Tonight sees the Indianapolis Colts travel to Gillette Stadium to take on the New England Patriots for the AFC Championship. The winner will go on to Super Bowl XLIX in Arizona in 2 weeks time to face either Seattle or Green Bay. By the time the Colts and Patriots game kicks off the winner will know who their opponent will be in the big game but the question is who will represent the AFC in that game?
Well in a playoff game with the stakes so high it is tough to predict and that’s despite the fact that the last 3 times these teams have met have ended in victory for the Patriots by a margin of 21 points of more including last years playoffs when the Pats walked over their opponents 43-22. The key to New England’s last two wins against the Colts have been the running game with LeGarrette Blount torching the Colts for 166 yards and 4 touchdowns in that playoff game last year and back in week 11 of this season when we saw the emergence of Jonas Gray who’s 37 carries went for 201 yards and 4 touchdowns.
Since then though Indianapolis’ run defense has got much better and besides a crazy 4th down run completion by C.J. Anderson last week when they faced Denver the Colts did a great job of stopping the run which forced the game on to Peyton Manning’s shoulders. That was the key factor in last week’s win for the Colts as unfortunately for Manning in spite of Manning’s undeniable greatness when it comes to the bright lights of the postseason he does falter with last weeks loss being his 9th one and done appearance in the playoffs.
Now if the Colts want to send the Patriots home packing just like they did to the Broncos last week then there will have to be a different game plan as forcing the game on Tom Brady’s shoulders will just end in disaster. That was the scenario that Brady faced last week when the Pats rallied back from two 14 point deficits to overcome the Ravens in one of the greatest playoff victories in the franchises history. If New England do go on to win the Super Bowl then that game will be a defining moment in this teams history and in the dynasty created by Belichick and Brady as despite all the adversity they have faced this year and in last week’s game in particular when it matters most they know how to come up trumps.
For the Colts to indeed have a chance of causing an upset then they have to limit their turnovers. Andrew Luck threw 2 interceptions last week and in his career versus the Patriots he has thrown 8 interceptions in 3 games which is the most against any opponent he has faced during his 3 year career. Luck has the potential to pull off magic and gets better year by year and also game by game; a player like him thrives in moments like this and he himself could go down as one of the best to play the game when his career comes to and end but going up against Tom Brady who is making his 9th appearance in an AFC Title game with the chance of playing in a 6th Super Bowl is going to be one of the biggest challenges of this young mans career.
Down 21-14 halftime last week after throwing an interception just before the half which resulted in a Ravens touchdown to put them behind Baltimore then went 28-14 ahead with another touchdown after the break. Tom Brady had to come up with something big, something magical against an opponent who have been a thorn in the Patriots’ side in recent years gone by and he did just that. Brady orchestrated a touchdown drive which ended with a 2nd and goal touchdown pass to Gronkowski to put the Pats within 7 and just over 6 minutes remaining in the 3rd quarter and that’s when the Patriots started to pull out all the stops.
Belichick used his genius to pull out new formations that frustrated his opposite number Jim Haubaugh so much that he ran on to the field which resulted in a 15 yard penalty. That inspired offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels to dial up the trick play and play of the game when Brady threw behind the line of scrimmage to Julian Edelman who threw a dime to Danny Amendola down field for the 51 yard touchdown to tie the game. Amendola was the standout performer for me especially after his fumble at the beginning of the first quarter, it appeared that he would struggle once again but he stepped out of the wilderness to play the best game of his NFL career to date when it mattered most.
On 3rd and 6 down 31-28 he got crucial yards after the catch with brilliant play to break a tackle and make the key conversion with just over 7 minutes left in the 4th in that touchdown drive which won the game for New England. That drive was the career defining moment when Brady pulled in to that bag of magic one more time to lead the Patriots down the field and finish the drive with a perfectly thrown pass to Brandon LaFell in between 2 defenders to put New England 35-31 ahead with 5:13 remaining (that touchdown put Brady ahead of Joe Montana for the most touchdowns of all-time in the playoffs with 46) .At the time the Pats didn’t know that it would be that score which would win them the game but it was. Brady and Belichick had done it again and the Patriots have a fantastic chance to end their 10/11 year wait for a Super Bowl victory.
Now I have to say that offense gets not all but the vast majoirty of the praise especially when you have a first ballot hall of famer under centre putting up points. After all Tom Brady has the most playoff wins of any QB ever and Bill Belichick is now tied with the most wins amongst any head coach in NFL history which obviously helps but after a shocking first half performance last week the Patriots defense stepped up when it mattered most with the likes of Devin McCourty who intecepted Joe Flacco to give the Pats defense some momentum, Jamie Collins who was a beast and showed why he has the talent to become of the best linebackers in the league, Patrick Chung (3rd and goal he broke up a pass to Owen Daniels to hold the Ravens to a field goal and only go ahead by 3 points: 31-28) and Duron Harmon who’s late interception in the final quarter essential killed the game are all unsung heroes. Even Darrelle Revis had a torrid time against Steve Smith in the first half but in the second half he proved why he is in the top 3 best corners in the league with a bounce back performance.
Defense doesn’t completely win championships like the cliche goes but you need your D to come up big when it matters most which is what New England’s did last Sunday and come today’s game they will need to up their play for the entire contest in order to help give this Patriots team a shot at another Lombardi. The same goes for the Colts defense as they will have to maintain the high level of play they pulled off last week against Denver which showed physicality and passion in order to stop this Pats offense. In their last encounter back in week 11 when the Patriots won 42-20 the run game as well as Rob Gronkowski tore the Colts defense apart simply because they were more physical and just outright stronger than their opponents. Vontae Davis is one of the best 3 corners in the league so he will need to be at his best to inspire this Colts defense if they are to pull off victory and that is exactly what he did last week as he inspired his partner Gregg Toler to put in a stellar performance which made the Broncos offense look ordinary.
Doing that against the Patriots will be a slightly more challenging task but after winning in Mile High last week the Colts have the momentum that all teams need when it comes to the postseason. The same goes for New England as they will feel they have the momentum required to go all the way. For me the key to this game again is Rob Gronkowski; as I’ve said for weeks now if he is healthy the Patriots will win the Super Bowl but of course productivity comes in to play as well. His blocking will help the run game when the Patriots attempt to do so and they will hope it will work better than last week considering Brady thew 50 pass attempts and dragged the team out of a tough spot but here is the key for me: When Gronk has 40 plus receiving yards the Patriots are 11-1 including the postseason and 2-2 when he has been held to less. If Gronk gets going then this one is over especially as this season Indianapolis main weakness has been tight ends so when going up against the best in the league it could be the difference maker.
Of course we know Andrew Luck has 40 touchdowns and is having a career year, he has TY Hilton, Moncrief, Nicks along with fellow wide out Reggie Wayne who can still make plays and Boom Herron who has taken the running game in to his own hands in the past two weeks but in playoff games of this magnitude home field advantage is a big thing and despite the Colts’ brilliant performance last week versus Denver I think a win over Belichick and Brady in their own back yard with a Super Bowl place at stake is too big of a task for the Colts to overcome in this stage of Luck’s career. Luck is a brilliant quarterback and Indianapolis will have to score at least 30 points to win this one but I don’t see that happening; Under Andrew Luck the Colts will have great moments and in his career he will raise the Lombardi trophy on probably more than one occasion but the Patriots are prepared for this situation, Brady and Belichick have striven so much for this moment and are determined to lead the franchise to a 4th Super Bowl title to cement their greatness in NFL history… A win tonight gives them that chance and they’ll be sure to capture it.
Prediction: Colts 27-37 Patriots