KANSAS CITY, Mo. - One year ago, the Indianapolis Colts, led by a new coach, built by a new general manager and guided by a new quarterback, rolled into Kansas City in the midst of a dramatic turnaround.
They'd won just two games the previous season, but were headed toward a winning record and a playoff berth. It was the kind of rapid renaissance that rarely happens in sports, even in the NFL, where things such as the draft and salary cap are supposed to make parity possible.
Then again, maybe the turnaround wasn't so unique.
After bringing in a new coach in Andy Reid, a new GM in John Dorsey and a new quarterback in Alex Smith, the Chiefs have done the exact same thing. They also won two games a year ago, and they also have wrapped up a winning record and a spot in the playoffs this season.
"Obviously, a great franchise and has been for a long, long time in the Chiefs, just like our organization," Colts coach Chuck Pagano said. "They have great leadership from the top down, good football players, a great coach in coach Reid. He's done it for a long, long time and has been very successful and, like I said, they have great players and he has them believing."
When the teams meet Sunday, though, it won't just be the collision of two feel-good stories. The Chiefs (11-3) are tied atop the AFC West with Denver, though the Broncos hold the tiebreaker for the division title. And the Colts (9-5) have already wrapped up the AFC South, but could improve their seeding for the playoffs with a pair of wins down the stretch.
Then there's the possibility -- likelihood, even -- that the Chiefs will finish second in their division and have to visit Indianapolis two weeks from now in the playoffs.
So both teams have plenty riding on the outcome at Arrowhead Stadium, where the forecast for Sunday calls for freezing temperatures and a possibility of snow.
"At the beginning of the season, that's what you go for, to win the division or get to the postseason," Chiefs linebacker Derrick Johnson said. "We've qualified, and that's great, but we're still peaking. It's about peaking at the right time."
If they're not peaking, both teams are at least on an upward trajectory.
The Colts have won two of their last three, including a 25-3 rout of the lowly Texans last week, while the Chiefs have scored 101 points in blowout wins over Washington and Oakland.
"They're a playoff team. We know how good they are. They're obviously very worthy of that position," Reid said. "We know what we have to do."
That said, here are five things to keep in mind when the Colts visit the Chiefs:
CHARLES' MVP RUN: Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles had five TDs last week, four through the air and one on the ground. He has a league-leading 18 touchdowns, along with more than 1,800 yards from scrimmage. "I'm happy to get this opportunity in this system," said Charles, an MVP candidate. "I'm blessed that they trust me to handle as much as they put on me."
TURNOVER TRIFLES: The Colts are 43-3 since 2000 when they don't commit a turnover, but they're going against the NFL's best team at forcing them. Kansas City has 35 takeaways for a league-high plus-21 differential. The Chiefs forced seven turnovers last week against Oakland.
NO HUDDLE: Indianapolis employed a no-huddle offense successfully last week against Houston, and might turn to it again in Kansas City. After all, Denver and San Diego gouged the Chiefs with up-tempo approaches during their three-game skid.
But inclement weather combined with the noisy environs of Arrowhead Stadium could make the no-huddle difficult.
MISCELLANEOUS POINTS: The Chiefs have scored 11 touchdowns on defense and special teams this season, third most in NFL history. They've also piled up 140 points off takeaways, by far the best in the NFL. "Any time you can get points is a good thing," Chiefs safety Eric Berry said.
NO HOLDING BACK: Even though the Colts and Chiefs might meet again in the playoffs in two weeks, neither team intends to hold anything back. Pagano and Reid both said there's enough game tape available that they wouldn't gain anything by holding plays or formations in reserve.
"I think you prepare yourself the same way," Reid said. "If you play them again, you get yourself ready again. That's just where we're at."
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