AFC Championship Preview: Patriots vs. Colts

The New England Patriots host the Indianapolis Colts in a battle for the AFC Championship. The winner heads to Arizona for the Super Bowl and the loser heads to the golf course. Can the Colts slow down the New England offense? Can the Patriots get a pass rush and contain Andrew Luck? We'll answer these questions and determine who'll come out on top Sunday night.

The Patriots and Colts battle for the fourth time in three seasons, but this time a Super Bowl berth is on the line. The last three times they've faced each other has ended in a blowout for the Patriots, but the Colts have improved and are going to give the Patriots a better game this time around. Let's answer the Weekly Five and figure out who's headed to Arizona for the Super Bowl.

1. How will the Patriots move the ball?

Over the last three meetings with the Colts, New England has averaged 48 points and 198 rushing yards, which is just utter domination. We’ve heard all week that the Colts “aren’t the same team” because Arthur Jones is back and Jonathan Newsome has improved, but those two aren’t exactly Suggs and Dumervil, so although the Colts have improved defensively, they are still very average, which is backed up by the points per game allowed (23.1, 19th in the NFL). Yardage wise, the Colts have been pretty good versus the pass, only allowing 229.3 yards per game (11th), but they give up 113.4 rushing yards per game, 18th in the NFL. Vontae Davis has been good all year and may have had his best game last week, but that was against a quarterback who couldn’t throw the ball with accuracy unless it was less than five yards.

The New England passing game has been strong all year and last week they tore up the Ravens, who may not have the best secondary but they do have a relentless pass rush. Brian Stork will miss the game with a knee injury, but New England should be able to plug in Wendell at center and Josh Kline at guard. Kline did an excellent job last week when he was forced into the game following the Stork injury. If New England is able to run like they have the last two games, this game will be a blowout. If Jonas Gray is still injured, expect to see a heavy dose of LeGarrette Blount.

2. Can the Colts score against the New England defense?

Andrew Luck has struggled against the Patriots, but his last game in November was the best of the three outings. Luck was 23-39 for 303 yards, two touchdowns and only one interception. The previous two games vs. New England, Luck had seven interceptions, so he is learning from his mistakes. The Colts running game hasn’t been very good this year, averaging 100.8 yards, which is ranked 22nd in the NFL. Indianapolis ran the ball 16 times for 19 yards in the last meeting, and that is when Ahmad Bradshaw was still healthy, although he was injured in the second half of that game. One of the reasons Indianapolis struggled against the Patriots in November was the ineffectiveness of T.Y. Hilton. Hilton had three catches for 24 yards; without his big plays, the Colts offense simply isn’t the same.

Coby Fleener had a strong game, making seven catches for 144 yards, but Fleener does his damage between the 30’s, and the Patriots have always given that to teams. The Patriots goal is to play strong in the red zone and don’t get beat for big plays. When you play that type of defense, you’re going to allow tight ends, running backs and possession receivers to pile up stats, but that doesn’t matter if you can’t score consistent touchdowns. If the Colts are going to win Sunday, they’re going to need big games from Luck, Herron, Hilton and either Dwayne Allen, Donte Moncrief, Reggie Wayne or Hakeem Nicks. You can’t beat the best without contributions from all areas.

3. Who has the edge in the coaching match up?

Considering the last three meetings have been so ugly, it is pretty obvious that Belichick and the Patriots staff have the advantage over Pagano and Co. The last two games, what was Pagano supposed to do? His defense was physically dominated by the Patriots offensive line, and if he overcommitted to the run, the Patriots would kill them with Gronkowski. Belichick is smart in the respect that he sticks with what is working, and if you can run it down someone’s throat and keep their explosive quarterback off the field, it’s foolish to change it up. Since the Patriots have played so simple offensively when facing the Colts, they have plenty of plays they can deploy that Indianapolis hasn’t dealt with. Until Pagano beats Belichick or at least keeps a game close, this matchup will be heavily in favor of Bill Belichick. Advantage- Patriots.

4. Will the Colts find a way to give Brady fits?

Indianapolis did a good job pressuring Peyton Manning last week, but Manning wasn’t himself and the Broncos passing offense was pretty much a mess for the last six weeks. The aforementioned Jonathan Newsome led the Colts in sacks this season with 6.5 and undersized defensive end Eric Walden also contributed six of his own. The Colts finished 2014 with 40 overall sacks, tied with the Patriots (NFL.com says 41, Profootballreference says 40. I’ll go with PFR’s stats). The Colts get pressure by blitzing, which is similar to how New England.

If the Colts can’t get pressure on Brady, they’re in trouble, regardless of their strong secondary. When you look at the Colts, they are VERY similar to New England defensively except they aren’t quite as good; they’re a poor-man’s Patriots. The Colts run a 3-4 scheme too, so the similarities are endless. These similarities make it easier for the Patriots to game plan and execute, which is one of the reasons for the high point totals New England has put up in the last three meetings. I don’t see Indianapolis getting a lot of pressure on Brady, so expect New England to have a big day through the air.

5. Who wins the game and why?

The Patriots have manhandled the Colts in the last 12 months, so even though history isn’t always a determining factor, it does play a part when it’s recent. The Colts have Arthur Jones back, which should help them defend the run, but other than that, there isn’t a huge difference in the personnel of these two teams. Dan “Boom” Herron has given the Colts an option in the running game, but after dealing with Justin Forsett last week, New England should be more prepared to stop the run. LeGarrette Blount has had success vs. Indy, so if Jonas Gray can’t play, it shouldn’t be a huge problem for the Patriots.

Laron Landry has trouble defending Gronkowski, and Danny Amendola has suddenly become a viable option in the New England passing game. When it comes down to it, the Colts are going to have to deal with a team that knows they can do what they want offensively and will have to play a perfect game on defense to win. The Patriots played very average last week and they typically respond well after those types of games. It won’t be as ugly as the last three meetings, but New England will still win by double digits.

Predicted Score: Patriots 34, Colts 24

Statistics Provided by www.pro-football-reference.com


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