|National Football League|
- Saints top Panthers, take NFC South lead
- Gruden intends to start RG3 on Sunday
- DE Hardy's trial ppd. until after season
- Cowboys' Randle flippant during arrest
- Plea deal gets Titans' Lewan probation
By KEVIN CHROUST
(AP) -- The Indianapolis Colts think they're playing their best football at the perfect time. The Kansas City Chiefs are hoping to finally be healthy when it matters most.
They'll meet for the second time in three weeks Saturday at Indianapolis in an AFC wild-card game.
The Colts (11-5) have won three straight while allowing 20 points, including a 23-7 victory at Kansas City on Dec. 22.
"I think if you check the last six Super Bowl winners, they got hot at the right time," Indianapolis defensive end Robert Mathis said. "That's what it's all about, getting hot at the right time."
The Chiefs (11-5) have lost two in a row, but they approached Week 17 cautiously and now expect to have wide receiver Dwayne Bowe (concussion), linebacker Justin Houston (dislocated elbow) and left tackle Braden Albert (hyperextended knee) as they try to end a seven-game playoff losing streak.
However, the status of linebacker Tamba Hali (knee) is up in the air, and right tackle Eric Fisher could miss this game due to a strained groin. Neither practiced Thursday, though coach Andy Reid remained optimistic Hali would play as long as the swelling subsides.
"It's the start of a new season. That's how the playoffs work," Reid said. "You're in the dance, as they say. It's another phase of the season. You've worked very hard as a team to get into this position. Now it's important that you exhaust yourself to make sure you're right."
A 30-10 win over Jacksonville on Sunday closed out the Colts' regular season on a high note. Andrew Luck completed 26 of 37 for 282 yards and a touchdown, finishing his sophomore regular season with 23 TDs for the second straight year while cutting his interceptions in half to nine.
That followed their Week 16 win over the Chiefs in which Luck improved to 2-0 against Kansas City. He went 26 of 37 for 241 yards while counterpart Alex Smith was 16 for 28 for 153 yards and an interception.
Kansas City missed out on the AFC West title and a first-round bye with its late-season struggles, though some of its key players had a designed week off in Sunday's 27-24 loss at San Diego. Smith was among them.
"Obviously, guys are going to be feeling pretty fresh, so that's a good thing," Smith said. "It will really help us as far as the week goes, having a great week of preparation."
Prior to the loss to the Colts, Smith had thrown seven TDs without an interception in wins at Washington and Oakland. The Chiefs went 6-1 on the road with Smith at quarterback this year, and he threw 11 TDs and one pick in those games.
He now gets another shot at a Colts defense that forced eight turnovers in the last three games while allowing nine third-down conversions in 37 chances.
The defensive efficiency hasn't been there all season, and the team now looks back at a players meeting during the second half of the season as a turning point.
"It was an important moment for us as a defensive unit, and the results are where they are now. We finished December strong," end Cory Redding told the team's official website. "It was basically just coming together, putting things out on the table as a unit. Get anything that's going to hold us back from achieving our goal out in the open and, 'Let's talk about it, let's hash it out and let's get to playing football fun and together as a unit.' That's what we did."
Kansas City's defense had a stronger start, leading the Chiefs to a 9-0 start before injuries and inconsistency settled in as the team lost five of its last seven. It allowed 12.3 points per game in its first nine and 27.7 in the last seven.
The Chiefs know the Colts offense doesn't cause itself many problems, yielding a league-low 14 turnovers. Kansas City was tied for second with 18, four of which came against Indianapolis.
"That's a challenge I think both ways - both offensively and defensively," Reid said. "(The Colts are) efficient with the ball, they don't have a lot of penalties that are called against them and they don't turn the ball over much. That's this time of the year, you've got to eliminate mistakes. Mistakes get magnified in the playoffs."
The Chiefs haven't won a playoff game since the 1993 season, with three losses during their postseason skid coming against the Colts.
Indianapolis has dropped three straight in the postseason after last season's 24-9 wild-card loss to eventual Super Bowl champion Baltimore.
Updated January 2, 2014