Five to Watch: Chiefs vs. Colts

Now the fun begins. On Saturday afternoon the Kansas City Chiefs, rejuvenated after earning the final playoff spot, face the Indianapolis Colts in an AFC showdown that will certainly be a thrill ride for the winner.

It's been three long years since the Chiefs were in the playoffs. On Saturday they can shed a few of their playoff demons by beating the Colts. The Chiefs come into this game with confidence despite their 2006 road woes. Indianapolis enters the playoffs losers of four of their last seven games. Each team has a weakness and this game might just boil down to which one is exploited the most.

In the last three years two losses have ruined my joy as a Chiefs fan. One of course was the playoff loss to the Colts. The second was the Cleveland loss this year in early December. Both made me sick, mad and frustrated.

But after last Sunday's amazing set of circumstances that catapulted the Chiefs into the postseason, none of that really matters. As a fan, Saturday's AFC playoff game is simply vanilla icing on the cake.

Though I firmly believed the Chiefs would make the playoffs prior to their three-game December swoon, the last two weeks have given me a sense of pride. I never subscribed to the theory that the Chiefs backed into the playoffs. They earned it by winning the final two games. Every other AFC Playoff team had the same opportunity. The Chiefs nailed it while the others simply failed to get the job done.

That's what makes this game so special. The Chiefs are fired up and they understand to a man because their leader, head coach Herm Edwards, has convinced them they belong in the playoffs. They earned their ticket and they come into this contest loose. That doesn't bode well for Indianapolis.

All of the pressure is on the Colts. Most NFL experts believe the Chiefs will win this game. Most realists believe the Colts have the advantage.

This game is more than Peyton Manning versus Larry Johnson. Someone unknown will step up and do something spectacular. It won't be an every down player who rises to the occasion and leaves a lasting memory that will likely put the dagger in one of these two teams.

We can evaluate all the aspects of this game. There's the great Colts offense competing against the improved Chiefs defense. We can talk about the likely dominance of Larry Johnson over Indy's pitiful run defense. We can talk about the special teams and the fact neither team is all that solid in their coverage.

Or we could focus on the head coaches, Herm Edwards and Tony Dungy, who are beyond best friends – they are brothers. They have a shared dream that someday they'll face off in an AFC Championship game.

I would think it would be hard for these two great men to battle each other knowing the enormous respect they have for one another. But Edwards has his game face on. He's been sharp, poignant and very direct with the media this week.

So what's the deciding factor in this game?

In my opinion it boils down to one person: Herm Edwards. He's preached and stressed to the Chiefs the importance of becoming a playoff team. They have become that despite the unlikely path they traveled to get there.

He knows how to win in the playoffs and he also knows how to beat the Colts. This is what he lives for and this is why President Carl Peterson tabbed him to become the Chiefs 10th head coach.

I truly believe Edwards is starting a run in Kansas City that might finally bring this city back to its glory days. After what he accomplished this season in overcoming incredible odds, adversities, roster additions, roster subtractions, injuries and retirement, his confidence never wavered in his coaches or his players.

That's the sign of a winner.

Five to Watch:

1. S Bernard Pollard - I already alluded to it early in the article but I think his confidence is sky high. He's really improved the Chiefs special teams by blocking punts and being solid as a gunner. He could also be one of those players that delivers a bone-crushing hit, jarring the ball loose from one of the Colts receivers when they come over the middle. When you factor in the legions of family and friends that will be in the RCA dome cheering for their hometown Indiana boy, you've got a recipe for another electrifying moment from this rookie.

2. QB Trent Green - I can't think of another quarterback I'd want on the field Saturday for the Chiefs. This is his time to shine. The Colts are plenty worried about Larry Johnson, but if they forget about Green he could torture Indy's secondary. A realist would argue the opposite but all he needs is success on the first drive of the game through the air. That should be enough to get a steady game out of him.

3. LT Jordan Black - He has done a nice job since taking over at left tackle. He should dominate Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney when the Chiefs run the ball. That will help him in pass protection, especially if the ground game has early success. Black has done pretty well against some big time defensive ends and with Freeney still searching for his groove, the former Notre Dame standout could give Trent Green a little more security in the pocket this week.

4. DC Gunther Cunningham - He needs this defense to play with a reckless but controlled style that will hinder Manning's ability to hit his primary targets. Cunningham has it in him to call a spectacular game and his defense is playing with confidence. With playmakers along the defensive line, at linebacker and in the secondary, the traps this team fell into in 2003 won't be a factor on Saturday.

5. OC Mike Solari - Like Cunningham, Solari can put his stamp on this football team. With a full season behind him, he enters this game knowing he's made the best out of his patchwork offensive line, survived the injury to his starting quarterback and found that he still has the best tight end in football playing at an All-Pro level. All he has to do is dink and dunk his offense down the field and take chances when they are warranted. If he does that, the Colts offense might never be a factor in this game.

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