Jan 11, 2014; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) reacts in the second half during the 2013 AFC divisional playoff football game against the Indianapolis Colts at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports
The Indianapolis Colts will take on the New England Patriots on Sunday in the AFC Championship game. What was once a bitter rivalry doesn’t necessarily lack in “bad blood”, as the Patriots previously ended the Colts season in last year’s playoffs. That theme has so far continued this season, as the Patriots beat the Colts in Week 11 of this year’s regular season, 42-20.
Still, it’s awfully difficult to beat a great football team twice in the same season, but in order to win, the Colts will have to make the jump from “very good” to “elite” to pull off the upset. The Patriots are an AFC heavyweight, and unlike the Broncos, Tom Brady won’t be laboring like Peyton Manning was last weekend.
The Colts will need to not only stop the Patriots power backs, who have rushed for over 260+ rushing yards and had 4 touchdowns in each of the teams’ past two meetings, but also contain the Patriots’ prolific passing attack. This means keeping All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski in-check and mitigating the damage caused by pesky wideout Julian Edelman.
Similar to last weekend, expect the Colts defense to “clog up the middle of the field” and force Brady to utilize his outside wideouts like Brandon LaFell and Danny Amendola on the sidelines. However, in order to beat Brady, the defensive line and pass rush will also need to consistently create pressure, with pass rushers like Erik Walden, Jonathan Newsome, and Bjoern Werner getting to him both early and often.
Jan 11, 2014; Foxborough, MA, USA; Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck (12) throws a pass against the New England Patriots in the first half during the 2013 AFC divisional playoff football game at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports
Offensively, the Colts are a bit different than the team that previously lost to New England. They’ve finally cut the chord on Trent Richardson and are now featuring the much more effective Dan “Boom” Herron at running back. Additionally, we’ve seen more of Donte Moncrief and Hakeem Nicks in recent weeks and less of ailing wideout Reggie Wayne, which has helped in the offense’s ability to stretch the field and big play ability.
The offensive line finally has some continuity too, as this will be the 3rd consecutive week that the same 5 starters will play along the offensive line. It’s not the most heralded group of names, but they’ve been the most effective since arguably the beginning of the season. Specifically, Khaled Holmes at center and Joe Reitz at right tackle respectively have given this unit a big lift since filling in.
One interesting matchup to watch will be whether Patriots All-Pro cornerback Darrelle Revis ends up shadowing T.Y. Hilton for much of the day. As seen last week against Baltimore, Revis can get beat every now and then in coverage, but the offense will need fellow wideouts like Moncrief, Nicks, and Wayne to step up against the likes of Brandon Browner, Kyle Arrington, and Logan Ryan in the receiving game by consistently winning their individual matchups.
All-in-all, it will be a tough game. However, with #12, the Colts always have a chance to win. Here’s hoping it’s finally their ‘luck-y” day!
Prediction: 30-27 Colts.
Jan 11, 2014; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) shakes hands with Andrew Luck (12) after the 2013 AFC divisional playoff football game at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports