Game of the Week: Chiefs vs. Colts

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The surprising 3-0 Chiefs, the only undefeated team in the NFL, visit the struggling 2-2 Colts, a dominant power over the past decade, in the best statistical match-up of Week 5.

1. Romeo Crennel is Peyton Manning's kryptonite. Kansas City's first-year defensive coordinator vs. Indy's four-time MVP quarterback is the most fascinating chess match of Week 5. And it's a battle Crennel has dominated over the years, including an incredible 6-0 run against Manning during the assistant coach's days with the Patriots.

Crennel's success as a defensive assistant is unprecedented. It includes two Super Bowl wins with the Giants (1986, 1990), an AFC title with the Patriots (1996) and an amazing turnaround with the Jets that ended with a battle against John Elway and the Broncos for the right to go to the Super Bowl (1998).

Then there were his days as Bill Belichick's right-hand defensive man in New England from 2001 to 2004. It was a period that coincided perfectly with New England's dynastic run -- three Super Bowl wins in four years and, along the way, a record 21-game win streak.

It's an incredible track record. And the highlight is the fact that his defenses repeatedly embarrassed the otherwise unflappable Manning, who some say is the greatest quarterback of all time.

Crennel's New England defenses beat the mighty Manning in six straight games from 2001 to 2004. Those six wins included two of the most embarrassing performances in the long career of the future of Hall of Fame quarterback. Manning threw four interceptions against Crennel's Patriots in the 2003 AFC title game; and in the 2004 divisional round, the Colts suffered a devastating 20-3 defeat in New England, following a regular season in which they averaged an awesome 32.6 points per game.

There's plenty more evidence that Crennel is Manning's kryptonite: Since Crennel left New England in 2005, Indy's quarterback has dominated the Patriots. Manning and the Colts are 5-1 vs. the Patriots since then, and their wins include the greatest comeback in championship-game history in the 2006 AFC title tilt.

Different team. Different players. Different season. Yes, all true. But Crennel's crew right now is No. 2 in scoring defense (12.7 PPG) and Manning is the highest-rated passer in the NFL (112.2).

Sounds like an old story we heard back in 2004.

2. Peyton Manning is on pace for MVP honors -- for the first time since 2004.The Cold, Hard Football Facts have been more critical than most pigskin "pundits" when it comes to Manning. And by critical, we merely mean that we don't swoon at the mere mention of The Chosen One.

A great quarterback? Obviously. A first-ballot Hall of Famer? Absolutely. Incredibly prolific? Inarguably. Nobody's ever said otherwise. But the greatest of all time? No way.

Even that tepid criticism -- maybe Manning isn't the G-O-A-T -- is sacrilege in certain circles and earns you eternal enmity of the entire state of Indiana and of most of the national analysts. The cult-like devotion to Manning is why he's won the past two MVP awards when other players clearly deserved the honors.

In 2008, Miami's Chad Pennington, the most accurate passer in history (66.06%), almost single-handedly inspired the greatest statistical and team turnaround in NFL history. The Pennington-less 2007 Dolphins went 1-15, the worst team in a proud franchise history, because of the worst passing performance in franchise history (5.05 yards per attempt); the 2008 Dolphins, with Pennington at quarterback, suddenly possessed one of the league's best passing games (7.03 YPA), leading to an 11-5 record and an AFC East title. It was a spectacular rise in fortunes and one of the great statistical stories of the past decade. No other player was more valuable in 2008 than Pennington.

In 2009, New Orleans' Drew Brees was easily the NFL's best quarterback. He outpaced Manning in every meaningful passing stat, set a record for accuracy (70.62%), led the NFL in TD passes and passer rating, led the Saints to the greatest season in franchise history and proved he was better than Manning by outgunning him in the Super Bowl. No player was more valuable in 2009 than Brees.

In the old days, Manning earned MVP honors because he put up big numbers while paired with a lousy defense. But in recent years he's hauled in hardware even though Indy's defense has been better than the offense.

• The Colts, on average, fielded the league's No. 5 scoring defense over the past three years, including the NFL's stingiest unit in 2007.

• The Colts, on average, fielded the league's No. 8 scoring offense over the same three years, including the No. 3 unit in 2007.

But that story never gets much attention, as pigskin "pundits" trip over themselves to credit Manning for every victory in Indy history and to pan his teammates every time something goes wrong -- like another one-and-done playoff appearance.

With all that said, the perception of the lone-gun Manning has largely been true here in 2010. He leads the league in completions (120), TDs (11), TD-INT ratio (spectacular 11-1) and passer rating (112.2).

At the same time, his defense is a disaster: The Colts are No. 31 on our Defensive Hog Index, No. 30 against the run (4.98 YPA), No. 29 on third downs (opponents convert 46.0% of attempts) and No. 24 in Defensive Passer Rating (92.6), the best measure of a team's ability to stop the pass.

If Manning keeps up this pace and lifts the flawed Colts to the playoffs, even the Cold, Hard Football Facts will admit that it was an MVP season for The Chosen One.

3. Kansas City's Defensive Hogs must be eating their Wheaties this year. Defensive coordinator Crennel's influence is most evident in the success of the Chiefs' defensive front. In fact, it's the NFL's great statistical success story through the first month of the 2010 season.

Kansas City's D-Hogs had struggled badly since the team shipped playmaking defensive end Jared Allen off to Minnesota at the end of the 2007 season. We chronicled the downfall of Kansas City's Defensive Hogs here on over the summer.

In 2007, the team's last year with Allen, the Chiefs ranked No. 5 on the Defensive Hog Index, our measure of each defensive front in three key indicators, that's proven so successful (25-8 picking playoff winners since 2007).

Allen's departure led to a statistical disaster: Kansas City instantly fell all the way to 32nd and dead last on the Defensive Hog Index in 2008. The Chiefs barely improved last year (No. 29). In each of those two years, they were among the very worst in football at stopping the run and at pressuring the quarterback.

But Kansas City's defensive front has shown incredible improvement in 2010: It's No. 4 overall right now on the Defensive Hog Index; No. 4 at stopping the run (3.21 YPA) and No. 4 at getting off the field on third down (opponents have converted just 26.7% of attempts).

The jury is still out: Kansas City has benefited from facing a pair of weak teams with weak offenses in Cleveland and San Francisco (a combined 1-7). But the D-Hogs also passed their stiffest test in Week 1 against a high-powered San Diego offense.

They held the Chargers to 26.7 percent success (4 of 15) on third downs -- dead on Kansas City's season average -- and held them to 3.76 YPA on the ground. Anything under 4.0 is a win for the defense.

So far, so good. Kansas City's new and vastly improved D-Hogs are a big reason the Chiefs are No. 2 in scoring D (12.7 PPG) and a big reason the Chiefs are the NFL's only unbeaten team heading into Week 5.

This matchup sets up nicely for the Chiefs, at least in the trenches ... and at least on paper.

Kansas is No. 13 on our Offensive Hog Index and clearly among the best in the NFL running the football, with 160.7 yards per game (third) and 4.63 yards per attempt (eighth). Indianapolis and its 31st ranked Defensive Hogs, meanwhile, can't stop the run: 149.5 YPG (29th) and 4.98 YPA (30th).

It adds up to a great time of possession advantage for the Chiefs and about a 200-yard day on the ground.

Unfortunately for the Chiefs, time of possession is a largely meaningless indicator in a sport in which superiority at quarterback means everything. The Colts proved this to be true in classic fashion and in a similar statistical situation against the Dolphins last year: Miami held the ball for more than three quarters of the game (45:07). But Indy won, 27-23, thanks to a spectacularly efficient day from Manning (13.2 YPA).

Kansas City has been a great story in 2010. Clearly, the Chiefs have improved dramatically in so many areas. But Peyton Manning is firing on all cylinder, and gives the Colts a huge advantage over the Chiefs and Matt Cassel at the most important position on the field.

The Chiefs will put up a good fight, but simply do not have the juice, even against a struggling defense, to keep up with the NFL's second-best offense (29.2 PPG). Manning will finally overcome the curse of Romeo Crennel and prove his team is still a serious contender in the AFC.

Indianapolis 26, Kansas City 20

(Week 4 prediction: Pittsburgh 19, Baltimore 10. Result: Baltimore 17, Pittsburgh 14. Yeah, that pick didn't go too well.)