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2014 NFL Week Eleven Preview: Indianapolis Colts vs. New England Patriots

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Good vs. Evil; Midwest vs. Northeast; Dome vs. Wind; Stats vs. RINGZ; It can only mean one thing: the Colts and Patriots are playing this weekend. And it's a really important game for the Colts if they want a Bye in the Playoffs.

Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

Last week was a much-needed week of rest for everyone involved in this Sunday Night's game featuring the Colts playing host to the perennial thorn-in-the-Colts-side New England Patriots, as both teams come into the game after their Bye week. Everyone will be rested up, healthy, and hopefully put on a much better show than we've seen each week since Week 3 (I think average margin of victory is close to 80 points or so on Sunday nights).

This game will have a huge impact on the AFC Playoffs. It's almost a given that both teams will make the Playoffs (95% and 83%, respectively for the Colts and Patriots), so this will all be about seeding. The Colts can get themselves to a 50/50 shot at a First Round Bye with a win Sunday (which would mean only having to go to one of Denver/New England at worst), but would have just an 11% chance with a loss, which would mean going and winning in both places on back-to-back weekends, and only after winning a game before that. You can be on either side of the advantages/disadvantages of having a bye, but the biggest advantage is only needing to get the "coin flip" right three times instead of four (coin flip being the chances of winning a game in the Playoffs). The game's importance is paramount, and thankfully the Colts know this.

The Patriots come into Indianapolis on a five game winning streak, with the average score being 36-22. Their only close game in that stretch was a Thursday nighter against the Jets, where I'm sure they "took the night off" and squeaked a win out against a bad team. They beat the pants off of all four of the other teams, including the Broncos 43-21 in Week 9. Now, four of those five games were at home, and both of their losses, by 13 to Miami and 27 to Kansas City, were on the road. They did win in Buffalo, the first time they've won a road game against a team with a winning record since Week 14 of 2010. It was eight consecutive losses. I bet you could win a lot of money asking people that question. They are a different team on the road than they are at home, which is good news for the Colts, and another reason to play them in the Playoffs in Indianapolis.

A lot will obviously be made of the Andrew Luck vs. Tom Brady match-up, but as we all know (and so does Luck), they won't ever be on the field at the same time, so it's nice media fodder to talk about the QB match-up, but it really is meaningless. We can say that Luck and the Colts haven't beaten the Patriots in either try against them, and Josh found this very interesting stat:

This will be the 11th straight season the Colts and Patriots will play each other (including the Playoffs), with the Patriots winning nine of the 14 games. These games also seem to go in streaks for location, as the last four have been in New England, while the four before that were in Indianapolis, and the five before that were in New England. I realize some of these were Playoff games, but you'd think it'd be a little more even over the years. Along those same lines, this will be only the second game against the Colts that Brady will have played in Lucas Oil Stadium, which is now in its seventh season. He missed the 2008 game with his knee injury, but did play in Super Bowl XLVI here in Indy. You remember the one game he did play, right? Because the Colts and Patriots used to be division rivals they've played a ton of times in their history, with the Patriots leading the series (in Indianapolis) 36-14. Even when both franchises were crappy, the Patriots always seemed to be less crappy in those games.

How do these two teams match-up for Sunday night's tilt? Let's take a look at the numbers and find out.

Statistical Comparison between the Colts and Patriots (Adjusted):

Statistic Colts Patriots
Offense Rank Defense Rank Offense Rank Defense Rank
DSR 75.9% 3 66.8% 8 73.3% 7 70.6% 20
ANPY/A 7.156 4 5.756 18 7.322 3 5.620 17
Turnovers 1.89 21 1.69 18 0.79 1 2.27 3
Yds/Drive 35.83 2 29.01 12 33.10 8 29.49 15
ToP/Drive 2:57.0 6 2:15.0 1 2:43.0 17 2:41.0 15
Yds/Play 5.927 4 5.459 22 5.445 11 5.376 20
Orange Zone Eff 55.1% 13 58.8% 24 62.9% 5 51.4% 11
First Downs/Drive 2.05 3 1.58 11 1.92 5 1.83 23
3rd/4th Down 43.2% 7 29.1% 1 41.3% 11 37.4% 12
Avg Start Pos 31.5 9 24.9 1 33.2 4 27.6 6
3 and Outs 3.23 11 5.00 3 3.55 15 3.54 16
RZ Eff 61.0% 21 73.0% 27 74.1% 5 60.4% 10
Plays/Drive 6.081 5 5.190 6 6.098 4 5.562 13
Penalty Yds / Play 0.705 8 0.780 19 1.125 30 0.751 21
RB Success 45.3% 11 45.9% 23 44.7% 12 49.5% 28
Yds/Carry 4.17 13 4.80 28 3.80 25 4.07 14
Overall 5 8 8 11

Keys to the Game:

  • If I wanted to make this simple, I can give you the keys to this game in one bullet and it'll almost assuredly decide the outcome: Turnovers and Rob Gronkowski.
  • The Patriots don't turn the ball over and force the 3rd most turnovers in the NFL, while the Colts seem quite content giving the ball to their opponent a couple times a game. The Colts have no chance if they turn the ball over. None. I think they can win without forcing a turnover, but it would certainly make thing easier.
  • The Colts rank near the bottom of the NFL when it comes to covering Tight Ends, and they'll be playing the best one in the league Sunday. I think the coverage most of the game has to be two guys on Gronkowski, single coverage on WRs, and hope to not get pummeled on the ground like they did last year in the Playoffs. Sounds simple, right?
  • The other big advantage the Patriots Offense has over the Colts Defense is in the Orange/Red Zone, where they score a lot of touchdowns. The Colts have been good keeping teams out of there period, but when they get down close there is little resistance. Lots of Stephen Gostkowski means the Colts Defense is doing something well.
  • The Colts will need to continue their league-best play on 3rd/4th downs Sunday night too, getting the Patriots Offense off the field. The Patriots are right around league-average on 3-and-Outs too, so getting three or four of those at opportune times will certainly help the Colts.
  • When the Colts have the ball I think they'll be able to move the ball down the field, as the Patriots rank 20th in Drive Success Rate and 23rd in First Downs per Drive. Moving the ball should not be the issue for the Colts.
  • The Patriots Defense has done a good job keeping teams out of the end zone when they get close (11th and 10th), while the Colts struggled a bit against the Giants in Week 9 and overall haven't done as well as they could have this season. This seems like one of those "can't leave any points on the field" types of game.
  • Some timely running from Ahmad Bradshaw and Trent Richardson should help things, as the Patriots rank just 28th in RB Success rate.
  • Lastly, Field Position is vastly more important in 2014 than in previous years, and all four units rank in the top 10. While I won't guarantee whoever wins the field position battle will win the game, it'll be very important to make the opposing team go as far as possible to score points, giving them more opportunities to screw up.

Being that both teams are coming out of the Bye week, and I believe the coaching advantage initially will be in favor of New England, I think the Patriots jump out early, but can't put the game away in the third quarter, letting the Colts creep back in, and we see a classic finish that we've come to expect with this rivalry, with these Colts finally getting over the Patriots hurdle, thanks to some 4th quarter magic that's been dormant most of this season.

Colts 30, Patriots 29

(Gambling side note: The Over/Under is 57.5 for the game Sunday night, only the 7th time since the start of 2001 a game has been that high. They've all gone over.)

Thursday Night Pick: Dolphins 17, Bills 16