Because of some surprising results last week, both the Indianapolis Colts and Kansas City Chiefs still have an outside shot at earning a first-round bye in the AFC playoffs.
There's also a decent chance Sunday's matchup at Arrowhead Stadium won't be their last this season.
Already in the postseason, both the Chiefs and Colts will have their minds set on improving their seeding in what could wind up as a preview of an AFC wild-card matchup.
The South champion Colts (9-5) benefited greatly from the results in Week 15, which saw the AFC's three other division leaders - Denver, New England and Cincinnati - all lose. Because of that, the Colts will claim a first-round bye if they are able to win out, and Baltimore - which faces the Patriots and Bengals during the final two weeks - also wins its final two games.
Indianapolis closes the season against Jacksonville.
"Regardless of what happens with anyone else, we want to win the rest of our games and kind of be catching fire here at the right time going into the playoffs," left tackle Anthony Castonzo said. "We want to be playing our best ball regardless of what happens with any other teams."
To win out, the Colts must show better consistency than they have over the past six weeks. Since Nov. 10, the team has alternated wins and losses every week, most recently beating Houston 25-3 last Sunday. However, Indianapolis' inability to string together impressive performances could be costly come playoff time.
Coach Chuck Pagano said he is not worried about the team's streaky play.
"I just think these guys are able to move on, win or lose," Pagano said on his weekly radio show. "They are able to put the last game behind them, make corrections that you always have and stick to the process. It's the next game. Stick to the process. Our guys do a great job of that."
The Chiefs (11-3) have bounced back from their three-game losing streak by scoring a combined 101 points in two road wins. Running back Jamaal Charles had 195 yards receiving and accounted for five touchdowns in last Sunday's 56-31 rout of Oakland.
The win sealed a playoff berth for the Chiefs, an impressive accomplishment after last season's 2-14 finish.
"Anytime you can clinch a playoff spot, it's special," quarterback Alex Smith said. "Obviously, there's still some left to go here, in the division, but yeah, it's special. It's what you're playing for, it's what you worked for all offseason to get to the postseason."
The Chiefs will need Denver to lose at least one of its final two games in order to earn a first-round bye. If they are unable to pass the Broncos, the Chiefs will be the AFC's fifth seed and could well face the Colts again in two weekends in Indianapolis.
"I'll probably tell you the same thing that I told you when we played Denver, you give it the best shot your first time and then you come back, two weeks later, and give it your best shot then," coach Andy Reid said of the possibility of facing the Colts twice. "That's how we'll approach it."
Charles leads the AFC in rushing yards with 1,181 - he's also hauled in a team-high 65 receptions - and a Kansas City offense that's averaged 5.3 yards per carry the past five weeks figures to be eager to run this week. Indianapolis lost middle linebacker Pat Angerer for the season due to a knee injury suffered against the Texans.
Charles nearly single-handedly took down the Colts last Dec. 23, rushing for 226 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries. But the Chiefs turned it over three times and Andrew Luck's fourth-quarter touchdown pass to Reggie Wayne gave the Colts a 20-13 win at Arrowhead.
Though Kansas City has won by a combined 60 points the past two weeks, there are still issues to fix on the defensive end. Over their past eight games, the Chiefs have allowed 47 plays of 20 or more yards, the most in the NFL.
"Yeah, we have to cut down on that," Reid said. "Big plays can hurt you, obviously. We're addressing that and we'll get that worked out. I wouldn't get hung up on it, too much now. The final score is what you're looking at, that and turnovers.
The Chiefs have been quite good in that regard, producing an NFL-best plus-21 turnover differential and a league-high 35 takeaways after getting seven against Oakland.
Turnovers might be hard to come by in this game. Indianapolis and Kansas City are tied for the fewest turnovers in the league with 14, and the Colts have only given it away three times in seven road games.
The Associated Press News Service
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