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2013 NFL Divisional Round Preview: Indianapolis Colts At New England Patriots

We couldn't really play an entire NFL season without the Colts and Patriots playing each other, right? Well, Saturday night we'll have the 2013 edition, with the most on the line in one of the NFL's best rivlaries since January of 2007. Can the Colts win in Foxboro?


You ever get that feeling when you've done something over and over, and something seems off, or even missing? That's the 2013 NFL season. The Colts and Patriots have played every season since 2003, and it looked like 2013 would come and go without one of the premier rivalries in today's NFL taking place. Well, thanks to an historic comeback last weekend by the Colts, and a little help from the Chargers, the Colts will be traveling to the Northeast Saturday night to take on the Patriots in the Divisional Round, with a shot to play for the Super Bowl on the line.

The Patriots earned the #2 seed in the AFC with a 12-4 record, winners of the AFC East (again), and this will be their 11th straight non-road Playoff game. Their record, however, isn't that great at just 5-5, and they have been favored in each game, only two of which being below a touchdown (they lost both of those games). The media may play it up like the Patriots are invincible at home in the Playoffs, but that just hasn't been the case over the years.

The 2013 Patriots have rivaled the Colts in the amount of injuries sustained, especially to some of their best players. Jerod Mayo, Rob Gronkowski, Sebastian Vollmer, Vince Wilfork, and Brandon Spikes are all on IR, and it's a testament to the other guys stepping up, the coaching staff, and that guy who plays Quarterback for them, who is still a pretty good player. We've also gotten word that WR Aaron Dobson is in a walking boot and not practicing, so Tom Brady could be down yet another pass catcher. The Colts have only two players who did not practice yesterday, but that's after placing both Fili Moala and Greg Toler on IR on Monday. That brings the Colts count up to 18 IR'ed players on the season. Pretty amazing they're still in this thing, huh?

These two teams played last year in Foxboro, a 59-24 drubbing by the Patriots in a game that started at as a shootout for both teams, was only a 7 point game at halftime, then all hell broke loose in the 2nd half for the Colts. The points barrage was aided by a punt return by Julian Edelman (Colts really need to stop him Saturday), as well as two interception returns for TDs, which are obviously no help to winning any game in the NFL. There was also an outcry of the Patriots "running up the score" on the Colts, which everyone should hold off on, especially in light of what the Colts did last weekend, and the Patriots came back from pretty similar circumstances earlier this season against the Broncos. Every team should know by now there's really no lead that is safe against these Colts. I don't believe in "running up the score" in the NFL. In high school or college, sure, because talent differences can be huge. Not in the NFL though. Take your whipping and move on.

Anyone remember the last time these two teams met in the Playoffs? No? Oh, right (God I love Harry Kalas voice-overs). It is amazing to think how good both of these teams have been over the last 7 seasons but have not played since that Sunday evening in Indianapolis in a game I'm sure we've all seen time after time. That was a pretty good night. Can you name the five players that played in that game that'll be playing Saturday night? We'll hear from most of them Saturday for sure.

Since 2003 the Colts and Patriots have played 13 times, with the Patriots holding an 8-5 edge. The location of those games has been pretty atypical for a couple of teams that play all the time. They played in New England five straight times starting in 2004, then played four times in Indianapolis, and have now played back in Foxboro each of the past three seasons, making Saturday night the 4th. Strange huh? Overall the two teams have played 76 times, with the Colts going just 29-47 all-time against the Patriots. In the Playoffs? Just three times, and the Patriots won the first two before that night at the Dome in early 2007.

How do these two teams matchup in 2013? Let's take a look:

Statistical Preview between the Colts and Patriots:

Statistic Colts Patriots
Offense Rank Defense Rank Offense Rank Defense Rank
DSR 72.3% 8 70.7% 20 73.9% 4 71.4% 22
ANPY/A 5.902 14 6.107 20 5.999 12 5.584 15
Turnovers 1.05 2 1.84 12 1.52 12 1.83 13
Yds/Drive 32.18 8 32.35 24 33.84 5 32.52 25
ToP/Drive 2:48.0 11 2:50.0 25 2:42.0 12 2:45.0 16
Yds/Play 5.446 11 5.567 27 5.390 12 5.464 25
Orange Zone Eff 57.2% 10 51.4% 13 55.9% 14 54.1% 15
First Downs/Drive 1.84 9 1.83 24 2.12 3 1.81 22
3rd/4th Down 39.9% 11 40.5% 22 38.6% 17 41.5% 24
Avg Start Pos 30.6 11 27.6 7 30.7 8 27.3 6
3 and Outs 3.22 5 3.38 24 3.08 4 3.09 27
RZ Eff 69.3% 11 58.7% 8 69.3% 10 63.5% 15
Plays/Drive 5.921 7 5.798 21 6.199 2 5.978 27
Penalty Yds / Play 0.612 3 0.872 9 0.528 1 0.868 10
RB Success 43.7% 18 49.1% 27 49.6% 2 50.7% 28
Yds/Carry 4.47 9 4.46 27 4.27 16 4.74 30
Overall 7 22 6 24

Keys to the Game:

  • These two teams are almost mirror images of each other. If you look at the overall rankings, the Patriots Offense is slightly better than the Colts Offense, and the Colts Defense is slightly better than the Patriots Defense. Overall, a very even match-up.
  • We'll start when the Patriots have the ball, where they are excellent moving the football down the field, ranking in the top five in most of the drive-related stats, including 4th in Drive Success Rate. Their Time of Possession per Drive is slightly above league average, but that could be attributed to scoring quickly too. The Colts will need to get them off the field.
  • The one "weakness" I see in the Patriots Offense is on 3rd/4th down, where they rank just 17th. How can they be so good driving the ball if they are a little below average on 3rd/4th down? Very good success on 1st/2nd downs and moving the chains before reaching 3rd down. The Colts have to get them in 3rd down situations if they hope to win.
  • While not as good as the Chiefs last week, the Patriots have very good Average Starting Position on both sides of the ball. Remember how I mentioned Edelman earlier? It's on Pat McAfee and the punt team to not let him get free. Really the answer is to just not punt at all, but if the Colts have to, a good day by McAfee will really help the Colts chances.
  • The Patriots run the ball well, and I expect them to run it early and often, especially if Dobson can't play. I know the Colts have to prepare for Tom Brady (for real this time), but the Patriots have the 2nd best RB Success rate in the NFL, and a whole stable of backs to run at the Colts. I expect a lot of running then Brady hitting some play-action. I mean, that's how I'd go against the Colts Defense, but that's just me.
  • On the flip side the Colts absolutely cannot turn the ball over. They got away with it last week, but you can only flirt with < 10% win probabilities so often before it burns you. Playing mistake free almost always leads to winning in the Playoffs (except if you're the Colts unfortunately). Seriously, until last weekend when it happened twice, the Colts have as many losses with 0 Turnovers in the Playoffs as every other NFL team combined since 1999. No, really. Still best to stay away from the Turnovers, which the Colts have done in 15/17 games this season. No repeats of last week.
  • The Patriots Defense is prone to giving up successful drives, which the Colts need to take advantage of. I also see a 25th ranking in Yards per Play, which is worse than the Chiefs, so once again the Colts need to take their shots down the field. Hopefully they continue to work.
  • The Colts will hopefully have some success running the ball, as the Patriots just aren't that good at stopping it. It can certainly help set-up some play-action bombs.
  • These two teams are two of the least penalized teams in the NFL. Officials call fewer penalties in the Playoffs, so we could see a game with very few penalties. If one team is getting a ton, they'll be at a more-than-normal disadvantage. No stupid penalties.

What happened the week after Buffalo came back from 32 down to beat the Oilers in the 1992 Wild Card Round? Well, they went to Pittsburgh the next week and demolished the Steelers 24-3. The Colts have actually played better on the road this season, and the Patriots have played a bit worse at home. These aren't the dominant Patriots we've seen in past years. All these things are lining up for the Colts to win Saturday night.

And they are going to do it.

It, of course, will come down to the end, but the Colts will go into Foxboro and win Saturday night. If there is one guy in the NFL that I want with the ball in his hands late, even in year two and even including that guy in Denver, I'm taking Andrew Luck. Indianapolis needs to get ready to host another Playoff game (more tomorrow), as they're beating the Patriots.

Colts 28, Patriots 26