Here we go again. The Indianapolis Colts can clinch a playoff berth with a win Sunday at Kansas City. The Chiefs have had an awful season, sitting at 2-12 and facing massive offseason player and possibly coaching moves. However, anything can happen in the NFL. Here are five pivotal factors for the Colts to get a win and clinch:
Time for Luck
Colts quarterback Andrew Luck broke his string of interceptions on the road, throwing two touchdowns and no picks in last week's loss at Houston. But he was sacked five times. The Colts' offensive line needs to give him time to operate. After being slowed last week, Reggie Wayne will be itching to come back with a big game in Kansas City. Luck, incidentally, needs 74 yards passing to break Cam Newton's rookie record for yards passing in a season.
Vick Ballard has emerged as a real running back threat for the Colts, rushing for 94 and 105 yards in the last two games. He was missed, as everyone knows, in one big short-yardage situation at Houston where Mewelde Moore regrettably fumbled the ball. Don't expect to see anyone but Ballard in that spot until Delone Carter gets healthy again. Carter is out this week, but could return for the regular-season finale. The offensive line's run blocking has improved lately, even with a lot of shuffling of personnel.
Force Quinn into mistakes
The Chiefs' offense is under the control of former Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn, whose NFL career has not been a smooth one. He's not overly prone to turnovers, but he can be rushed into incompletions and third-and-long situations. It's about time for Robert Mathis to have another big day in the pass rushing game. Mathis and Dwight Freeney could be in the homestretch of their great run together, since many feel Freeney won't be back next season. Quinn doesn't have a great receiving corps, so pressuring him could lead to good things for the Colts secondary.
Don't let Charles take charge
With Jerrell Freeman banged up and Kavell Conner out, there is some question about the linebacker spot, so big games from Moise Fokou and Pat Angerer could be pivotal to the Colts efforts to slow Kansas City running back Jamaal Charles. Charles averages 4.9 yards per carry and already has 1,230 yards rushing. The Chiefs want to utilize the running game on first and second down to avoid the third-and-long situations that have stalled their offense lately. The Colts run defense has been pretty strong of late, other than a late-game flurry by Houston's Arian Foster.
Bring an emotional lift
The Colts have thrived at times this season because of the emotions they've dealt with, particularly in the fight against leukemia by coach Chuck Pagano. All signs point to Pagano coming back next week in some capacity. The Colts need to generate early intensity against the Chiefs, whether defense or special teams. They need to show the Chiefs they mean business. An early edge should be the winning one because 2-12 teams teeter on cashing it in when the going keeps getting tough.