By Gregory Hunt
The New England Patriots will try to hang on to their current position as the #1 team in the AFC when they face the Indianapolis Colts for a nationally-televised Sunday night game at Lucas Oil Stadium. Both teams are coming off of a bye week.
The 7-2 Patriots lead the AFC East by two-and-a-half games while the 6-3 Colts lead the AFC South by two games. If the season ended today, the Patriots would be the #1 seed in the AFC playoffs while the Colts would be the #3 seed, so Sunday’s meeting is a possible playoff preview. The all-time series dates back to 1970, when the AFL Boston Patriots and the NFL Baltimore Colts were both placed in the AFC East as a part of the AFL/NFL merger. The Colts moved to Indianapolis in 1984 and to the AFC South in 2002.
The Colts trail the all-time series 28-45 in the regular season and 1-3 in the playoffs. Their most-recent meeting was an AFC Divisional Playoff Game at Gillette Stadium on January 11, 2014, won by the Patriots 43-22. The most-recent regular season meeting was a 59-24 Patriots victory on November 18, 2012, also at Gillette Stadium. The last time the teams played at Lucas Oil Stadium was on November 15, 2009, when quarterback Peyton Manning led the Colts to a 35-34 comeback victory after the Patriots led 31-14 early in the 4th quarter.
Colts on Offense
Quarterback Andrew Luck, now in his 3rd year in the NFL, leads an attack that currently leads the league in total offense with 451.2 yards per game. Luck holds an impressive 100.3 passer rating and he is on pace to throw for 5,484 yards, which would break the single-season record of 5,477 set by Manning with the Denver Broncos in 2013. He is also on pace this season to throw 46 touchdown passes, which would tie him for 5th-best all-time.
Luck’s favorite target is wide receiver T.Y. Hilton, who has already caught 56 passes for 937 yards and three touchdowns in only nine games. In an era dominated by big receivers, Hilton is having huge success despite being only 5′ 9″, 178 lbs. In the red zone, Luck often looks for tight end Dwayne Allen, who leads the team in touchdown receptions with seven. The Colts ground game is ranked only 14th in the league, but running back Ahmad Bradshaw is gaining an impressive 5.1 yards per carry while leading the team in rushing yards with 421.
Colts on Defense
The Indianapolis defense is tied for 9th in the league in sacks with 24, and they’re doing it by committee — six different players are credited with either three or four sacks. Veteran linebacker D’Qwell Jackson has been playing through a recent toe injury, but he has three sacks and leads the team in solo tackles with 46. The unit is ranked only 18th in the league in total offense, but it leads the league in forced fumbles with 12, one each by 12 different players. Defensive backs Mike Adams, Greg Toler and Vontae Davis have two interceptions apiece to account for all six of the team’s picks. Given how powerful the Indianapolis offense is, the defense only needs to be average in order to put the team in a position to win games.
The New England defense passed a big test in beating Manning and the Broncos 43-21 just before the bye week, but Luck may pose an even bigger challenge. According to former Patriots linebacker and current NFL analyst Tedy Bruschi, Luck brings more to the table because of his ability to scramble. Not only is Luck deadly from the pocket, but he is also one of the better running quarterbacks in the league. The Patriots defense will need to work on keeping Luck in the pocket as well as covering his receivers. Against the Broncos, the New England had a raucous Gillette Stadium crowd behind them, but they won’t get any such assistance playing in Indianapolis.
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Gregory Hunt is a Boston native and a life-long fan of the Patriots, Red Sox, Bruins and Celtics. He’s also particularly fond of lacrosse, IndyCar racing and women’s college basketball. He currently works for Examiner.com where he serves as the Senior Manager of Content and Media Access. He also writes for Examiner.com as the New England Patriots Examiner. His work can be found on aExaminer.com.