Sunday Night Football Preview – Indianapolis Colts @ New England Patriots

Take two of the best quarterbacks in the modern game, the two most successful teams of the last decade, add a dash of rivalry, and the importance of playoff spot and you can’t help but admit that Sunday night’s game between the Indianapolis Colts and the New England Patriots has all the ingredients for a cracking matchup.

The two sides seem to have been a staple of AFC Championship games for the last decade, but in fact the Patriots haven’t even made that game since January 2008, where their unbeaten regular season ultimately ended in disappointment at the hands of Eli Manning and the New York Giants in the Superbowl. Prior to this they had won 3 Superbowls out of the previous 7 as Tom Brady &  Bill Belicheck built a dynasty.

Repeating the Superbowl success of 2006 has thus far eluded Peyton Manning and the Colts however. Despite recording more regular season wins than any time has in any decade, they seem to be making a habit of coming up short in the playoffs. Last season saw them make it to the Superbowl only to leave to the seemingly unstoppable force that were The New Orleans Saints.

So far this season, both teams have got themselves into good positions to make a playoff push, despite losing key personnel. The Patriots lost number 1 receiver Randy Moss, and once again have found themselves relying on young receivers, notably tight ends Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski, and an inexperienced running game, with Tom Brady once again managing to transform an offense into a unit greater than the sum of its parts. They currently sit on top of the AFC East with the New York Jets with a 7-2 record, including an impressively dominant win over the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field last week.

The Colts on the other hand currently have an injury-ravaged offense marshalled by Peyton Manning. It seems like every front-line receiver on the Colts Roster has suffered one injury or another. Their defence has dropped below the high standard they kept up last season, and have particularly struggled against the run, with rookie Arian Foster destroying them on the opening weekend. Despite these issues, you can’t rule out a team with Peyton at the helm, and they are leading the AFC South with a 6-3 record.

Ones to Watch

When given time in the pocket, there are few quarterbacks in the NFL as dangerous as Tom Brady, and last week against the Pittsburgh Steelers was a prime example of that. For that reason Guard Logan Mankins is my key man for the Pats. After being drafted in the first round in 2005, he had a stunning 2007 season where he allowed only one sack and was selected to both the Pro-Bowl and All-Pro sides.  This season he refused to sign his tender until recently and his performance last week was his first of the season. The impact to the side was tangible and Brady was afforded an obscene amount of time in the pocket and was able to pick apart the much vaunted Steelers defence. If Brady gets the same amount of time against a struggling Colts defence then he could inflict serious damage.

For the Colts, how can you look past Peyton Manning? His 13 years in the NFL have seen him dominate the league. In that time he has been selected for the Pro-Bowl 10 times, had 5 All-Pro selections and an NFL record 4 MVP awards. He has been named player of the decade, and led to Colts to a period where they won more games than any team in any decade and won a Superbowl. This season has seen many of Manning’s key weapons injured and Peyton have to lead a bunch of rookies and backup players to the top of the AFC South. Last season he masterminded a comeback to beat the Patriots the matchups between him and Tom Brady always produce fireworks. The one that has the better day may well come out on top.

Prediction

The Patriots were dominant against a strong Steelers team last week, and up against a banged-up Colts team they will fancy their chances. One can never rule out a team led by Peyton Manning however.

Patriots by 3.

 

Jamie Cutteridge

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