The New England Patriots (7-2) meet the Indianapolis Colts (6-3) this Sunday in the confines of a chilly Gillette Stadium. It's a 4:15 p.m. game start, and the weather calls for an overcast day with 10-15 mph winds in Foxboro, Massachusetts. The reception won't be the only thing that's cold as the Colts come into enemy territory, though. The long list of Colts injuries means the team will be relying on plenty of ice packs and ace bandages for all the banged up guys on the sidelines for this one.
Running backs Joseph Addai and Mike Hart, linebackers Gary Brackett and Clint Session, and cornerback Justin Tryon are all out of this game and won't even be in attendance. Receivers Austin Collie, Blair White, and Reggie Wayne are all listed as questionable. Defensive Ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis are on the injured list as well, but they have been through full practices and are not listed as out or questionable. Bob Sanders, a perennial Patriot killer, is out with a biceps issue.
Dallas Clark is another injury giving Peyton Manning fits. How will he be able to contend with the Patriots defense with that kind of decimated offense? Tight end replacement Jacob Tamme will keep trying to fill the Clark gap, and Austin Collie and Pierre Garcon will have to emerge as the new stars of the wide receiving corps if Manning has any hope of winning this game.
The Patriots don't appear to be taking any chances, and even Fred Taylor wants to come back and do some running for this game. As far as the defense goes, Bill Belichick called in help by bringing back an old favorite. Linebacker Pierre Woods came back to the team this past week after being released on September 4, 2010. The man who will serve as his mentor, Linebacker Jerod Mayo, is already playing like a champ with 104 tackles through just nine games, more than double the number two tackler, Patrick Chung (56).
All year long the Patriots have looked like they needed a tune-up, only winning three games by significant blowout-type margins. The Bengals, Dolphins, and Steelers all went down in flames to the Pats so far. They looked great last week in their latest blowout against the Steelers (39-26), but the Patriots have yet to notch a shutout or truly flat out dominate a good team, or any team other than the Dolphins for that matter. This game would of course be better if the Colts were at full strength, but it won't be a dud just because they're a bit out of whack. One can never underestimate the power of Peyton Manning to adapt to adversity and overcome it.
Tight End Rob Gronkowski is emerging as a potential superstar for the Patriots, and Deion Branch is making his transition to the team pretty seamlessly since he was brought in to replace Randy Moss. The offense is making the most significant strides in the way of improvement, but the defense is no slouch, either. Look for this to be a statement game with the Brady vs. Manning grudge match ending in Brady's favor this time.
Manning will have to get a super day out of Reggie Wayne and watch backups turn into bulldogs on Sunday afternoon to fight through this one for a win. He's going in with the better recent record in head to head match ups between these two teams, but he's also starting this game without some familiar fixtures on his team joining him in the huddle. Brady, on the other hand, has all the same trusted, tried, and true faces in front of him for this game and a few new ones (Like Hernandez and Woodhead) who've stepped up when times have been tough this year.
Look for the Patriots to figure Manning out on defense early, the running game exploding for the Pats to free up the pass, and a relatively easy Patriots win. It won't be so easy if these teams meet again with Manning's squad healthy and up to par, though.
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