COLTS // CHIEFS OVERVIEW
In one of the most exciting “six seed vs one seed” matchups imaginable, the white hot Colts (10-1 in their last 11 games; sixth in the NFL in points per game this year) will travel to Arrowhead to take on a 12-4 Chiefs team that led the league in scoring this year and has been a Super Bowl favorite since the first couple weeks of the season. Same as the first game of last weekend’s slate: this game carries the highest Over/Under on the weekend. Unlike last weekend’s slate: there is plenty to like outside this game as well, making this a fun game to balance against the others available this week.
COLTS PASS OFFENSE
As we know by now, Kansas City was one of the more attackable pass defenses in the league this last year, with the second deepest aDOT allowed, the most pass plays of 20+ yards allowed, the fourth most wide receiver receptions allowed, and the fourth most wide receiver yards allowed. With the Chiefs regularly scoring so quickly this year, they ranked 27th in time of possession — and with opponents speeding up the pace to keep up with Kansas City, only one team allowed more opponent plays per game. The Colts closed out the regular season ranked first in pace of play and third in plays per game, creating what should be an opportunity for plenty of volume to pile up both through the air and on the ground for Indianapolis this weekend.
The biggest way in which Kansas City has been able to mitigate their problems in the secondary this year has been with their pass rush, with the Chiefs finishing the regular season tied with the Steelers for most sacks in the league. This creates a poor setup against the Colts’ ball-out-quick offense and strong offensive line. No team in football allowed fewer sacks than the Colts, which should create opportunity for Indy to develop plays and get guys open.
The foundation pieces of the Colts’ passing attack each have a good matchup here. As with last week: T.Y. Hilton is locked into alpha involvement, with a strong shot at six to eight receptions and 100+ yards. The one major drawback for Hilton is his limited red zone effectiveness, with only seven red zone catches (on 17 targets) and five red zone touchdowns all year.
Eric Ebron is on the opposite end of the “concern” spectrum, with four straight games of six or fewer targets (and only one game in this stretch north of 30 yards), but with his 12 red zone receiving touchdowns in the regular season tied with Antonio Brown for the most in the league. The matchup is great for Ebron, with the Chiefs giving up the sixth most receiving yards and the most receiving touchdowns to the tight end position this year.
Dontrelle Inman and Chester Rogers continue to operate as the primary pass-catching receivers behind these two, with Inman running 35 of a possible 39 pass routes last week, and with Rogers running 24. This followed a similar pattern to Week 17, though it is worth reiterating that the Colts are one of the most opponent-specific offenses in the NFL, and Rogers ran more pass routes than Inman in the preceding weeks. Each guy should remain involved, with Inman seeing four to six targets in seven of his last eight games, and with Rogers seeing four to seven targets in five of his last seven games. Inman sees more downfield work on his targets, while Rogers operates in more of a chain-moving role. Each guy carries slim touchdown upside, with seven red zone targets apiece.
COLTS RUN OFFENSE
As we explored last week (and several other times this year), the Colts are one of the NFL’s more adaptable offenses, with an ability to adjust between run-heavy and pass-heavy based on matchup, game plan, and game flow. Part of Frank Reich’s mastery as an offensive game planner is his ability to surprise a defense (as we saw last year in Philadelphia, it was impossible to know from week to week which running back would be most heavily involved for the Eagles; and as we have seen this year in Indy, Reich can knock opposing defenses askew with unexpected attack plans), but a shrewd approach in this spot would be to attack the Chiefs’ weakness on the ground (31st in yards allowed per carry). This will be nothing new against the Chiefs. In spite of ranking second in the NFL in average scoring margin, the Chiefs faced the sixth most running back rush attempts in the league this year, and they allowed the fifth most running back rushing yards. Running backs were also successful in the red zone against the Chiefs (sixth most RB rushing touchdowns allowed) and through the air (fifth most receiving yards allowed to backs // most touchdowns allowed to backs).
The one upsetting feature of this spot is the Colts’ multi-headed backfield setup, with Marlon Mack handling the rushing work (only one game all year above three targets // only one game all year above 17 receiving yards), and with Nyheim Hines handling the receiving work (16 total carries across the last five weeks of the regular season // 30 targets in this same stretch of play).
Mack is best considered a yardage-and-touchdown back with a locked-in workload of 12 to 14 carries and with upside for as many as 25 carries if the Colts keep this game close — giving him an iffy price-considered floor, but plenty of upside if everything goes right. Hines is best considered a floor play with his aerial involvement far more locked-in than was shown last week, but with minimal red zone involvement. It should be noted that Hines is a bit underpriced on PPR site DraftKings for what is typically a three- to five-catch role, making him a solid “roster for floor, hope for upside” salary saver this week.
CHIEFS RUN OFFENSE
The last time Spencer Ware played for the Chiefs (Week 14 vs Baltimore), he touched the ball 20 times, but he ceded 12 touches to Damien Williams along the way. Williams followed this up with 16 and 20 alpha touches in Weeks 15 and 16 before seeing 12 touches (and ceding 11 to Darrel Williams) in Week 17. With Ware back this week, the Chiefs will likely be comfortable splitting the workload once again — which presents some concerns on a team that has generated running back touch totals of 22 // 33 // 20 // 20 // 23 since parting ways with Kareem Hunt. If the Chiefs land in their typical range of running back workload (20 to 23 touches) and split time between Ware and Damien, we could see no more than 13 or 14 touches for the backfield leader. If betting on this spot, then, the best bet is to hope the Chiefs lean on only one back — as you will otherwise be left hoping for another outlier, 30-touch setup for this backfield as a whole.
From a “matchups” perspective, things look a bit better for Williams than for Ware, with Williams impressively turning 21 targets across his last five games into 20 catches for 142 yards and a pair of touchdowns. The Colts — as we are surely all aware by now — allowed the sixth fewest yards per carry in the NFL this year, but they allowed the second most running back receptions and the seventh most running back receiving yards.
Ware, of course, is no zero in the pass game himself (last five games: 12 targets // 11 catches for 135 yards), and while Williams is likely to lead this backfield in touches, there is still an outside shot that Ware retakes the lead role, or that he produces at a higher level even if he’s stuck in the backseat.
Ultimately, we should go into this game expecting under 25 total touches for this backfield, with anything over that considered a bonus. The likeliest setup this week is a split backfield with Williams in the lead, but it won’t be surprising if Williams takes on a good 70% of the work — and while it’s less likely, it ultimately won’t be a total surprise if Ware steps back into the lead role himself.
CHIEFS PASS OFFENSE
As we are well aware by now: the Colts allowed the lowest average depth of target in the NFL this year, they allowed the fifth fewest pass plays of 20+ yards, they allowed the second fewest wide receiver catches, and they allowed the second fewest wide receiver yards. On the flip side of that: only two teams faced more tight end targets than Indy; no team allowed more tight end catches; no team allowed more tight end yards.
This is a great spot for Travis Kelce, who incredibly has nine or more targets in six consecutive games. Through 16 games, Kelce went for 95+ yards seven times, and he scored 10 touchdowns (with three multi-touchdown games) along the way. With the Chiefs facing a tough matchup on the ground, it makes sense for them to lean on Patrick Mahomes this week; and if they lean on Mahomes, a large chunk of the pass game work should flow to Kelce.
The matchup is less stable for Tyreek Hill, as the Colts have routinely held downfield pass catchers to below-expectations production, with DeAndre Hopkins last week as their latest victim. On the plus side for Hill: he sees a few of the short-area targets each week on which Keke Coutee unsurprisingly pasted this defense last week, and he is guaranteed two to four downfield looks regardless of opponent — keeping his ceiling very much intact. As was the case in his game against Oakland in Week 17: Hill’s chances of reaching his ceiling are lower than normal. As was also the case that week: he can pop off for a big game in literally any matchup, keeping him very much in the conversation this week.
While the Chiefs’ offense is a point-producing machine, DFS production behind Kelce, Hill, and the running backs has been spotty all year. Sammy Watkins is set to return this week — and while he should play limited snaps, he will also have a shot at four to six targets, giving him a low floor and a decent price-considered ceiling. Kelvin Benjamin, Demarcus Robinson, and Chris Conley will fight for scraps, with all of these guys simply guess-and-hope plays.
Andrew Luck joins Patrick Mahomes as the top on-paper quarterback plays on the slate (Mahomes, of course, sits higher than Luck — but it won’t be surprising if Luck pushes for the top score in the small sample size of a single game), while Hilton and Ebron obviously stand out as two of the better plays at their respective positions. Hilton is in a great spot for his big-play upside to show up — making him a bet-on-yardage, hope-for-touchdown play; Ebron is not guaranteed heavy looks in this spread-the-wealth offense, but on a weak slate for tight ends, with Ebron carrying locked-in involvement and a big red zone role, he obviously stands out as one of the stronger options. Behind these guys, Rogers and Inman can be targeted for floor production with “hope for a score” upside; Zach Pascal can be rostered in large-field tourneys as a guess-and-hope play (Pascal is primarily on the field for his run-blocking, but he did see five targets in Week 14 and seven targets in Week 16; you’re not drawing dead here in large-field tourneys). The Colts’ backfield is also intriguing in what should be a high-scoring affair with plenty of plays available on this side of the ball. Mack will need yards and touchdowns to matter, given his limited pass game role, but he’ll have a shot at both in this spot; Hines should return to his typical four to eight touch role, with most of these looks coming through the air (and with a chance for game flow to boost his touch ceiling this week).
On the other side, Mahomes and Kelce jump off the page, while Hill and Williams (and to a lesser extent, Ware and Watkins) join the “tourney upside” conversation. While the Colts’ defense has been strong this year, it has taken more than “a strong defense” to slow down the Chiefs (unbelievably, their lowest point total on the year was 26) — making this an easy offense to bet on for yards and points. With the Colts so strong against the run, Mahomes should be given a chance to take over in this game, making him and his primary pass catchers enticing options on this four-game slate.