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Time: 8:30 p.m. EST
Place: Indianapolis, Indiana
Radio: 98.5 FM – The Sports Hub
It is the most anticipated match-up of the regular season. No two teams have exemplified what it means to be a champion this decade more then the Indianapolis Colts and New England Patriots. The Colts have won the most games this decade at 109, but right behind are the Patriots with 108. They are meeting for the seventh straight season and eleventh time since Tom Brady and Peyton Manning began their feud. On Sunday night, get ready for the regular season Super Bowl.
Tony Dungy’s retirement from the team left many lingering questions this season. Could Jim Caldwell take the reigns? Will Dungy’s absence have lingering effects? Well, many questions have been answered with the Colts playing to an 8-0 record. Dwight Freeney is the leading candidate for Defensive Player of the Year and a dark-horse for MVP with 9.5 sacks and is becoming the leader of the defense. Gary Brackett has emerged as a hero for the linebacking unit and Antoine Bethea has been Pro Bowl-caliber at safety. Indianapolis has a strong, top ten defense that can give New England a hefty speed bump this season.
But wait, how can you mention the Colts without gushing about their future Hall of Fame-bound quarterback, Peyton Manning? Manning might be the best quarterback in the NFL. Here’s a quick look at his stats: 2,545 passing yards, 16 touchdowns, five interceptions and a quarterback passing rating of 105.2.
Without his mainstay, Marvin Harrison, Manning has gotten career years from Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark and has made stars out of Austin Collie and Pierre Garcon. Once Anthony Gonzalez returns from his injury, this could be the most dangerous offense in the league. Joseph Addai is the Robin to Manning’s Batman, and his 600 combined rushing and passing yards will continue to make him a duel threat for the Colts. This is a Colts team with confidence and talent that will give New England all it has to offer.
During the Brady era, New England has saved its best games for Indianapolis. They are 8-3 and have won games every which way. Close games, blow outs, offensive powered, defensive stands, there was not a way the Patriots didn’t beat the Colts. For the first half of this rivalry, Tom Brady has owned Manning, but things have changed.
The Colts got the monkey off their back in 2006, beating the Pats and snapping a six-game losing streak to New England. During the playoffs that season, the Colts stepped up again and knocked New England off in the AFC Championship game. Since then, Indianapolis has won two of the next three. New England might have had history on their side earlier in the decade, but The Colts have returned with a vengeance.
The talk of the MVP race is all about Peyton Manning and Drew Brees. However, Tom Brady is not far behind. He has thrown for over 300 yards in three straight games and has ten touchdowns during that stretch. There seems to be a chip on his shoulder since the Week 5 loss to the Boncos and he has picked apart teams since. Indianapolis’ D might be as strong as ever, but Tom Terrific saves his best for when it counts.
When it comes to helping their quarterback, the receiving duo of Randy Moss and Wes Welker give 110 percent every week. His fifth touchdown of the season might have been his best with a 71-yard reception on a good Miami secondary. The biggest surprise could be Benjamin Watson, who has emerged an offensive threat and huge on third downs. Also, Laurence Maroney has slowly been picking up steam and what a better place to establish himself as the number one back then a huge game on Sunday.
We’re not talking about 2006, when Logan Makins and Jeff Saturday scored unlikely touchdowns. Instead, it’s about Indianapolis protecting their quarterback and New England stopping a pass rusher. Peyton Manning has only been sacked seven times on the season, which is less then one a game. New England only has fifteen sacks on the season, which is not fantastic by any means. As a top defense, they need to unleash Tully Banta-Cain and Mike Wright, the team’s sack leader, as both have a nose for getting to the quarterback and can lead a pass rush defense. Keeping Manning on the run will disrupt him and it is a necessity.
Breaking through the Colts offensive line is one thing, but keeping New England’s unit solid is another. Dwight Freeney and his 9.5 sacks will be gunning for Brady all night. Matt Light, Logan Mankins, Dan Koppen, Stephen Neal and Nick Kaczur have been great for the past few season. Light is expected to be at full health, but Koppen is hurting. A steady O-line needs to be on the field and keep Freeney at bay, or else Brady might be the one on the run.
It is near impossible to stop Peyton Manning. Teams have tried and have been burned. Although he doesn’t move around too swiftly, he gets rid of the ball quick and doesn’t make many mistakes. With that logic, the way to stop the Colts offense is to go after the receivers. Think back to 2004.
During New England’s push for a third Super Bowl, The Pats met the Colts in the divisional round. The New England secondary and linebacker hit the Colts receivers hard and threw them off their game. Now, flash forward to the Sunday. Brandon McGowan, Brandon Meriweather, Gary Guyton, and Jerod Mayo need to be a force to reckon with. Smacking Reggie Wayne and the Colts receivers in the chops and make them afraid to catch the ball. Intimidation is everything and by taking Manning’s receivers out of their games, you effectively take Manning out of his.
The Patriots do not need much to get motivated. Considering Joey Porter talked enough to boost Brady last week, this might be more substantial. The Colts are perfect at 8-0. New England has the chance to make sure Indianapolis doesn’t even come close to their perfect regular season. The Colts have the ability to run the table, especially with Manning at the helm and New England will love nothing better then spoil their run at history.
Speaking of history, Indianapolis currently has 17 consecutive regular season wins, four shy of New England’s record of 21. There is not a record that shows more consistency than that one. The only way to ensure New England maintains that record is to stop them Sunday night. Expect that to be the only motivation needed. In order for New England to be the called the best team of the decade outright, protecting their records is a must.
The Colts are a good, Super Bowl-quality team that can play with the best. They have arguably the best quarterback in the league and a defense to back him up. For New England, Tom Brady seems to be back to normal and has been getting better each week. This will not be a blowout game, not even close. You could flip a coin to see who wins it will be that close. In fact, who ever wins the opening coin flip, could in fact win the game. With that, the Pats win the flip and steal a win: New England 30-28.
Tags: Dan Koppen, Dwight Freeney, Gary Brackett, Joseph Addai, Laurence Maroney, Logan Mankins, Matt Light, Nick Kazur, Patriots, Peyton Manning, Randy Moss, Reggie Wayne, Stephen Neal, Tom Brady, Wes Welker