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NFL Playoff Preview: Indianapolis Colts vs. New England Patriots

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Saturday night in primetime it’ll be an inter-generational matchup at the quarterback position between young Andrew Luck, fresh off the first playoff win of his career, and the aging Tom Brady, who is hoping to win his fourth Super Bowl. Let’s take a closer look at the Colts and Patriots.

HOW THEY GOT HERE?
The Colts completed the second biggest comeback in NFL playoff history against the Chiefs, overcoming a 28-point 3rd quarter deficit to beat Kansas City and earn a trip to New England. Meanwhile, the Patriots enjoyed the week off after yet another AFC East Division championship. It wasn’t quite as easy as it’s been in past years, but New England won 12 games and earned the second seed in the AFC Playoffs.

INDIANAPOLIS OFFENSE VS. NEW ENGLAND DEFENSE
The Colts have had their rough moments offensively this season, but when they get going they can be close to unstoppable, and there’s no better example of that than the 35-point 2nd half they had against the Chiefs on Saturday. Andrew Luck and T.Y. Hilton were a lethal combination that were responsible for 224 of Luck’s 443 passing yards, with LaVon Brazill and Cobi Fleener also being frequent targets. However, things may not come so easy against New England. The Patriots will rely on Aqib Talib to help take Hilton out of the game, in what could be the most important one-on-one matchup of the game. New England will also go after Luck with pass rushers Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich, as they attempt to expose an offensive line that has had its problems this season. Luck has done well to use his legs to escape pressure this season, and he may have to do a lot of it against the Patriots. One area where the Colts may have a distinct advantage is running the ball against the 30th best rush defense in the NFL, especially with the injuries the Patriots have on defense. Indianapolis can’t always commit to the run, as they tend to fall behind early in games, but Donald Brown has had a nice season, and if they can get him a lot of touches early in the game, it could make things a lot easier for Luck, especially if he doesn’t have to worry about coming from behind. But if the Colts have to come from behind again, the Patriots will be in better shape than the Chiefs were to prevent Luck from pulling off another historic comeback because of their pass rush and the presence of Talib in their secondary.

NEW ENGLAND OFFENSE VS. INDIANAPOLIS DEFENSE
Giving up 44 points to an offense that had Alex Smith at quarterback doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence heading into a game against a team that has Tom Brady at quarterback. To make matters worse, there are some injury concerns for Indianapolis, especially in the secondary, which is the last place they can afford to be thin against Brady. The Patriots don’t have a particularly frightening or intimidating set of skill players, but Danny Amendola is healthy for once, Julian Edelman has been a headache for opposing defenses all season, rookie Kenbrell Thompkins has had moments of brilliance this season, and Shane Vereen is a versatile threat that needs to be accounted for. If Indianapolis is missing starters on defense due to injury, the Patriots have just enough skill players to be dangerous with Brady at quarterback, and forcing turnovers may be the only way the Colts can slow down the New England offense enough to give Luck and company a fair shot at winning without having to make another spectacular comebacker.

PREDICTION
Is this going to be the passing of the torch? Not just yet. The Colts remain notorious for getting off to slow starts, and that’s going to be a big problem if it happens against the Patriots; Brady and company will blow out Indy if the Colts aren’t ready to play from the start, and coming back on the road against the pass rush duo of Jones and Ninkovich is asking too much of Luck. New England 41, Indianapolis 24.

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