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The injury plagued Patriots will host the Indianapolis Colts Saturday night in a Divisional Playoff game after a crazy wild card weekend that saw the Colts erase a 28-point deficit against the Kansas City Chiefs in a 45-44 victory.
The Patriots are double-digit favorites in this match-up but don’t let that number fool you. The Colts are not going to just roll over and let the Patriots roll into the AFC Championship game. The Colts, led by one of the better young quarterbacks in Andrew Luck, have found ways to win all season and it will be a closer game than most anticipate.
There is a lot to be said about momentum in the playoffs. Most times, playoffs games are not decided based on regular season records but instead on the momentum the teams are carrying with them from one game to the next towards the end of the season and the playoffs. The Colts will be riding the momentum from their victory and use that as motivation to prove their critics wrong.
Last week at home, the Colts barely escaped with a win. We witnessed a game in which the Colts showed some major weaknesses in all aspects on defense. Contrarily, we also saw a Colts team with the will and determination to keep fighting for 60 minutes. We also saw a team that rallied behind Luck, despite several mistakes made throughout the game. The Colts will be able to put up points against this ailing Patriots defense, but will they be able to outscore the Patriots offense and what will the Patriots need to do to ensure a spot in the AFC Championship game?
Coach Bill Belichick has been a mastermind in eliminating his opponent’s main weapon all season and in this case, the only thing the Patriots need to do successfully on defense is make sure they contain Colts receiver T.Y. Hilton. Hilton made a name for himself last week lighting up the Chiefs defense and was a major part of the Colts comeback but make no mistake, the Patriots will make sure he does not have a repeat performance of last week.
With the bye-week, the Patriots have been able to rest some of their injured players including Aqib Talib. Though he has not looked like his old, dominating self, Talib is still one of the best cover corners in the game and he will make a major impact in disrupting Luck’s passing game. Also look for the Patriots to double team Hilton to take him out of the game and to really put pressure on Luck and his other receivers to win the game.
The Patriots defense will need to contain the Colts receivers, which means they will challenge the Colts’ running game to win the game. Good luck Donald Brown and Trent Richardson outscoring the Patriots offense! With the weather calling for rain, the chances of the Colts relying more on their running game will increase but their running game is not a threat to the Patriots defense.
Injuries on Defense
The Patriots defense is not without problems of its own. With so many injuries to its defense, the Patriots were hit with another season-ending injury earlier this week when they announced linebacker Brandon Spikes season was over due to a lingering knee injury.
Spikes played in all 16 games of the regular season and was one of the defensive players that stepped up in the absence of captains Jerod Mayo and Vince Wilfork. Though not Pro Bowl caliber, Spikes has made positive contributions and an impact on the Patriots depleted defense, recording a team high eight tackles for loss. In his fourth year, Spikes has quietly become the team’s third-leading tackler and has definitely made a difference in the run defense, a void that needed to be filled in the absence of Wilfork.
How Will Spikes’ injury impact the defense?
The Patriots are extremely thin in the linebacker position. It makes me cringe at the thought of either Dont’a Hightower or Dane Fletcher replacing the production of Spikes. To put it nicely, Hightower and Fletcher stink. Bad! The two are especially horrendous when it comes to coverage, looking like chickens with their heads cut off.
Rookie linebacker Jamie Collins has proven he can be a difference maker, showing better ability in coverage than the other two back-up linebackers and the Patriots might use him more in the playoffs now with Spikes done for the season.
Luckily for the Patriots, the Colts running game ranked towards the bottom of the league during the regular season in rush offense so losing Spikes might not hurt them too much against the Colts. The Patriots will also have Rob Ninkovich back, which will help alleviate the loss of Spikes, even though they play different positions.
Besides stopping Hilton on defense, the Patriots offensive line will need to contain Robert Mathis and make sure Brady stays on his feet. It is no secret Brady has struggled these past years under pressure, but if the offensive line can protect Brady and give him time in the pocket, Brady will be able to make plays and lead his team to victory.
The running back group of Shane Vereen, LaGarrette Blount and Stevan Ridley will also need to have a big game and secure the football, especially if it will be a rainy game. The backs will need to take the pressure off Brady and to manage the clock to ensure a Patriots victory. This should not be a difficult task given the Colts had the 24th ranked run defense in the league during the regular season.
At the end of the day, both teams have less than stellar defenses but the Colts are just not complete of a team to beat the Patriots. Although the Patriots have the “worst” quarterback left in the playoffs according to The Sporting News, he will outplay his counterpart Luck and lead his more experienced Patriots to victory. This will be one of those frustrating wins for the Patriots but they will once again advance to the AFC Championship game with a 33-27 victory over the Colts.