Preview

Patriots vs Colts

The Colts and Patriots will face off in the playoffs for the fourth time in the last decade and while many of the faces have changed over the years, the matchup remains similar. Tom Brady will once again lead the Patriots, but this time it will be Andrew Luck on the other side.

Luck notched the first playoff win of his career last week, leaving him only 16 behind Brady. He can inch one win closer on Saturday, although the Colts may need to get off to a better start than last week. Luck and the Colts went down 38-10 to Kansas City before mounting the second-biggest playoff comeback in NFL history en route to a 45-44 win.

Statistically the Colts and Patriots are very similar. Indianapolis holds a slight offensive edge in yards per play — 5.5 vs. 5.4 — and yards per point — 13.8 vs. 13.9. The Patriots hold slim defensive advantages in both areas. At least on paper, it should be an even matchup. If a close game ensues, Indianapolis could have the advantage despite Brady and his Touchdown Tom heroics.

Luck led the Colts on 11 regular season game-winning drives since the start of last season and the Colts are a terrific second-half team. They finished fifth in the NFL in second-half scoring offense and fourth in defense, improving on both marks as the season went along. The Patriots were second in second-half scoring, but 17th in defense.

The winner will either travel to Denver to face the Broncos or host the Chargers in the AFC Championship.

Mark Sandritter

The Patriots will win because

They just find ways to get it done. This season has been anything but normal for the New England Patriots, yet they continue to find ways to win. People had written this team off before the season started because of the Aaron Hernandez and Wes Welker drama. When Tom Brady struggled to start the season, people wrote this team off. When defensive captains in Vince Wilfork and Jerod Mayo went down for the season, people wrote this team off. Yet here they are, hosting a divisional playoff match-up that will resurrect one of the best rivalries of the 2000’s. After all the adversity, and all the improbable comebacks this team has pulled off, what’s to stop them now?

The Colts will win because

Chuck Pagano and Pep Hamilton put the game on Andrew Luck's shoulders from the start. Too many times this season, the Colts have tried to establish a smash-mouth run game in an offense that's just not built for it, culminating in the disastrous Trent Richardson trade. Donald Brown has been better than expected, but won't make New England fear the rushing attack. Luck's brilliant second half against the Chiefs won them that game, but they need to open him up more to avoid a deficit like that again. The quarterback's accuracy has improved from 54 to 60 percent in his second year while he cut the interceptions in half, making a star out of T.Y. Hilton. It's an opportune time for him to pounce on a Patriots defense ravaged by injuries.

On defense, stopping Tom Brady sounds like the obvious priority, but New England's running game should be the bigger concern. The Patriots racked up a combined 409 rushing yards over the last two games, led by the unlikely resurgence of LeGarrette Blount. If the Colts are to pull off the upset, their 26th ranked rush defense will need to rise to the occasion and force Brady's hand with a depleted receiving corps.

Number of interest

13

The number of players on reserved/injured lists and therefore out for the season in 2013. The most recent casualties: receiver/kick returner Josh Boyce and linebacker Brandon Spikes. In total, the Patriots have lost six starters to season-ending injuries and have lost many more for significant chunks of the year. It almost makes you think this some kind of prank being pulled off by the Patriots training staff. Somehow, the Patriots have continued to win despite all these injuries, and it’s a credit to the leadership and coaching on this team, as well as the resolve of the players.

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