The New England Patriots have long been one of the NFL's best teams, and especially at home they're nearly unbeatable. With Tom Brady at quarterback, they have won 42 consecutive home regular season games against AFC opponents (not including playoffs, mind you). And if you're wondering why this weekend's game against Indianapolis is so big for the Colts, that's why.
Andrew Luck and the Colts have traveled to New England twice, once in the regular season and once in the playoffs. In those two games, the Colts were outscored 102-46 and as you could have guessed, the Colts are 0-2 in those games. The biggest thing that could prevent a Colts' Super Bowl run this year actually might not be either the Broncos or the Patriots but rather playing in New England. And a win this Sunday would go a long way toward ensuring the Colts wouldn't have to travel to Foxborough come January.
Our own Matt Grecco did the numbers and found that with a win the Colts would have a 50% chance at earning a first round bye while the Patriots would be left with just a 21% chance, while a Colts loss would put them at just an 11.4% chance while giving the Patriots a 62% chance. FiveThirtyEight found that this is the biggest remaining regular season matchup in terms of AFC playoff implications.
Basically, with a Colts win they would be likely to get a first round bye and leave the Patriots as the three seed, and the reverse is also true: with a Patriots win they would be even more likely to get a first round bye and leave the Colts as the three seed. Nothing is set in stone and we can't say that with a Colts win they for sure wouldn't have to go to New England come playoff time, but it would make it a good chance. And that's something that is huge on the line this weekend: home field advantage.
Perhaps fittingly, home field advantage could have a significant impact on this weekend's game as well. The Colts are at home against the Patriots for the first time since 2009, and Tom Brady will be making just his third appearance in Lucas Oil Stadium (and only his second against the Colts, as he played in a Super Bowl in the stadium against the Giants). And for as dominant as the Patriots have been at home, they haven't been on the road.
Against teams with winning records since 2012: Tom Brady is 0-7 on the road, Andrew Luck is 8-1 at home.— Kyle J. Rodriguez (@ColtsAuth_Kyle) November 14, 2014
2009-13 road games vs. winning teams Rodgers: 11-12 rec., 51 TD, 14 INT P.Manning: 7-6 rec., 35 TD, 19 INT Brady: 3-11 rec., 18 TD, 11 INT— Scott Kacsmar (@FO_ScottKacsmar) November 14, 2014
What should be more concerning is that the Patriots are on a 1-6 streak against teams between 2011-2013 against teams that ended up in the playoffs- with that lone victory coming against Tim Tebow and the Broncos.
Put all of this another way: the Patriots haven't really been great on the road against winning teams recently. On the contrast, the Colts seem to show up with impressive performances in big home games in the Andrew Luck era. Since Luck and the new regime arrived in 2012, the Colts are 17-4 (including playoffs) at home: 7-1 in 2012, 7-2 in 2013, and 3-1 so far this year. The only winning team they have lost to at home with Luck under center was earlier this year against the currently 7-2 Eagles, a game in which the Colts did more to lose it than Philly did to win it and against a very good Eagles team.
Against good teams, the Colts have stepped up their game in Lucas Oil Stadium. There was 2012, when the Green Bay Packers came to town. The Colts rallied for a 30-27 victory over clearly superior team. There was 2013, when the eventual Super Bowl champion Seahawks traveled to Indianapolis. The Colts won a back-and-forth game 34-28. There was Peyton Manning's return in 2013, in a game against the eventual AFC champion Broncos, and the Colts won 39-33. There was the playoff game in January of 2014 against the Chiefs, where the Colts mounted a huge comeback to win a thrilling game 45-44. This season, the Colts have outscored teams 115-60 at home, and that includes wins over the Baltimore Ravens and Cincinnati Bengals. In short, when it comes to a big game against a good opponent at Lucas Oil Stadium, the Colts are up to the challenge.
The topic of home field advantage is certainly a big storyline leading up to the game, and it has a lot to do with playoff seeding. But furthermore, the fact that this game is in Indianapolis and not New England could have big implications for the game this weekend as well and not just the playoffs. Lucas Oil Stadium will be rocking on Sunday night, and that typically means the Colts will be as well.