The Indianapolis Colts and New England Patriots renew their playoff rivalry this Sunday in the AFC Championship game. These teams met three times between the 2003 and 2006 seasons, during the height of the rivalry between quarterbacks Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, with the Patriots winning 2 of 3. They met again in the playoffs last year, the first such meeting since the Colts changed quarterbacks to Andrew Luck.
The Patriots continued their overall dominance, winning 43-22 while largely relying on the run. That result was almost perfectly repeated in the 2014 regular season, as the Patriots dominated the Colts 42-20 and ran for nearly 250 yards on 44 carries in week 11. Do the Colts have any hope of changing the short-and-long term trend between these teams?
Will the Real Patriots Please Stand Up
As noted above, the Patriots’ recent success over the Colts has come in large part due to dominance in the run game. But last week, the Patriots attempted just 13 carries, 6 of which came from the saddle-bagged Brady, for 14 yards. Indeed, one of the Patriots’ strengths is that on any given day, their strength can change. They can win with the pass. They can win with the run. They can win scoring a slew of points. They can win relying on defense.
This is the most significant test the Colts face: how to prepare for a team willing to do absolutely anything within (or without?) of the rules to win a game. While the Colts have become used to winning the AFC South, the truth is that the division is weak, and the Colts are able to enjoy numerous wins over teams that do not exactly force their coaches to flex their mental muscles. That will not be the case this week, and Colts head coach Chuck Pagano will need to call a terrific game to beat the Patriots and coach Bill Belichick.
The Colts will need a lot of luck, and a lot of Andrew Luck, to win this game. Their young quarterback has long been anointed the Next Big Thing in the NFL, and has to a large degree proven his talent at this level. However, he has not solved the Patriots’ riddle in two earlier chances, and has not played his best game in a number of months. It is likely he will have to here.
In that respect, Luck can take solace in the fact that cornerback Darrelle Revis has shown more and more vulnerability this season. Indeed, he had a hard time covering Ravens wide receiver Steve Smith a week ago. While Smith is a likely hall of famer and, contrary to the apparent belief of the Carolina Panthers’ front office, has a lot of football left in his legs, Revis will face an even stiffer test in Colts Wide Receiver T.Y. Hilton.
Don’t Get Gronked
In their first matchup this season, not only did the Patriots run the ball well, Rob Gronkowski caught 4 balls for 71 yards and a touchdown. Those numbers are not monstrous, but that was in a game where Brady completed just 19 passes, and of course Gronkwoski had an impact in other aspects of the game. To win, the Colts have to ensure they do not get Gronked. Might I suggest they avoid matching him up with Eric Walden.
As much as I respect the Patriots organization and what they have accomplished over the last decade and a half, I would not mind seeing a new quarterback represent the AFC. One has to go back over a decade to the 2002 Super Bowl since someone other than Brady, Manning, Pittsburgh Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, or Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco was at the helm of the AFC Champion. While the Colts are well-represented as a team in that group, Luck has not been in the biggest of all games before.
Unfortunately, I find that result unlikely. The Colts played very well a week ago, and have a shot on Sunday. But beating the Patriots, at home, at this stage of the season is a very, very tall task.
Indianapolis 23, New England 30.