The Indianapolis Colts are looking for pre-playoff momentum and a road win in Kansas City on Sunday. That's much easier said than done.
The Colts (9-5) play the Chiefs (11-3) at 1 p.m. Sunday in Arrowhead Stadium in a game with playoff seeding implications.
Here are five keys for the Colts to take the road win:
Locate Jamaal Charles
We're not asking the Colts to stop Charles, the Chiefs' primary running and receiving threat. We're not asking them to limit him to a certain number of yards on the ground or in the air. The key is for the Colts to never let him loose for the big, momentum-changing plays. He'll get some yards. He'll make a little noise. But if they can keep him from long, gashing runs – whether from a handoff or through a short pass reception –the Colts have a chance to dampen the Kansas City offense.
Continued improving pass defense
The Colts found some traction in the secondary against Houston and not all of that was due to the erratic play of Texans quarterback Case Keenum. Darius Butler has proved capable of being a key defensive back inside with the nickel defense or outside as a starting cornerback. There's a chance – let's face it, no one will guarantee this – that Greg Toler could return to cornerback after missing seven games with a groin injury. Toler will be rusty, there's no way around it. The Colts can't afford too much rust against Chiefs receivers Dwayne Bowe, Dexter McCluster (if healthy) and former Colt Donnie Avery. Also, Charles is a handful as a pass receiver, especially in the open field.
Use Trent Richardson's versatility
There's no question Richardson's numbers have been a disappointment since coming to the Colts in a trade with the Cleveland Browns. But last week against Houston, the first signs of progress seemed to emerge as the Colts used Richardson more in the passing game (four catches, 38 yards, one touchdowns), giving him the opportunity to operate in space. He showed some decent burst. While Donald Brown is expected back to the lineup, the Colts won't want to push it if there are any lingering doubts about his full health.
Smart play from Andrew Luck
When the Colts have had trouble on the road, particularly offensively, some of it has come from Luck trying to do too much. There are multiple examples of the second-year quarterback trying to throw a pass while about to be sacked or in the first grip of a tackle. That's rarely a good decision and sometimes an interception. Luck might not have the best pass protection in the league; the offensive line remains held together with duct tape. But Luck must be on target with every decision on the road.
More Adam Vinatieri excellence
Anyone who thought Vinatieri might be near the end (he turns 41 next Saturday) should be reevaluating that evaluation after this season. He has hit 29 of 33 field goals, including 17 of 21 from 40 yards or farther. Given the up-and-down nature of the Colts offense, his ability to make sure the Colts get points out of as many possessions as possible shouldn't be underestimated. That's especially true on the road, where the Colts need to take advantage of every offensive series.
The pick: Chiefs 27, Colts 24