quarterback Andrew Luck the first No.1-picked quarterback to win 10 games in his rookie season.
Indianapolis followed each of its previous four losses with a win the next week.
“Guys want to come back and play, bounce back and atone for their mistakes,” Luck said. “I think it's sort of the DNA of the team and, hopefully, we can do that again this week. We realize it's going to be tough against a team that is much better than their record indicates in a tough environment.”
Colts defensive end Cory Redding said the team will not take the Chiefs lightly.
“No, no, no,” Redding said. “As long as you're a pro in this league, you are a deadly weapon. You still have passion, you still have fire and you love to compete. I don't care what their record is. If it's 2-14 or whatever, those guys are going to come out ready to play.”