Of the four divisional games, this is the only one that's not a rematch from the regular season.
Indianapolis is coming off a historic comeback victory over Kansas City that was both exhilarating and emotionally draining. There's no respite Saturday night for the Colts, as they head into one of the NFL's toughest challenges — a January game in Foxborough, Mass.
The Colts have had a tendency to fall behind early in games — as they did in the wild-card round, when they found themselves in a 28-point hole — and a repeat performance likely would be fatal against Tom Brady and the door-slamming Patriots.
Although he hasn't won a Super Bowl in nine years, Brady has been to five and has a gaudy 17-7 record in playoff games. His Colts counterpart, Andrew Luck, is 1-1 in the postseason.
Luck said Brady "has set the standard for success at the quarterback position," and that's hard to argue, considering the Patriots star has led his team to victory 41 times in games New England trailed or was tied in the fourth quarter.
However, Luck is cut from the same championship cloth. He has 11 such victories, the most by a quarterback in his first two seasons since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970.
Both teams know how to win close games, with New England going 8-4 in games decided by seven or fewer, and the Colts going 6-1 when the margin is less than a touchdown.
Coach of the year?
This has been one of Bill Belichick's best seasons, rivaling the 16-0 finish in 2007, and the 11 wins with Matt Cassel the following year after Brady went down with a season-ending knee injury.
Not only did the Patriots begin the season without their top five pass catchers from 2012 — among them Wes Welker, Rob Gronkowski and the incarcerated Aaron Hernandez — but they also went on to lose such standouts as defensive tackle Vince Wilfork, linebacker Jerod Mayo and right tackle Sebastian Vollmer. Still, they went on to win the AFC East and grab the second seed.
"Even the Bill Belichick haters in the media have given up," said CBS analyst Phil Simms. "Why would you bet against the Patriots? How much more information do we have to know?"
Astoundingly, this the 25th Colts-Patriots game for Indianapolis kicker Adam Vinatieri, who spent the first 10 years of his 18-year career with New England.
"It really never gets old," he told reporters this week. "Two great organizations, great coaches, great players, obviously. It's the Sox-Yankees, if you will. That kind of thing where I think both teams respect each other and know what comes to the table."
Vinatieri is New England's all-time scoring leader with 1,158 points, but has scored 37 points in his career against the Patriots.
By the numbers
How teams compare statistically. All stats are per-game averages, except for sacks and turnover differential, which is for the season (league rank in parentheses):
Category | IND | NE
Points scored: 24.4 (14) | 27.8 (3)
Points allowed: 21.0 (9) | 21.1 (10)
Pass offense: 232.8 (17) | 255.4 (10)
Rush offense: 108.9 (20) | 129.1 (9)
Pass defense: 231.9 (13) | 239.0 (18)
Rush defense: 125.1 (26) | 134.1 (30)
Sacks: 42 (11) | 48 (5)
Penalty yards: 36.0 (1) | 39.1 (3)
Turnovers: +13 (3) | +9 (8)
There's no discounting how good Luck is, or his many bailouts of the Colts this season. But it's awfully hard to pick against Brady at home at this point in the season. The Patriots will do something the Chiefs didn't — double-team Colts receiver T.Y. Hilton — and that will put the pressure on receiver LaVon Brazill and tight end Coby Fleener. Those are good players, but again it goes back to picking against Brady. PATRIOTS 24, COLTS 21Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times