The Indianapolis Colts host long time rival the New England Patriots on Sunday Night Football. The Colts are hoping to get a bit of payback for the Pats bouncing them out of the playoffs last season.
Andrew Luck holds an 0-2 record against New England and it will be Chuck Pagano’s second time facing off with Bill Belichick as a head coach (Bruce Arians was still interim coach back in 2012). While they have struggled against the Patriots, both of those meetings were on the road.
The Patriots are just 3-14 on the road against teams with a winning record. The Colts own a 8-1 home record against teams above .500 over the past three seasons.
Tom Brady and his offense are riding a five game hot streak following a one-sided loss at Kansas City. That game had people claiming Brady was done, but he’s proven there’s still a lot left in the tank.
The Colts are currently third in the AFC playoff standings, while the Pats own the number one seed. A win would give the Colts the tiebreaker over New England and a bye in the first round.
So, no pressure or anything.
Here’s what fans should watch for:
- Hilton vs the Secondary. On paper, the Patriots have a pretty fearsome secondary with Darrelle Revis, Brandon Browner, Devin McCourty, and Patrick Chung. The pass defense is just 19th in the NFL. Belichick has a long history of taking away a big weapon from his opponent, and T.Y. Hilton will likely be that target. The Pats took away his deep routes in the playoffs, and did so with an inferior secondary. Hilton is having an outstanding season, but has never lined up against Revis. He’s torched Browner before and the way he’s playing it will be difficult for the Pats to stop him.
- The Underneath. While the secondary is the strength of the Patriots, their soft underbelly is an inability to stop running backs or tight ends in the passing game. Expect Dwayne Allen to feast against the Pats and for Ahmad Bradshaw and Trent Richardson to get solid gains on dump off passes.
- GRONK SMASH! Rob Gronkowski isn’t going to feast, he will gorge himself in Indy Sunday night. He is a matchup nightmare for a Colts team that has been tortured by tight ends all season. Julius Thomas is the most similar tight end to Gronk, and all he did was lead his team in receptions and score three touchdowns. The Colts will have to use a combination of Jerrell Freeman (or a rushing linebacker) jamming him at the line with a safety helping over the top. Shutting him down is highly unlikely, but if he’s slowed down a bit the Pats offense will stumble without him.
- Pressure. The Colts have somehow managed to be in the top 10 in sacks this season despite Bjoern Werner leading the team and their best pass rusher, Robert Mathis, on the sideline. But in their three losses, they only got to the quarterback once. Not surprisingly, all three were against quality quarterbacks (or at least good offenses). The Colts have to blitz to generate pressure, and that generally results in a veteran QB (read: Peyton Manning or Ben Roethlisberger) picking apart the secondary. The Pats have given up just 16 sacks and Brady is actually slightly better when blitzed (but struggles when under direct pressure). Getting to Brady is paramount to the Colts coming away with a win.
- Turnovers. This is always an obvious factor, but the fact remains that Luck has tossed seven interceptions against New England. Granted both games were on the road, but its still a factor. Luck still lets some passes get away from him and at times suffers from unfortunate tips that end in picks. The Colts won’t be able to give extra possessions away to a Patriots team that leads the NFL in turnover margin at plus-12.
This feels a bit like last year’s meeting with the Denver Broncos. The Colts are a two-point favorite, but most analysts don’t give them much of a chance. It will likely take a lot of heroics to come away with a win, but its happened before for Indianapolis (2012 hosting the Packers, 2013 at the 49ers and home vs Seahawks).
Everyone is calling for a shootout, so of course it will be a low scoring affair. Don’t expect a blowout by either team, both sides have too much talent for that to happen. The Colts take a close game with Luck leading a final drive for the win.