For the tenth consecutive year we get to see the renewal of the best rivalry in the NFL over the past decade-plus when the Colts travel to New England to take on the Patriots. With both teams coming in 6-3, it's pretty cool to have this game mean something so quickly into the era of the new Colts. It's one of those games that was built around the two quarterbacks playing, and even though one of those QBs moved west, the Colts have done pretty well with his replacement so far.
The 2012 Patriots have the same look as we've seen from the past couple of years, mainly an Offense, led by Tom Brady, that can pretty much do whatever they want for the first 2.5 or 3 quarters, then inexplicably start not moving the ball, allowing their opponent to get back into the game, and their Defense obliges as well. OK, that's not entirely fair: They've won four games by 10+ points, but their three losses have been by a combined 4 points, so they're pretty close to being unbeaten on the season. Last week they survived a final drive by the Bills at home, intercepting a pass in the end zone for a 37-31 win, their third win in a row.
The history between the two teams is the kind of stuff that would make a great book one day, but here's a paragraph synopsis: The Colts and Patriots have played 12 times over the past 10 years, with the Colts record 5-7, including 1-2 in the Playoffs. Since 2006, span of 7 games, the biggest margin of victory has been 7 points, including last year when the Colts were 0-11 and being quarterbacked by Dan Orlovsky, and in 2008 when the Patriots were without Tom Brady. The signature win of Peyton Manning's career came against the Patriots (a game that Jim Nantz earlier this week said was the best game he ever called, which is pretty crazy when you think about everything he's called in his career). There's so much more, but know it all already.
How will the first meeting between the Colts and Patriots go without #18 in the building? Let's see how Andrew Luck and the Colts match-up:
Statistical Comparison between the Colts and Patriots:
|Orange Zone Eff||44.7%||28||65.4%||31||63.1%||5||55.0%||16|
|Avg Start Pos||27.5||30||28.0||6||31.9||6||27.0||1|
|3 and Outs||2.27||2||3.07||26||1.89||1||3.58||20|
|Penalty Yds / Play||0.800||13||1.324||1||0.707||6||0.923||5|
Keys to the game:
- Let's start with the Colts Offense, as that outlook looks much more optimistic. The Patriots have fallen each of the last couple week on Defense as a whole, as just two weeks ago they were 11th overall on Defense, but let the Bills throw all over them last week.
- The Patriots Defense is quite good at forcing Turnovers, 3rd best in the NFL, while the Colts have not had many clean games in that department. In fact, the Patriots have gotten two turnovers in ever game except one this season (Baltimore), but did get one that Sunday night. Andrew Luck and the Offense will have to play mistake free to have a chance, but it unfortunately doesn't look promising.
- The Colts definitely hold an advantage on Third/Fourth Down, as the Patriots are the 3rd worst Defense in the league. I can't wait to see some of the camera shots of frustrated Patriot fans when the Colts convert another third down. Should be great.
- Look for a homerun ball or two from the Colts, as the Patriots rank 24th in Yards per Play, meaning they are prone to giving up big plays. Bruce Arians loves doing it regardless of opponent, but this week it's got a better chance at being successful.
- Expect a lot of 3-5 yard runs, with not many long gainers from the Colts RBs, as the Patriots are 3rd in Yards per Carry.
- On the other side of the ball, it's a complete mismatch, as the Patriots are the best Offense in football right now, and frankly it isn't really close. The 2nd place 49ers are closer to 8th place Cowboys than they are the Patriots. They are very good.
- Where can the Colts possibly sneak up and do well? They can start in the Red Zone, where the Patriots are still pretty good (11th), and the Colts have been improving down there. Holding them to field goals instead of touchdowns will be big. Just hope they remember to cover Rob Gronkowski.
- As crazy as this may sound, Tom Brady has not played that well at home this season, with an Adjusted Net Passing Yards per Attempt of just 5.8 at home, ranking 17th in the league, which is 3 yards per attempt lower than when he's on the road. They're 3 blowout wins? All on the road. Maybe a bit of relief for the Colts.
- The Colts doubled their Turnover output last week in Jacksonville, but it's going to be extremely difficult to duplicate that feat this week, especially when the Patriots average less than a turnover per game. Darius Butler was drafted by the Patriots, so maybe there's a little bit the Colts can use from him to make a small difference.
This has all the makings for a shootout, and it'll assuredly be the Colts coming from behind in the 4th quarter to try and win. That is, as long as they can stay semi-close to the Patriots in the first half, when it'll look like Tom Brady has the easiest job in the NFL. Keep in mind, though, that the Patriots have been uncharacteristically worse at home (4th O, 31st D, 21st Overall) than they've been on the road (best in NFL), which hopefully is a good sign for the Colts. Can't hurt, right?
This will be the first real hostile, Playoff atmosphere the Colts will face this season, so it'll be great to see how they react. Getting that first touchdown will really help calm the nerves, and I expect them to hang around most of the game, but I think it'll be too little, too late. I'll feel much better if the game is in the 20s than the 30s, but I have a sneaking suspicion it won't be. Good learning experience, just not a win.
Patriots 33, Colts 28