KICKOFF: Sunday, 8:20 ET
VENUE: Lucas Oil Stadium
TV: NBC (Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth, Andrea Kremer)
PREDICTION: Patriots 28-27
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Patriots might not be able to fashion a formidable running game without injured RBs Fred Taylor and Sammy Morris. And they might not force the issue considering Indianapolis is playing minus three injured starters in the secondary. So the question will be whether the Colts' pass rush is able to get to RB Tom Brady before he's able to go through his progressions downfield. ... Chess match: Colts QB Peyton Manning has seven 300-yard passing games, but the offense has still bogged down a bit in the red zone (16 touchdowns in 29 possessions). It will be a battle of wits between Patriots coach Bill Belichick and Manning, whose pre-snap reads will be critical in breaking down New England's secondary. TE Dallas Clark will be a key target if Belichick's gameplan relies on heavy blitzing.
Need to know: Patriots LB Junior Seau has won the past 25 regular-season games in which he has played - the longest personal winning streak since the 1970 merger. ... The Colts have a 10-game home winning streak.
Tom Brady always gets fired up to play the rival Colts. Not because it sparks the tireless debate about the NFL's best quarterback -- Brady or Peyton Manning -- but because it's a chance to see how his team stacks up against elite competition.
Brady knows that even if the Patriots falter this week, there's a chance these two teams could meet again in the playoffs.
"We always know Indianapolis is going to be there at the end," Brady said. "With them being 8-0 right now, it makes it tough if we get behind them with a loss here."
At 6-2, the Patriots can still catch Indianapolis in the race for the top seed in the AFC, but they'll likely need to win Sunday in order to have a shot. A victory puts them just one win behind their arch-rivals, whereas a loss would drop them three back with seven games to play.
"There are obviously a lot of things that can happen, and the playoffs are long ways away, but anytime you play the teams that you know are going to be playoff contenders ... you know, that was our problem last year. That's why we didn't get into the playoffs," Brady said.
"We finished 11-5, but we didn't beat any of the playoff teams. So, we have to go out there and have a great week of practice and preparation for an undefeated team. They present a lot of challenges, they always do. We have to play our best game this week."
This is more than just a potential playoff matchup. This is a chance for the Patriots to do a bit of self-scouting and see where they rank among the best in the league. So far, they're in the conversation, but a win will certainly raise some eyebrows and, perhaps, strike a bit of fear in Indianapolis down the stretch.
The faces that make up the Patriots' defensive unit might have changed, but the results have remained pretty much the same over the years.
Even though the Patriots don't have Teddy Bruschi, Willie McGinest, Rodney Harrison, Ty Law, Richard Seymour, Asante Samuel, Eugene Wilson, Ellis Hobbs or Mike Vrabel around anymore, the basic system that head coach Bill Belichick first installed in 2000 remains.
Perhaps that's one of the secrets to Belichick's success. The players come and go, but the philosophy stays the same.
"(Sunday night's game with New England is) going to be a great test for us. We all know that. They're playing really good football. They've got some different guys, but I think everybody wants to say, 'Oh, tell me how different they are. Is there a drop off here or there?' You just don't see it," Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning said.
"They've had different guys through the years, and they've picked right up where the great player before them left off. You can tell the older players that were there, that are no longer there, have taught these young guys a lot, and they've been good mentors to them. You can tell these guys have learned from those guys. It will be a really tough test for us."
Interestingly, change is also apparent with Indianapolis' offense. While stalwarts such as Manning, Joseph Addai, Reggie Wayne, Dallas Clark, Jeff Saturday, Ryan Lilja, Ryan Diem and Charlie Johnson all remain from the Colts' Super Bowl team, the unit has lost key players like Marvin Harrison, Edgerrin James, Marcus Pollard, Brandon Stokley, Tarik Glenn and Jake Scott.
"I think there are some similarities from their defense and our offense, in that there are new faces on both sides. The goal is to try and have the same results (as in the past). It's the same system. We do have a lot of young guys. I don't know; I can't get into comparisons of other offenses in other years here. But this has been a different type of year because we've had new guys. And you are kind of going through some of the basic fundamentals of your offense," Manning said.
"I think maybe in some ways that has made the older players better, kind of reminding all of us the little intrinsic fundamentals that you need to focus on to be a successful offense. (New England's) offense through the years has shown that they can do that. They've plugged different guys in through the years, they've got (wide receiver Randy) Moss and (wide receiver Wes) Welker, but (had) Deion Branch through the years. I think as long as the veteran players are doing their job, you can help bring these younger players along."
Despite all the changes on both sidelines over the years, the Patriots and Colts have been able to survive and prosper. The Indianapolis quarterback admires the way that New England has remained consistently good over the years.
"Absolutely. It's a credit to a lot of those veteran players that have been there. The players that are no longer there had a big influence on these young guys," Manning said. "Obviously, they've had the same coach there for all these years, and he's done a heck of a job getting all these guys ready to play. Their whole staff has."
--WR Julian Edelman missed Thursday's practice with a lingering forearm injury that has sidelined him all month. There's little chance he'll be ready for Sunday's game.
--S Brandon Meriweather is still nursing a foot injury and missed another day of practice Thursday. Meriweather will likely be a game-time decision.
--RB Fred Taylor missed Thursday's practice as he continues to rehab his surgically-repaired knee and will likely miss this weekend's game. Keep an eye on a potential return for next week, however.
--DE Ty Warren did not practice due to an ankle injury, though this is more than likely a precautionary measure considering he's been in the lineup. Expect to see him on the field again Sunday.
--RB Donald Brown (shoulder) practiced Wednesday and Thursday. He is expected to be a game-time decision.
--WR Austin Collie (neck) took part in Wednesday and Thursday's workout. Collie's availability for the Patriots game won't be decided until Friday or Saturday.
--QB Jim Sorgi (shoulder) missed a second straight day of practice on Thursday. Sorgi is expected to be available for the New England game but a final determination won't be made until Friday or Saturday.
--DE Dwight Freeney (rest) returned to practice Thursday and is expected to start against the Patriots Sunday night.
--CB Kelvin Hayden (knee) will remain sidelined for another couple of weeks. Hayden was hurt against San Francisco two weeks ago.
--WR Anthony Gonzalez (knee) is not expected back to practice for another week or so. Gonzalez was hurt in the season-opening win over Jacksonville and then underwent arthroscopic surgery on the knee two weeks ago.
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