By Gregory Hunt
The Indianapolis Colts earned a trip to Foxboro this weekend, thanks to their 45-44 comeback victory over the Kansas City Chiefs and to the San Diego Chargers 27-10 upset win over the Cincinnati Bengals in the AFC Wild Card Playoffs. Cincinnati entered the playoffs as the number three seed, so if they had beaten the number six Chargers, the Bengals would be making the trip to New England. Instead, the number two Patriots will face the number four Colts Saturday at 8:15 p.m. at Gillette Stadium.
The Colts finished the 2013 regular season with an 11-5 record, four games ahead of the second place Tennessee Titans in the AFC South. New England's rivalry with the Colts dates back to 1970, when the AFL Boston Patriots and the NFL Baltimore Colts were placed together in the AFC East as a result of the AFL/NFL merger. The Colts moved to Indianapolis in 1984, but teams remained division opponents until 2002, when the Colts were placed in the AFC South as a result of NFL realignment.
All-time against the Patriots, the Colts hold a 28-45 record in the regular season and a 1-2 record in the playoffs. The teams last met in the regular season on Nov. 18, 2012, when New England defeated Indianapolis and then-rookie quarterback Andrew Luck 59-24 at Gillette Stadium. The teams last met in the playoffs on Jan. 21, 2007, when Indianapolis quarterback Peyton Manning led the Colts to a 38-34 come-from-behind victory in the AFC Championship Game at the RCA Dome. The Colts went on to defeat the Chicago Bears 29-17 in Super Bowl XLI.
Colts On Offense
Although Andrew Luck is generally considered to be one of the best young quarterbacks in the NFL – and coming back from a 28-point deficit as he did in the Wild Card round against the Chiefs will certainly help him build his legacy – the Colts had a middle-of-the-pack offense in 2013. Indianapolis was only 17th in the league in passing offense and 15th in the league in total offense. However, his passer rating of 87.0 was only a shade below the 87.3 of Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.
Luck's top target is wide receiver T. Y. Hilton, who has stepped up his game ever since veteran receiver Reggie Wayne was placed on injured reserve with a torn ACL in October. In only his second year in the NFL, Hilton caught 82 passes for 1,083 yards and five touchdowns. Against the Chiefs last week, he caught 13 passes for 224 yards and two touchdowns.
The Colts hoped to significantly improve their rushing game when they acquired running back Trent Richardson in an early-season trade with the Cleveland Browns, but he is averaging only 2.9 yards per carry. Still, in splitting carries with fellow running back Donald Brown, the two have combined for a respectable 995 yards and nine rushing touchdowns. Luck, a decent runner himself, scrambled for 377 yards, gaining 6.0 yards per carry.
Colts On Defense
Surprisingly, one of the best players on the Indianapolis defense is former New England cornerback Darius Butler. The Patriots drafted him out of UConn in the second round of the 2009 draft, but he made only five starts in 29 career games with New England and didn't make much of an impact beyond a 91-yard pick-six he made against the Houston Texans toward the end of his rookie season. After getting waived by New England in 2011, he spent one season with the Carolina Panthers before signing with Indianapolis as a free agent the following year. This year for the Colts, he led the team in interceptions with four, including a pick-six against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Overall, Indianapolis tied for 11th in the league in sacks with 42, and six-time Pro Bowl linebacker Robert Mathis got a whopping 19.5 of them, which earned him a place on this year's Associated Press All-Pro first team. Fellow linebacker Jerrell Freeman was second on the team with a mere 5.5 sacks.
The team's biggest weakness is defending the run. The Colts were 26th in the league in rushing defense, giving up 121.5 yards per game on the ground, although this was better than the 134.1 YPG given up by the Patriots defense.
While the Colts are certainly a respectable team, the Patriots got an easier matchup for this divisional playoff game when the Bengals lost to the Chargers. The Patriots have struggled against elite defenses all season long, and the Bengals, who finished the regular season third in the league in total defense, kept the Patriots out of the end zone during a 13-6 win over New England at Paul Brown Stadium Oct. 6.
The last time the Patriots lost a home playoff game to a team that plays its home games in either a warm-weather city or in a stadium with a roof (retractable or otherwise) was in 1978, when running back Earl Campbell and the Houston Oilers beat New England 31-14 at Schaefer Stadium in the AFC Divisional Playoffs. If the Patriots are successful in establishing the running game Saturday, expect them to beat the Colts easily.
For more news and updates about the NFL Playoffs, visit NFL Playoffs Central.
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.
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