NFL Playoffs Preview: Colts at Patriots

Colts vs Patriots

Indianapolis Colts at New England Patriots (-7.0)

I can only imagine the look on Spock’s face if he had been watching the Colts-Chiefs game last weekend. It was a game that defied all logic, something that would scramble any Vulcan brain. We humans are used to the insanity that is the NFL playoffs. At the heart of that insanity during Wild Card weekend were the Indianapolis Colts. The game between the Colts and Chiefs was one Indianapolis had no business winning. It was the second largest comeback in playoff history as they rallied from a 37-10 deficit in the third quarter. This week, the underdog Colts travel to Foxboro to take on the No. 2 seed the New England Patriots. The following is what each team needs to do, or not do, to reach the AFC Championship…

Patriots Game Plan

It was a deceivingly tumultuous off-season and regular season for the Patriots in 2013, overcoming key offensive losses and injuries en route to the No. 2 AFC playoff seed. The glue that kept them together all season, the glue that has kept them together the last 13 seasons, was Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. It will be up to them to keep the Patriots’ playoff hopes alive against the Colts. Brady has to be on his game. New England’s defense wasn’t reliable during the regular season, particularly after Vince Wilfork’s season-ending ACL injury.

No one expected the Patriots to go 12-4 after all their casualties, but Belichick and Brady were the constant. The onus will always be on coach and quarterback to control the game and execute. As long as Belichick and Brady are working together, the Patriots always have a chance.

Keys to Success

  • Pressure Andrew Luck: Of course, the Chiefs pressured Andrew Luck and still couldn’t win, but pressure ideally forces turnovers. That’s what the Colts did last Saturday and that’s what the Patriots need to get them to do this Saturday. What really hurt the Chiefs was their inability to convert turnovers into touchdowns instead of field goals, late in the game. That’s not likely to happen against an experienced playoff team like the New England Patriots. If the home team is able to pressure Luck and win the turnover battle, it will be hard for them not to win.
  • Contain T.Y. Hilton: Almost half of Andrew Luck’s completions went to T.Y. Hilton last weekend, including a 64-yard touchdown that turned out to be the game-winner. Hilton is by far the Colts’ best and most explosive offensive weapon. It would behoove the Patriots to shadow Hilton with Pro Bowl cornerback Aqib Talib and double-team him at times, especially between the twenties. With Darrius Heyward-Bey questionable, the Colts will be more reliant on Hilton. He should be the Patriots’ main focus on defense.
  • Shane Vereen: In my opinion, the catalyst for the Patriots’ offense is Shane Vereen. Everything flows through him. We saw how much New England struggled in a Week 15 loss to Miami when Vereen was contained, largely because he was double-teamed out of the backfield on passing routes. The Colts don’t have the secondary Miami does and can’t afford to focus just on Vereen. With Indianapolis’s attention divided between Vereen, Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola, Vereen should be able to succeed in his wild card role as he did for the most part when coming back from injury late in the regular season.

Prop Bet I Like

I’ll take the over on Brady throwing 1 1/2 touchdowns. It’s hard to imagine the Patriots winning and Brady throwing for just one touchdown.

Key Stat: 17-6

That’s the postseason record of Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. He has the most playoff wins of any quarterback ever, including 11 wins at home.

Colts Game Plan

It’s really all about Andrew Luck. Without Luck, the Colts go nowhere. Their running game has been sub-par all season thanks in large part to trade acquisition Trent Richardson. Although, Donald Brown provided 5.3 yards per carry (YPC) during the regular season and 5.5 YPC against the Chiefs. He’s also been an option in the passing game and may have to be used in that area to keep the Patriots on their feet, so to speak.

If Luck can stay upright and has enough time to read his options, the Colts offense shouldn’t have much of a problem. The defense, on the other hand, is what might get in the way of the Colts and an AFC Championship bid. They surrendered over 500 total yards and 44 points against a Kansas City Chiefs team without its best player (Jamaal Charles). If the Colts’ defense repeats that performance, they’ll be heading back home for a long off-season.

Keys to Success

  • Control the clock: Indianapolis will need all the advantages they can get on the road against the Patriots. Unfortunately for them (and as I mentioned earlier) they don’t have much of a running game – an integral part of controlling the clock. One of the best ways to beat the Patriots is to keep Tom Brady off the field (third key to success). You do that by taking long possessions, methodically driving down the field and not turning the ball over. Indianapolis struggled with time of possession during the regular season, finishing 23rd in the league at 29:15 per game. If the Colts can establish some semblance of a rushing attack and if Luck can be on target when he needs to, they can win the battle of the clock and perhaps the game.
  • Run the ball: It’s easier said than done especially for the Colts, but it will be hard for them to be victorious without a rushing attack. Too many times has Luck had to carry the load. If Indianapolis can just total 100 yards on the ground and maintain possession they can keep up with New England. Donald Brown will be a bigger factor than people realize. If he’s hampered at all, it will hinder the flow of the Colts’ offense.
  • Get Brady off the field: This kind of coincides with controlling the clock, but the defense will have a lot to do with Brady being off the field as well. By getting Brady off the field I mean forcing three and outs or turnovers or punts, etc… The good news for the Colts is that New England’s defense allowed 70 plays per game to opposing offenses. On the other hand, New England’s offense averaged 71 plays per game. The more Tom Brady is sitting on a bench yelling at teammates, the likelier it will be for a neck-beard win.

Prop Bet I Like

I like the over on Andrew Luck throwing for 240 yards. I think the Colts will have to pass a lot in this game, like they did last week.

Key Stat: 8

That’s how many fourth quarter comebacks Andrew Luck already has just two years into his career; more than Rick Mirer had his entire career. Luck already has the second largest postseason comeback in NFL history to his name. He may have to pull-off another one on Saturday.

Prediction: Patriots 31, Colts 21

If it was a more threatening foe I might considering picking against the Patriots, but I just can’t do it. Of course, the game will probably be closer than people (namely me) think and the Colts should keep it close for at least three quarters, but eventually New England will come out on top.

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