Ever get the feeling that the Colts and Patriots seem to play every year, even though they aren't in the same division? Well, you'd be right. It what normally is hyped as the game of the year in the NFL, the Colts and Patriots have played every season since 2003, as well as meeting 3 times in the playoffs (although I block the first 2 out). Not only have they played every year, the last 5 meetings have all been decided by 7 points or less. Peter King from Sports Illustrated adds in that the total points for both teams since 2003: Patriots 258, Colts 254. Throw in the two best Quarterbacks of this generation, and you get some of the best football games each and every year.
For the first time since the 2006 regular season matchup, the game will be played outdoors in Foxboro, a weird quirk in the scheduling. The Colts have won 5 of the last 6 games against the Patriots, including the last 2 in Foxboro. The only loss was "Super Bowl XLI 1/2", a 24-20 victory for the Patriots. We obviously all remember 4th and 2 from last year as well, where Bill Belichick admitted to the whole world the greatness of Peyton Manning.
For Patriot fans, we'll know Sunday around 7:30 whether the Patriots will be going to the Super Bowl or not. Since 2001, each year the Patriots have beaten the Colts they have gone to the Super Bowl. Each year the Colts won, the Patriots did not make the Super Bowl. Screw the playoffs, this is the AFC Title game, at least for the Patriots.
The Patriots come into the game after throttling the Steelers last weekend 39-26, which I saw coming from a mile away, and made some nice money off of it. You know how the Colts own the Ravens? The Patriots own the Steelers. Seeing a blow out last weekend was neither unexpected or surprising. The Colts, in the meantime, struggled with injuries, but hung on to beat the Bengals 23-17. Thankfully, the transitive property does not apply to the NFL, because there'd be no reason to play the game on Sunday.
Let's see how the teams compare statistically, hit the keys to the game, and pick a winner...
Adjusted Stats Comparison:
|Avg Start Pos||28.9||26||29.3||12||31.0||14||28.6||8|
|3 and Outs||2.85||4||4.24||10||3.06||5||2.89||28|
|Penalty Yds / Play||0.643||5||0.834||18||0.861||19||0.742||25|
|Net Punts Yds/Game||39.99||10||41.06||30||39.40||16||35.82||3|
Statistical Keys to the Game:
- The Colts defense will get its biggest test of the season on Sunday, as the Patriots are in the top half of the league in every offensive category save Penalty Yards / Play. They've been very good offensively in all aspects, but especially in the Drive Stats, where they rank 1st in Drive Success Rate, Yards/Drive, and First Downs / Drive. If the Colts are to win, they have to stop the Patriots in these stats.
- Both teams take care of the football very well, both ranking in the top 5 in Turnovers. This was the reason the Colts won last weekend, and will need to get a couple this weekend as well. Both defenses are pretty middle-of-the-pack.
- The only defense the Patriots have been better than this season is the Texans, which the Colts have shredded twice already this season. Of the top 8 categories, they are only decent in causing Turnovers. Look for long, sustained drives for the Colts. I'll be disappointed if they don't score points on 3/4 of their drives, as this defense looks like they can be feasted upon.
- The Colts have been doing a lot of dinking and dunking, witnessed by their 21st ranking in Yards/Play. I can't prove it definitively, but from watching the games live, it's seemed like defenses are playing 2 deep safeties at all times, forcing the checkdowns and underneath passes. The Patriots defense is ranked 27th in Yards/Play, so look for the Colts to at least try to get the ball downfield on Sunday.
- The 2010 Patriots look a lot like the 2008 Colts. Great offense, terrible defense who can't get off the field. This is the worst Patriots defense the Colts have faced in Manning's time in Indianapolis. He needs to take advantage of it.
Other Keys to the Game:
- The health of Joseph Addai. His absence was the biggest contributor to the struggles on offense last week, and nobody is his equal in picking up a blitz. The Patriots will be bringing people from every direction, and I only trust Addai to know exactly where they are coming from. Donald Brown will be ok running the ball, but he just can't pick up the blitz.
- Pierre Garcon vs. Devin McCourty. Like every team has done this year, I fully expect for Reggie Wayne to be doubled on the other side of the field. McCourty was the Patriots first round pick, and somebody we talked about here at Stampede Blue for the Colts. Garçon is really struggling, leading some to believe Manning has lost trust in him. The Colts absolutely need Garçon to step up and play well.
- The Colts defense has been great at home, terrible on the road. With this week being on the road, one could expect a rough week for the defense, opponent notwithstanding. However, I'm going to look at it a little differently. The defense has played great on FieldTurf, and played terrible on grass. What do they have in New England? FieldTurf. I'm going to hold out hope that the defense can be equally as fast on Sunday as they've been all year at home.
- Covering the NE Tight Ends. The Patriots have two very good rookie Tight Ends, Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski (who scored 3 TDs last week). Much like the Colts, they have been lining these guys up both on the line, as well as split out in the slot. Normally, SS Aaron Francisco would be the guy to handle the TE. However, for this week, I'd like to see Jerraud Powers lined up on one of the TEs. He's the most physical CB the Colts have, and the best tackler. He'll also be able to help in the run game as well.
These two teams know each other extremely well, so I'm not expecting anything surprising from either team. The game is going to come down to who executes the best, or really who can get the opposing offense off the field. It's going to be a high scoring affair, much like last season, and it'll probably come down to who has the last possession. Seeing as though we're on a Colts blog, and I'm a Colts fan, I can't in good conscience pick the Patriots to win this game. Manning is going to be too much, and I expect the defense to come up with a big play late to seal the win.
Colts 34, Patriots 30