Players Won't Say It But I Can

In the NFL you should never fear an opponent. After the Chiefs embarrassing home loss to Indianapolis a year ago in the playoffs; Kansas City fans share some trepidation for Sunday's showdown with the high-flying Colts offense. But what a difference a week makes as the Chiefs appear ready to soar while the Colts appear to be heading for a fall.

The Chiefs are coming off an impressive win over the Falcons last weekend where they dismantled Atlanta 56-10. Meanwhile the Colts suffered an embarrassing 27-24 home loss to the Cardiac kids from Jacksonville as they've fallen back to the pack.

When the schedule came out last April, Chiefs fans, players and coaches all pointed to this game. The off-season focus was improving the team enough that it could take on a Colts team that torpedoed their Super Bowl dreams a year ago.

Now though the Chiefs won't admit it, this game is all about Payback! Pure and simple nothing more than driving the Colts back to Indianapolis with their horse shoes up there tails.

This game could provide a glimpse into the future of both teams. The Chiefs finally appear on the way up after winning two of their last three games. The defense which struggled early has come around thanks to two things. One the health of some of the injured and more importantly they finally believe in defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham's new system. It worked masterfully against the Falcons last week.

It's becoming clear that some players are starting to step up and make plays on a defense that sorely needed some playmakers. Cornerback William Bartee stepped in for the unproductive Dexter McCleon and rookie defensive end Jared Allen continues to make plays when he's on the field.

The Chiefs brass has not been shy about their feelings for Allen. To a man in the organization they all feel the former Buck Buchanan award winner will be a star. Chiefs head coach Dick Vermeil compares the young Allen to Grant Wistrom who he coached and drafted in St. Louis. That's high praise.

For Bartee who had other off-season offers to play elsewhere, he simply wanted to play for the man that drafted him and that was Cunningham when he was head coach. Bartee showed the qualities that Kansas City had hoped would return with a change in defensive philosophies. Now healthy Bartee is a strong compliment to Eric Warfield who is quietly having an All-Pro season.

That means the Colts offense that features the quarterback Peyton Manning and wide receivers Marvin Harrison, Brandon Stokely and the embattled Reggie Wayne. Last weekend Manning and Wayne got into it on the sidelines and that has caused some concern that players continue to resent Manning for sucking the life out of the Salary Cap after he signed a mega-contract in the off-season with the Colts.

One thing is clear that Manning has a lot to learn about being a leader. Two playoff victories does not count the times he's failed under pressure. Still he's never lost to the Chiefs in his career and though he might not have figured out how to be a leader, he can still make plays on the field.

He's one of the Top-Rated quarterbacks this season because he spreads the ball around. Plus running back Edgerrin James has finally reached back to his old form. Maybe just maybe some thought that Manning figured things out until the altercation on the sidelines last weekend.

The same could be said about the Chiefs before their win against Atlanta. The press was barbecuing the home team after their loss to the Jaguars but against the Falcons they proved that the only team in the NFL that can stop Kansas City is themselves. That give Chiefs fans hope despite their 2-4 record. With the Broncos embarrassing loss, the recipe to beat the sudden invincible Broncos was served up by the unlikely Cincinnati Bengals.

That's why this game is beyond Payback! It's about so much more. A win on Sunday over the Colts is truly what Chiefs fans want but more importantly it will prove to the rest of the AFC West that the Chiefs will have a say in who wins the division.

Remember the hardest part of the Chiefs schedule is behind them. They have the Colts and New England Patriots both at home sandwiched around two road games at Tampa Bay and New Orleans.

Thus this game is huge for Kansas City. A win puts them within one game of the .500 barrier and puts them in a position where they should be favored in every game the rest of the season. That means their back.

On Sunday Kansas City simply has to play smash mouth football on both sides of the line of scrimmage. Cunningham should be cautious about blitzing Manning who is generally not flappable in the pocket unless he turns the ball over. The Patriots were very successful in the AFC Championship game last year against the Colts by only rushing four. The key was drilling the receivers off the line of scrimmage and disrupting their routes.

The other key was that the Patriots linebackers took away the short intermediate routes by getting their bodies in the passing lanes on the Colts slant patterns. Manning is a three-step and drop quarterback. He gets rid of the ball on crisp timing patterns that are effective in doing two things; one setting up a big play downfield and the other to widen the rushing lanes for James.

For the Chiefs offense they must get back to the establishing the run against Colts defense that is pitiful at best. Kansas City will be very tempted to take advantage of Indy's weak secondary but they have to run the ball. In wins over the Ravens and Colts they dominated time of possession and they stuck to their strengths. In their defeats they abandoned their running game.

The Colts will use an eight-man front because they don't respect Trent Green and his ability to get the ball down the field. That could be a mistake but not playing smash mouth behind an offensive line that is far superior to any other in the NFL, would be a bad risk.

Kansas City needs to pick and choose when to pass the ball and if they can wear down the Colts defensive front seven, then picking apart their secondary will be much easier.

Last weekends game showed me that despite the records of each team there is little doubt that both teams are going in opposite directions. Two weeks ago NFL pundits would have said the Chiefs are sliding down and the Colts are climbing to new heights. But that's not the case.

In a year where curses are being exorcised (See Boston Red Sox) in other sports, this might be the best Candy for trick or treat that the Chiefs can give their fans. With that said a victory on Sunday and the Colts will be in the Chiefs rear view mirror now and for the immediate future.

PREDICTION:
Chiefs 38 - Colts 17


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