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Indianapolis Colts vs. New Orleans Saints Preview

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The Indianapolis Colts (3-3) take on the New Orleans Saints (2-4) on Sunday. Stampede Blue's Josh Wilson previews the matchup and gets you ready for the game, plus gives his prediction.

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With the 50th Super Bowl set to be played this February, the NFL is celebrating in many ways, including highlighting some of the Super Bowl rematches that take place.  The Indianapolis Colts are involved in two such games in 2015, but unfortunately they are rematches of the two Super Bowls the franchise has lost.  Earlier in the season, the Colts and the Jets faced off in a rematch of Super Bowl III, and this Sunday the Colts and the Saints will play in a rematch of Super Bowl XLIV.

Since that game, however, the Colts have undergone a lot of change.  Only three Colts players remain on the roster who were also on the roster in that 2009 season: Robert Mathis, Pat McAfee, and Adam Vinatieri.  Peyton Manning is no longer in Indianapolis, replaced by Andrew Luck.  Jim Caldwell is no longer the head coach, replaced by Chuck Pagano.  Bill Polian is no longer running the team, replaced by Ryan Grigson.  Reggie Wayne is gone, as are Dwight Freeney, Jeff Saturday, Dallas Clark, Gary Brackett, Antoine Bethea and other key contributors to that 2009 squad.

This week, the Super Bowl isn't the focus of the Colts - partly because very few players were even around on that team.  Instead, this game is billed as a matchup of two of the league's most talented quarterbacks and two of the league's best passing offenses.  Last year, the Saints finished first in the NFL in passing while the Colts finished third.  This year, the Saints are number three while the Colts are at number 13, but that's not indicative of the talent the team has in the passing game when things are clicking.  This game could very well turn in to a shutout, with both offenses more than capable of putting up points and neither defense giving much reason to think they can stop the other team's offense.  Here's a preview of some of the key matchups in this Sunday's game.

Matchup to Watch: Colts Offense vs. Saints Defense

The Colts' offense has had their struggles this year, to be sure, but they seemed to be much better last week against the Patriots and are perhaps starting to put things together.  If they can't do that this week, then there have to be legitimate concerns about this unit, because the Saints defense is not very good.  At all.  They rank 32nd in the league in total yards allowed, 32nd in yards per play allowed, 32nd in first downs per game allowed, tied for the worst in 40+ yard plays allowed, have the third-fewest passes intercepted, are 24th in passing yards per game allowed, are 31st in passing yards per attempt, 23rd in completion percentage, 30th in passer rating, and 28th in points per game.  Opposing quarterbacks have completed 131 of 199 passes (65.8%) for 1,703 yards (8.6 yards per attempt), 11 touchdowns, and two picks for a 106.8 passer rating when going up against the Saints, and both interceptions were thrown by Sam Bradford.  That means that, in five of six games, the opposing quarterback hasn't been intercepted and has posted a passer rating over 100.

So, without a doubt, this is a matchup that very much favors the Colts and their passing game.  If there ever was a week for the Colts passing offense to get going, it would be this Sunday.  The Saints have given up a lot of big plays, which means that T.Y. Hilton, Donte Moncrief, and Phillip Dorsett could get behind the defense, while the New Orleans cornerbacks have struggled this season.  The Colts need to protect Luck (which might mean getting the ball out faster) and they need their receivers to win the matchups against the Saints' DBs.  That's a realistic expectation, and the Colts will need to win those matchups in the passing game if they hope to win this weekend.

Matchup to Watch: Colts Defense vs. Saints Offense

Drew Brees is the most accurate passer in NFL history, and no matter how well the Colts' cornerbacks play on Sunday, if the defense gives Brees plenty of time to throw, he'll make those throws and make plays.  That's not good news for the Colts, who have struggled to get any semblance of a pass rush this season.  Trent Cole has been invisible.  Jonathan Newsome has been close to it.  Robert Mathis hasn't done much, partly because he hasn't played nearly as much as the other two.  It's a problem that isn't unique to this year for the Colts, but it was one that they tried to address in the offseason with the signing of Cole.  Instead, the pass rush is just as absent as it was last year, and the team must now increase the snaps for Mathis in an attempt to generate pressure.  This week, it will be especially important to pressure Brees, as the Colts can't afford to let him sit in the pocket and pick them apart.  They might need to get creative with how they do this, perhaps sending blitzes like they did last year.  Whatever it takes, the Colts have to be able to pressure Brees, or else they'll see one of the league's best offenses march up and down the field at will against them.

Why the Colts Will Win

If this isn't the week that the offense gets going, then it might not happen this year.  Andrew Luck is back, T.Y. Hilton and Donte Moncrief are both quietly having good seasons, Frank Gore is running well, and the offensive line seems to have improved (somewhat) in recent weeks.  They're going up against a poor Saints defense, and playing at home this offense has no excuses not to put up a lot of points.  The defense will give up some points to the Saints, sure, but the Colts' offense can outscore them and pull out a home win.  Indy has been tremendous in games following a loss in the Chuck Pagano era, going 15-2 the week following a loss since 2012.

Why the Colts Won't Win

The expectation is that the offense will put it together this week, but what if they don't?  What if some of the same issues show up once again?  The Colts didn't turn the ball over last week, but they struggled with that early in the season.  Holding penalties and other flags have really hurt the rhythm of the offense.  What if those issues plague the Colts once again?  The Colts might not have a ton of room for error with their defense facing Drew Brees and the Saints' prolific offense, and it's possible that the defense gives up way too many points to keep it close.  As we all know, when the Colts get behind they tend to panic, abandon the run completely, and air it out, and so if the Colts fall behind early to the Saints, we could see them go away from their offensive balance that has been working.

My Prediction

As I've alluded to throughout this whole preview, I expect this to be a high-scoring game between two good quarterbacks and two good offenses.  I think this will be the week that the Colts finally get things going offensively, at which point it will turn in to a shootout between Luck and the Colts and Brees and the Saints.  If you like offense, this is a good game to watch, and while I think it will be close, give me the Colts outscoring the Saints in an exciting home victory.

Colts 34, Saints 30