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Colts vs Patriots: AFC Divisional Round

 

 

Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts roll in to Gillette stadium on the back of one of the greatest comeback wins in playoff history when they overcame the Kansas City Chiefs last weekend 45-44. Luck engineered a comeback which saw him bounce back from 3 interceptions in the game to tally up a total of 443 yards as well as 4 touchdown passes along with 29 completions out of 45 attempts.

 

It was Luck’s first playoff victory and the second largest comeback in postseason history as the Colts bounced back from 38-10 deficit. Tonight they face the New England Patriots who have stared adversity full in the face throughout this 2013 season. The Patriots have found a way to win all year throughout various tough spots and scenarios with the team finishing the year 12-4. Middle linebacker Bradon Spikes went down this week ending his season which means that he joins the likes of Vince Wilfork, Jerod Mayo, Sebastian Vollmer and Thomas Kelly which shows how depleted this defense core is plus it is impossible to forget that on offense superstar Rob Gronkowski is out with an ACL and MCL injury but we’ll get to that later.

 

Despite the injuries on defense Rob Ninkovich and Chandler Jones have been shining stars all year with the two combining for 19.5 sacks this season. Jones is in his sophomore season and leads the New England pass rush with 11.5 sacks. Fellow sophomore Dont’a Hightower will suit up at running back along with athletic linebackers Dane Fletcher and rookie Jamie Collins so although they are thin at key positions they have the talent to succeed. These linebackers will need to stop in form Colts running back Donald Brown who continues to impress; last week he had 55 yards from 11 carries and a touchdown. Jones and Ninkovich are no slouches in the running game either so despite the fact that pass rushers don’t traditionally shine against the running game the fact that they are willing to do dirty work to help the team is typically of the Patriot way and the winning identity Bill Belichick puts in his men.

 

To get to where they are is a testament to Belichick as a head coach and in the playoffs we know anything can happen so if this Patriots team did manage to win the Super Bowl it would surely be his greatest achievement to date. His main challenge tonight is to stop Colts wideout T.Y. Hilton who is coming in to this match on the back of his best career game with him going off last weekend as he caught two touchdowns and finished with 224 receiving yards. The Patriots secondary will have a tough challenge against him but we’ll hope that the likes of Aqib Talib and Devin McCourty can stop his blistering speed with smart defensive blame to limit his output; Hilton had 100 yards and 2 touchdown passes when the two teams went head to head in 2012.

 

The last time these two teams met New England destroyed the Colts 59-24 but a lot has changed since then. Andrew Luck continues to show why he is one of the best quarterbacks in the league already despite it only being his second year; he has 11 game-winning drives in his career already and with a record of 22-10 Luck has one more win that Tom Brady from his first 32 career games (21-11). With that being said Tom Brady may not be having one of his best seasons statistically but as a leader there is nobody better as he has managed to pull his team out of many deep holes this year with late victories over the Saints and Browns as well as rallying back from a 24-0 deficit to defeat the high flying Denver Broncos!

 

More than likely the winner of tonight’s matchup will face Denver in the AFC Championship game which sets up a mouthwatering encounter either way. Tom Brady and this Patriots team seem to have a feel of destiny around them with a win tonight setting them up with a shot at reaching another Super Bowl, the 6th of the Belichick-Brady era. Despite losing Rob Gronkowski to another season ending injury, Wes Welker to the Broncos and Aaron Hernandez to unforeseen circumstances New England continue to grind out victories this season. If anything despite their problems they have gone back to basics in recent weeks following Gronk’s injury against Cleveland and have established a power running game with LaGarrette Blount leading the way by decimating opposing offenses. His season is picking up at the right time with the 27 year old running back becoming a key part of New England’s offense heading in to the postseason; he set a team-record 344 all-purpose yards along with a personal best 189 yards on the ground and two touchdowns in the season finale against Buffalo.

 

Brady and Blount celebrating

 

 

Along with Blount the Patriots have Stevan Ridley who is perfect for the one-two punch running game to go with Blount. Ridley has speed and elusiveness which can go a long way to helping the Pats succeed in the playoffs providing he can cut out the high profile fumbling issues that surround him. Thankfully the emergence of Blount takes the pressure of of Ridley as being labelled as the team’s primary running back and when you take in to account that fellow back Shane Vereen is one of Tom Brady’s favourite targets it shows you the talent the Patriots still have on this team despite their many losses. Vereen is a valuable weapon in a depleted passing game with him turning up in the big games like the one against the Broncos earlier in the season. Vereen missed a chunk of games with a broken wrist but has 427 yards and 3 touchdown receptions on the year and he will be an asset to this offense heading in to win or go home time.

 

The key tonight will be the success of the Pats offense as Tom Brady has the ability and the know how to pick off weak points in the Indianapolis secondary. He will use the run game whenever necessary and thanks to its success he can rely on play-action plays which he executes to perfection. Brady has a 99.8 passer rating on play-action passes this season in comparison to his general passer rating for the year of 87.3. Despite the statistics he has improved in the second half of the year and finished the regular season with 4,343 passing yards along with 25 touchdowns to 11 interceptions. The offensive line will need to protect the superstar quarterback from the Colts’ main pass rusher Robert Mathis who has been rejuvenated this year with the 33 year old playing one of the best seasons of his illustrious career; he leads the league with 19.5 sacks this season and when you consider the team themselves have 42 on the year that is outstanding.

 

Brady has Julian Edeleman in the passing game to rely on like he has done throughout most of 2013 especially when Gronk missed the early part of the season and since his season ending injury. Julian Edelman defines what a Bill Belichick player is all about as he is so productive in the head coaches system and has come up big with Brady in many matches this year. For the first time in his career Edeleman hauled in over 100 catches and racked up over 1000 receiving yards as he finished the regular season with 6 touchdowns. With rookie wideout Aaron Dobson ruled out and Kenbrell Thompkins questionable it falls to the likes of Edelman, Vereen and 2013 summer acquisition Danny Amendola to get things done for Terrific Tom in the passing game. Personally I feel now is the time for Amendola to shine as he has shown his toughness to overcome injuries and he clearly has a good rapport with Brady that will be effective enough to come up big when it matters most which is now in the playoffs.

 

Despite a troublesome groin injury and some growing pains in this offense Amendola ended the regular season with 663 receiving yards and two touchdowns. With the Patriots’ playoff journey starting tonight Amendola will need to pull his weight and ensure he can reach Edelman’s level of production so that Brady has two valuable and reliable wideouts. The playoffs are a clean slate and anything can happen which is something we have seen a lot over recent years as getting hot can end with your team lifting that Lombardi trophy high in the sky. Tom Brady and the Patriots may be 7-7 in the postseason since 2005, he started his career with 10 straight postseason wins, but Terrific Tom holds the record for most playoff victories with 17. Three more wins would leave him on an unprecedented 20 victories in crunch time and with a 4th Super Bowl ring from 6 appearances in the big one cementing his place as the greatest QB to play the game. Each of the last three times the Colts and Patriots have gone head to head in the postseason has resulted in the winner going on to win the Super Bowl so whoever comes out on top tonight could well go on to win it all come February 2nd at MetLife Stadium. For the Patriots they always confront adversity full in the face and a victory tonight will show their metal. Defying the odds are what great teams are made of so if Tom Brady and co pull out a win tonight who’s to say that can’t go all the way because when the games on the line there’s nobody better than Brady to lead your team in to battle.

 

It’s playoff time!

 

BST&N’S 2013 NFL Predictions From The Playoffs To Individual Awards

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It’s almost here, but if you weren’t excited enough about the NFL returning in a couple weeks, here are a few more reasons. It’s time to make some predictions that will inevitably have clear cut outomes and boggle the minds of some while sparking some pretty intense debates. I think I have them all right, though. Here are my picks for all eight division winners, the four Wild Card teams, each conference’s championship matchup, the Super Bowl, league leaders and major award recipients.

AFC East (2): Patriots – Nine straight division titles when the team has been quarterbacked by Tom Brady? Yeah, make it 10 for New England. While they undoubtedly will be transitioning on the field this season, they are still fairly high above the other three teams in the division. Plus, their quarterback never runs into butts.

AFC North (4): Bengals – Get used to hearing “Dalton to Green” and get used to seeing the Bengals in the postseason (even if it is just for one game) for the third straight year. Cleveland will probably finish fourth.

AFC South (3): Colts – The Colts made an unbelievable turnaround in 2012 and it seems to me they are not done improving. Eleven wins last season was good, but I see them hitting at least 12 this year, including making a push to overtake the Texans late in the year with a huge win over them in Week 15.

AFC West (1): Broncos – Obviously. This one will probably be the biggest division win by any team this season. I say 14-2 for Denver with San Diego the closest to them at 7-9. Welker…and Decker…and Thomas might play a role in their success as well.

Peyton Manning wil lead the Broncos to another division title.

Peyton Manning wil lead the Broncos to another division title.

AFC Wild Card (5): Texans – Houston has three of the best players in the league in Arian Foster, Andre Johnson and J.J. Watt. The supporting cast is not bad either and Matt Schaub obviously has what it takes to lead a team to the postseason. I just think the Colts will steal the division from them sooner or later and Houston will wind up in the five-spot.

AFC Wild Card (6): Ravens – Though their defense is gong to look quite different, the Ravens should be able to get enough out of Joe Flacco to back in to the playoffs as the conference’s No.6 seed. From there, I wouldn’t be surprised if they were bounced immediately as I’m a little wary that Flacco might have nothing left to motivate him.

NFC East (3): Redskins – As long as RG’s knee can hold up for 16 games, the Redskins are poised to repeat as NFC East champs. He will be an x-factor for them this season, leading them to big wins over the Packers, Falcons and Giants and clinching this division before the final night of the season.

NFC North (4): VikingsAdrian Peterson will carry them to the division title in 2013. That’s really the only way I see that happening for the Vikes, who will have to contend with the Packers and maybe even the Lions or Bears. Green Bay finishes a very close second, but will be on the outside of the playoff picture looking in.

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A Few Points About The Patriots-Texans Divisional Playoff Game

The last time the Patriots played the Texans, it was pretty easy. This time, however, it likely won't be.

The last time the Patriots played the Texans, it was pretty easy. This time, however, it likely won’t be.

It’s almost here. The rematch of the biggest game in Texans history. Thus, the new biggest game in Texans history. As kickoff between the defending AFC Champion Patriots and the revenge-minded Texans approaches, here are some things to keep in mind.

While many of the core of the Patriots players have been there early (and often) in their careers, it is the first playoff game for eight key members of the team. They include Brandon Bolden, Alfonzo Dennard, Aqib Talib, Shane Vereen, Michael HoomanawanuiDont’a Hightower, Chandler Jones and, perhaps most notably, Brandon Lloyd.

Lloyd has played the most regular season games without getting to play one in the postseason with 128 in his career.

In his 23rd career postseason game, Tom Brady could become the first quarterback to ever amass 17 playoff wins. His idol, Joe Montana had 16 in his 16-year career. Brady’s playoff record currently sits at 16-6. So, we got that going for us.

Also, we have the support of self-proclaimed nerd and eerily accurate predictor, Nate Silver, who has an uncanny knack for knowing exactly what will happen before it happens. Silver, who appeared on ESPN’s First Take earlier this week, explained why it will be the Patriots and Seahawks facing off in Super Bowl XLVII three weeks from now.

Silver correctly predicted the winner of 49 of the 50 states in the 2008 presidential election and was also right on the money in all 35 of the Senate races that year. Needless to say, he’s caught the ear of a few people. It can’t hurt to have him on our side.

Just to make things seem a little more comfortable, 11 of 12 ESPN experts have picked the Pats to win the rematch against the team they dominated a little over a month ago. Tedy Bruschi, Mike Reiss and Jackie MacMullan of ESPNBoston.com all picked the home team to win as well and were joined by simulations run by Madden ’13 and AccuScore.

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Patriots Can’t Fall Into Familiar Trap Against Texans

Jets receivers Braylon Edwards (left) and Santonio Holmes celebrate a playoff upset in 2010 that no one saw coming.

Jets receivers Braylon Edwards (left) and Santonio Holmes celebrate a playoff upset in 2010 that no one saw coming.

Could they have us all right where they want us?

Remember back to 2010. The first of three straight years of a dominant Patriots offense. An eight-game winning streak. A 14-2 regular season. Rob Gronkowski was just beginning his Hall of Fame career. Rex Ryan was a few pounds heavier.

The situation is all too familiar for Patriots fans. Think back to two short years ago when our beloved Pats took the field at Gillette Stadium on a Monday night in December. The opponent was the New York Jets. The hoodie was a full-blown parka. Remember now?

With the AFC East still potentially up for grabs, the Jets looked like the team from Little Giants. It was quite a good night for Patriots fans across New England, you see, because at the time, the Jets were actually good. They were playoff contenders. Heck, they went to the AFC Championship Game.

And the Patriots absolutely had their way with them behind 326 yards and four touchdown passes from MVP candidate Tom Brady. The final score?

45-3.

No one in the New England area thought the Patriots would be able to do any wrong for the rest of the year. Plans for a fifth Super Bowl appearance were in the works.

Fast forward a few weeks. The Jets, after winning a Wild Card game against the Colts, were back in Foxboro for another frigid showdown against their rival Patriots. This time, however, everyone knew they didn’t have a chance.

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Patriots 2012 Regular Season By The Numbers

On the surface, it is easy for any fan to see just how good or bad of a season their team has had. Whether it be wins and losses or total points put up, some stats tell the story, god or bad, of the year of their favorite team.

What most fans fail to sometimes realize, however, is all the stats that go into making an NFL team successful. Here are a bunch you would never even think to remotely consider about the 2012 season of the New England Patriots.

You name it. If it can be statistically tracked in the NFL, it’s probably in this post.

0 – The number of wins the team had when their leading rusher was under 40 yards for the game (0-2).

0 – The Patriots had no two-point conversions on the year. Just kind of odd.

0.5 – Brandon Bolden averaged half a yard more per carry than Stevan Ridley did.

1 – The number of franchises to score 500 points four different times. New England accomplished that this year after 500-point seasons in 2007, 2010 and 2011 as well.

1 – The New England offense ranked first in the NFL in total yards, yards per game, points and points per game in 2012.

1 – Of the four members of the team who finished the year as the starting secondary, only one (Devin McCourty) was on the team last year. Alfonzo Dennard, Aqib Talib, Steve Gregory were the other three.

1 – Vince Wilfork‘s four forced fumbles were tied for first in the NFL.

1 – The number of full games that tight ends Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski were both on the field for the whole contest – the season finale against the Dolphins.

1 – The number of NFL quarterbacks to throw at least one touchdown pass in all 16 regular season games for three straight seasons – Tom Brady in 2010-12.

2 – The number of teams to ever win 10-plus games in 10 consecutive seasons – the Patriots became the second to accomplish that this year.

2 – Their two-game losing streak in Weeks 2 and 3 was tied for their longest losing streak since they lost four straight in the 2002 season.

2 – This season was the second time they have gone undefeated against the AFC East, joining the 2007 team.

2 – The number of teams to ever record 400 first downs in a season – the 2012 Pats and the 2011 Saints.

2 – The number of points that Stephen Gostkowski needed to tie the all-time single-season Patriots scoring record set by Gino Cappelletti in 1964.

3 – Pass plays in the NFL this season longer than Shane Vereen‘s 83-yard reception in Week 12.

3 – It had been three years since the Patriots lost four or more games in a season (10-6 in 2009).

3 – The Pats have scored 500-plus points in three consecutive seasons.

The Patriots' offense has been unstoppable in the three years since drafting this duo.

The Patriots’ offense has been nearly unstoppable in the three years since drafting this duo.

4 – New England had four different players lead the team in receiving in their 16 games – Brandon Lloyd (3), Wes Welker (9), Gronkowski (3) and Vereen (1).

4 – It was Brady’s fourth career season of throwing 30 or more touchdown passes, good for a tie for the fourth-most all-time.

4 – Welker finished four receptions behind league-leader Calvin Johnson, who had 122 on the year.

4 – The Patriots have made the playoffs in each of the last four seasons.

4 – The team had four different players lead them in rushing in their 16 games – Ridley (13), Bolden (1), Julian Edelman (1) and Danny Woodhead (1).

5 – There have only been five Patriots running backs to rush for 1,200 yards in the team’s history. Ridley became the fifth this year.

5 – Wilfork was elected to the fifth Pro Bowl of his career and will start on the defensive line for the AFC.

5 – The team has held its opponents to 20 points or less in five of six games since Nov. 18 (5-1).

6 – In 16 games, the Patriots only lost six fumbles.

6 – The Pats finished six spots higher in total defense this year compared to last season when they finished 31st in the league.

6 – New England has been a top-10 offense in the NFL for six straight seasons.

7 – The amount of consecutive games that Brady needs to throw a touchdown pass in to break the all-time record of 54.

7 – New England’s longest winning streak of the year from Week 7 through Week 14.

7 – The number of points that Brady’s total QBR trailed Peyton Manning‘s for tops in the league.

7 – McCourty was one of seven NFL players to return a kickoff more than 100 yards on the year.

7 – The team sent seven members to the Pro Bowl in 2012.

New England's seven Pro Bowlers in 2012 are the third-most in the league.

New England’s seven Pro Bowlers in 2012 are the third-most in the league.

7 – Last year’s NFL leader in interceptions, Kyle Arrington, had seven fewer interceptions in 2012 than a year ago. He had seven in 2011.

8 – The number of years it had been since the team had a 1,200-yard rusher before this year. Corey Dillon rushed for 1,635 yards in 2004.

8 – Rob Ninkovich led the team with eight sacks on the year.

8 – The Pats had eight return TD’s on the season.

9 – The number of games in which the starting offensive line of Nate Solder, Sebastian Vollmer, Ryan Wendell, Dan Connolly and Logan Mankins were all on the field together.

9 – Brady now ranks ninth on the NFL’s all-time passing list with 44,806 yards. He needs 1,427 yards to pass Vinny Testaverde.

9 – Ridley finished the season as one of just nine non-kickers in the top-40 in the league in scoring.

9 – The team has a nine-game division win streak heading into next season.

10 – The number of consecutive 10-win seasons for the Patriots – the second longest such streak ever (16).

10 – The team scored 30-plus points 10 times in their 16 games in 2012 (8-2).

10 – The number of players who had a rushing attempt for the Pats in 2012 led by Ridley’s 290 carries.

10 – New England had 10 more sacks than it allowed in 2012.

11 – They also had 11 more interceptions than their opponents did.

11 – The combined number of points New England fell by in its four losses against the Cardinals (2), Ravens (1), Seahawks (1) and 49ers (7).

11 – The number of current and former Pro Bowl running backs that Ridley out-rushed in 2012.

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2012 NFL Wildcard Weekend: Patriots AFC Implications

The AFC Playoff Picture

The stage is set and the teams are locked in. Just like the good ‘ol days, Brady & Manning are resting up for divisional round match-ups at home next week. Who the future Hall-of-Famers square off against will be more clear following the first AFC Wild Card match-up:

(6) Cincinnati Bengals @ (3) Houston Texans – 01/05 – 4:30 – NBC

After losing their final two regular season games and slipping out of a first-round bye, the (12-4) Texans host the (10-6) Bengals on Saturday. Houston started out hot with an (11-1) record but got dismantled by the Patriots in Week 14 and lost to Minnesota and Indianapolis in Week 16 and 17 respectively. While the momentum is not in their favor, you have to believe HC Gary Kubiak can muster up a gameplan to utilize stud Arian Foster.

Take away his 16 CAR/96 YDS/1 TD performance in Week 17, Foster has been less than impressive in the other three losses. Examine his Week 6 performance against the Packers, 17 CAR/29 YDS but 2 TDs saved his day. In Week 14 against the Patriots he posted a 15 CAR/46 YDS/1 TD line. Two weeks later he rushed 10 times for 15 yards against the Vikings.

If the Bengals can limit Arian Foster, they have a shot of traveling to Mile High stadium to take on Peyton Manning. That is of course under one condition; Andy Dalton (3669 YDS 27 TD) needs to play the game of his life. His highlight reel TD connections with A.J. Green (1350 YDS 11 TD) have been impressive this year, his 16 INT – not so much. Add in another 4 FUM and Dalton averages 1.25 turnovers per game, yikes. They do have intriguing weapons like Andrew Hawkins and Jermaine Gresham that can be gamechangers. Old friend BJGE broke 1,000 yards for the Bengals and continues to do what he does best, protect the football and pound the rock in between the tackles.

Unless Cincinnati studies the game tapes of our Texan beat-down, I believe Andre Johnson, J.J. Watt and other skill players will prove to be too much for the young Bengals to handle. Thus stated, I predict Houston traveling to New England after a 31-21 victory that stays close until the fourth quarter.

(5) Indianapolis Colts @ (4) Baltimore Ravens – 1/06 – 1:00 – CBS

Has there been a better story than the transformation of the Peyton-less Colts? Rookie QB Andrew Luck (4,374 YDS/23 TD/18 INT) is living up to the hype of his number one selection and will battle QB Robert Griffin III for the ROY. Chuck Pagano’s perseverance through leukemia has inspired Indy to stay #chuckstrong and the team has gone from (2-14) in 2011 to (11-5) in 2012. Pagano was a secondary coach and then defensive coordinator for the Ravens before taking the head coach job with the Colts this year.

Similar to Houston, Baltimore has been on a December slide – losing their last four of five games. To their credit, they were defeated by Pittsburgh, Washington, Denver and Cincinnati – three of which are in the playoffs. QB Joe Flacco reduced his interceptions by two and added two more TDs in comparison to 2011, rounding off the season with (3,817 YDS/22 TD/10 INT). Ray Rice took a dip in production but turned in another solid season, gaining 1,143 YDS and 9 TDs on the ground. Combine that with 61 REC /478 YDS and you have one of the most dangerous weapons in the NFL.

While the Colts have young, budding talent in Luck, TEs Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen, WR T.Y. Hilton and RB Vick Ballard, this game will be a challenge on the road. Ray Lewis is poised to make his return after missing the last ten games with a torn tricep. Who knows though, the Colts just knocked off the Texans. The Ravens are 6-2 at home this year and you can bet on #52 bringing crazy amounts of energy and motivation in the middle of that defense. On the contrary, I predict Indianapolis to upset the Ravens 21-17 and head to Denver to take on Manning and the Broncos.

Are you ready for some playoff football?

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