Offensive matchup to watch:
Peyton Manning vs. New England's secondary:
EH: Manning has had plenty of struggles playing against New England's secondary and has thrown at least one interception in every game he's played against them. The Patriots are sixth in the league in interception percentage, but are also 25th in the league in yards per pass play. If Manning can be accurate, there will be opportunities to move the ball through the air against the Patriots' reworked secondary.
Kevin Faulk vs Colts Front Seven
JS: With Sammy Morris and LaMont Jordan out again this week, the Patriots will turn to versatile running back Kevin Faulk. Heath Evans and rookie BenJarvus Green-Ellis will also see some action, but Faulk will be the engine that drives the Patriots offense. If he can have a repeat performance like he did against the Rams 100 combined yards rushing and receiving, it will allow the Patirots to take some heat off of Matt Cassel. Draw plays, screens and quick runs by the Patriots will be the order of the day if New England wants to offer some sort of counter strategy to slow down Freeney and Mathis on the pass rush.
Defensive matchup to watch:
Dwight Freeney vs. Matt Light
EH: This has been a matchup to watch nearly every time the Colts and Patriots play, and today's game is no exception. Getting to the quarterback and pressuring him into mistakes and turnovers is Freeney's first priority in every game, and the fact that Matt Cassel has been sacked so many times already this season will have Freeney looking for a big day - particularly since he was frustrated against Green Bay and Tennessee the last two weeks.
Vince Wilfork vs Jeff Saturday
JS: Sometimes having big bodies in the middle does little except re-route runners around them . In a 3-4 scheme like New England favors, that guy has to chew up blockers. If The Patriots want to slow down the run all they need is run plugger like Wilfork to occupy the offensive linemen across from him so the linebackers can make plays. But this game is going to require pressure on Peyton Manning. If that's to happen, Wilfork will not only need to take on double teams up front with Saturday and a guard to either side, but he'll have to push Saturday back into Manning's pocket to disrupt the Hall-of-fame worthy QB's timing. New England can already bring pressure form the outside, it's up to Wilfork to bring it from the middle, and that means Wilfork must win the battle vs Saturday and the guards.
The Colts will win if ...
EH: They can get to Cassel in the pocket and force the inexperienced quarterback to make some mistakes or turnovers. The Colts' defense relies on turnovers more than most teams, because they're not a group that lines up and stonewalls offenses. Turnovers will give the offense time to find its spots and provide valuable field position, as well.
The Colts will lose if ...
EH: They fall behind or fail to protect the football. Like most teams, the Colts play best from the lead, because they aren't a team that has reliably able to shut an offense down when they need to. Also, when the Colts have played from behind Manning seems more turnover-prone this season. Whether that's because he's getting outplayed or trying to do too much is up for debate, but it's best to keep him out of that position altogether.
The Patriots will win if
JS: They can keep the game within reach so Matt Cassel doesn't have to pass his way back from a double-digit deficit. Although he had the first fourth quarter comeback of the year last week, that was only 3 points. Manning and crew can score in a hurry against really good teams, and it's imperative the Patriots keep the game close if not take the lead into the final period.
The Patriots will lose if
JS: they can't establish a ground game to take pressure off Cassel. Indianapolis is talented up front and can get pressure on quarterbacks. Cassel has the second most sacks (28)in the NFL, getting dropped once every 7.1 pass attempts. By comparison Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger has taken heat for holding on to the ball too long and has been sacked 23 times, once every 7.8 pass attempts.
Prediction For The Game
EH: Manning will be able to pick apart the Patriots secondary, but Cassel will get the ball away fast enough to find soft spots in the Colts zone, as well, and Wes Welker will have a big day. But the Colts really, really need a win in this game, and I see a late drive engineered by Manning. Like the rest of the Colts, Adam Vinatieri has struggled this season, but he'll make a late field goal against his former team to win it.
JS: Though I picked the Patriots in my pick-'em leagues, I'm really more concerned that the Patriots will let the game get out of hand early. Indianapolis has their back against the wall. They have to win this week, or they're playoff hopes will be on life support. I don't like the combination of factors: Cassel's inexperience, Manning's ability to shred a good defense, The Patriots running backs out with injury and the game in Indy. I think Cassel is forced to settle for field goals and that will haunt them in the end.
Jon Scott covers the New England Patriots for Patriots Insider, a division of Scout.com
Eric Hartz covers the Indianapolis Colts for ColtPower.com, a division of Scout.com