Last January, before the Colts and Patriots would square off for the right to go to the Super Bowl, Colts fans had a lot to be excited about. They'd beaten up (again) on the Bengals and played a nearly flawless game against the Broncos to advance that far, while the Patriots had to overcome two 14 point deficits in defeating the Ravens. For the first time in the Andrew Luck/Chuck Pagano era, it looked like the Colts really had a chance to beat New England, where they had failed miserably the first three times. They were finally going to arrive.
Another blowout. Oh, and a story that we'll still be talking about 12 months after it occurred that makes this Sunday nights meeting between the Colts and Patriots even more juicy. Seeing as this is a game preview, I want to focus on the actual game and what I think will happen during those 60 minutes, so I'm not going to go into any details here about it. I'm planning something for tomorrow coming from (what I consider) a unique perspective to DeflateGate. But as far as the game Sunday, I think it matters a whole lot more to the media and fans than it does the actual players.
The Patriots sit at 4-0 in 2015, not really having a struggle save their opening night win against the Steelers where a couple breaks went their way and the Steelers scored late to make it a 7 point game. They blew out the Bills on the road, one week after the Bills did the same to the Colts, blew the doors off of Jacksonville, while the Colts needed OT and a couple missed field goals to get a win, and they dominated a star-less Cowboys team last week that is finally making some changes at QB after the debacle. They seem to be in cruise control only a quarter the way through the season, which is not good news for any other team.
The status of Andrew Luck seems like it will be held close to the vest once again by the Colts, and after "reading the tea leaves" incorrectly the last two weeks, for this preview I'm going to write it like Luck is going to play, but I won't believe it until it is Sunday and they only have him and Matt Hasselbeck on the active roster at QB. Josh Johnson, who the Colts had signed the previous two weeks, is in Buffalo and unavailable, so maybe that's the first sign everything is going to be ok for Luck, but if we get to Sunday without a 3rd QB signing, Luck will play. I guess I wanted to believe that this front office would be different than the last when it came to this kind of stuff, but it seems that was a bit of wishful thinking.
The Patriots had some unfortunate news on the injury front themselves yesterday, losing LT Nate Solder to a torn bicep. Starting in his place looks to be Marcus Cannon, who has filled in previously on the Offensive Line according to the linked article when Sebastian Vollmer broke his leg a couple seasons ago. The article also points out that this leaves the Patriots with just two pure Tackles, but if there's anything we know about the Patriots, we know they get guys to play out of position, and quite well, all the time, so even if they don't sign an OT this week, there's someone on that roster who will be ready to step in of either Vollmer or Cannon gets hurt.
This will be the 13th consecutive season the Colts and Patriots will have played each other either in the Regular or Postseason, an amazing feat for non-divisional opponents. The Patriots have won six in a row in the series, scoring no fewer than 31 in any of the games, and it's pretty sad the 2011 game was the last time in this series the game has been competitive. I guess you could make an argument the 2013 Playoff game was semi-competitive, but it still ended up a 21 point loss. The last Colts win came in 2009, a 35-34 win that saw the Colts come from 17 down in the 4th quarter to stay undefeated and became known as the "4th and 2" game, as the Patriots decided to go for it on 4th and 2 from their own 28 and came up inches short (I still maintain he made the correct call there. Just didn't work, thankfully). Overall the Colts have more losses to the Patriots all-time (50) than any other team in the NFL, having a 29-50 record.
What can we expect come Sunday night? Lots of scoring from at least one side, and it isn't the side we want it to come from. Here come the stats.
Statistical Preview between the Colts and Patriots (Adjusted):
|Orange Zone Eff||57.3%||12||47.1%||9||74.0%||3||51.6%||12|
|Avg Start Pos||25.5||30||31.8||26||33.8||5||25.8||6|
|3 and Outs||3.31||12||1.38||32||2.04||4||4.42||8|
|Penalty Yds / Play||0.826||17||1.263||2||0.983||26||1.339||1|
Keys to the Game:
- The Patriots have the #1 Offense in the NFL, while the Colts have the #31 Defense. Smells like a recipe for success!
- Along with being #1 Overall, they lead the NFL in Drive Success Rate, Yards per Drive, Yards per Play, and First Downs per Drive, while the Colts rank 29th, 31st, 29th, and 28th. Basically, the Patriots should be able to drive the ball down the field at will.
- How do the Colts have any chance of stopping them then? Start in the Orange Zone, where the Colts actually rank 9th in the NFL, giving up just 47% of possible points when their opponents get inside the 35. It won't help them on long TD plays, but maybe holding them to field goals on a couple of drive will keep the Colts in the game. The Red Zone isn't quite as good, so look for some stops between the 35 and the 20.
- Each of the last three games have seen the Patriots just run all over the Colts, to the tune of 234, 246, and 177 yards in those games. Rich Hill over at Pats Pulpit thinks the gameplan will be slightly different, with Tom Brady and the passing game being the main focal point. I tend to agree with him too, even though the rushing stats aren't as flattering for the Colts as Belichick and McDaniels are making it out to be. I just think it'll be much easier for the Patriots to throw the ball Sunday night.
- These two teams are the two best teams at getting their opponents to commit penalties against them, and the Patriots commit quite a few themselves, ranking 26th. Any penalties the Colts can get to keep drives alive, or to pin the Patriots into 2nd/3rd and long will be nice.
- The Patriots are also quite good in the Field Position game, ranking 5th and 6th, so I'm expecting long drives for the Colts once again. They've been good the past two weeks, but remember they came against teams that are actually worse at getting field position than the Colts are. Back inside the 20 they go.
- Like every week, Turnovers will make this game impossible to win. Luck has thrown an interception in five straight games, and the Patriots are forcing over two per game. It's game over after the first one.
- The Colts Offense does have a big advantage on 3rd/4th Down, ranking 5th while the Patriots rank just 28th. The Colts will need to exploit that advantage to stay in the game.
- I also think the Colts will be able to move the ball, which could mean they play keep-away from the Patriots, and it'd be a valid strategy. If the game plan is more like what we saw the past two weeks and not the air-it-deep stuff we saw a lot of the first three weeks that can work, along with...
- Running the ball will be the Colts biggest weapon Sunday. To go with the time-chewing aspect, the Patriots rank 31st in RB Success Rate and 27th in Yard per Carry. Because we're early in the year, and they've had three blowouts, those numbers certainly could be inflated due to garbage time (and they probably are a bit). The Colts signed Ahmad Bradshaw this week, and I expect him to get some decent run.
Do I believe the Patriots when they say there isn't any extra motivation coming into this game? Nope. Do I believe the team who has the real motivation is the Colts? Certainly, thanks to four straight blowout losses to this team. Do I believe either of these will matter on Sunday. Nope. The Predictor thinks much more highly of the Colts than I do, so I'm going to give two scores, one for what the Computer thinks, and one what I think. I don't think it'll be close. Until the Colts can actually show they can play the Patriots close even into the second half I won't believe they'll be within 20 points of them. Take the loss, come out with nobody injured, and move onto next week. The Patriots are on another level, and it has nothing to do with "sticking it to the Colts."
Predictor: Patriots 31 Colts 26
My Prediction: Patriots 52, Colts 24