Monday, January 6, 2014

NFL Playoffs: Divisional Round - Indianapolis at New England

Continuing with the Divisional Playoffs, let’s dive into the other AFC match-up!

Indianapolis at New England
A match-up people begged for three-plus years ago. Now, it’s a welcomed, but not as requested match-up. When it was Manning-Brady, the Colts-Patriots match-up was about two proven QBs trying to show who was better that particular year. Now Colts-Patriots is a chance to see a changing of the guard. Will Andrew Luck beat Tom Brady? Can the newcomer beat the seasoned vet? Let’s take a look!
Indianapolis Colts
Starting with the visiting Colts, a team that is pushing through without their offensive leader. Most would say that Luck has been the leader since he got there, but too many forget that Reggie Wayne was the voice of reason and the most veteran presence for the offense. Since being injured, Wayne has been a great coach for the WRs and Luck from the sidelines. T.Y. Hilton, LaVon Brazill, Darrius Heyward-Bey, Da’Rick Rogers, and Griff Whalen have been playing well. Heyward-Bey has been hurt, but the other WRs have been playing fantastic. Although Hilton has been a great deep threat, the Colts have been missing Wayne’s ability to find the first down marker and consistently get 3rd down conversions. (The Colts recently added former Patriots WR Deion Branch, we’ll see if he helps at all before the game this weekend) TEs Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen have given Luck a massive security blanket across the middle and in the red zone. Since the trade with the Browns, Trent Richardson has been surprisingly bad. Donald Brown, however, has flourished; maybe the Browns knew something we didn’t. When the Colts get Vick Ballard back, they may unload Richardson elsewhere, or they’ll try to train him and groom him into a back made for their system. Regardless, the Colts have a great offense as long as they take care of the ball, and I know that’s an obvious thing, but other than giving the other team the ball, it stalls Luck’s momentum. Luck needs to be on a roll with all things clicking to win. Look for Belichick to disrupt that just like he does every other QB he faces.
Defensively, the Colts aren’t great but they can get the job done. They gave up 44 points to the Kansas City Chiefs. AT HOME. After only giving up 7 in Kansas City a few weeks prior. I’m worried about Indianapolis on D, but they’ve surprised me before. If the weather is bad enough, the Colts might have to deal with the running game of the Patriots. Yes I just said the running game of the Patriots as a good thing. Shane Vereen and LeGarrette Blount have been doing really well behind an offensive line that is finally able to stay healthy and play together. Look for Belichick to rely on Vereen and Blount against a “weak” front 7 of the Colts. I put weak in quotes because the whole front 7 isn’t weak, but they aren’t the best either.
New England Patriots
For the home team, we start with one of the best QBs in football the last 10+ years. Tom Brady has been a QB to look up to for young footballers since he took over for Drew Bledsoe in 2001. Brady is accurate, smart, cautious, and strategic. Brady has to be with the lack of “superstar” talent on the roster. Without Rob Gronkowski, the season was rougher than in years past. However, with newcomer Danny Amendola, who also missed time this season, the struggle was a little easier. Also, the rookies, Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins, have played their hearts out and have had a few coming out parties throughout the season. The one consistent piece from the last few years for the Patriots this year was Julian Edelman. He had over 100 catches and tried to fill Wes Welker’s shoes this season. He always seemed to pop up when Brady needed him most. As mentioned above, the best “new” aspect of the Patriots offense has been the running game. With the aforementioned Vereen and Blount, the Patriots finally have a respectable running game, which they haven’t really had since they had Corey Dillon. Brady has made all of his teammates look like some of the best WRs he’s ever had.
Defensively the Patriots will be down one of their most reliable players, Brandon Spikes. The Patriots just placed Spikes on season-ending IR today. Without Spikes the Patriots will need to have big games out of Chandler Jones, Dont’a Hightower, Joe Vellano and Rob Ninkovich. The front 7 of the Patriots is similar to the Colts, in that it isn’t particularly strong, but you can thank injuries for that. Missing Vince Wilfork has meant being without their anchor in the middle of the defensive line. The team knows how to play without Wilfork and they’ll figure out what to do without Spikes. The secondary for the Patriots is better than it has been in awhile. Aqib Talib, Kyle Arrington, Alfonzo Dennard, Steven Gregory, Devin McCourty and Adrian Wilson have been playing really well for Belichick and his ever-evolving defense. In my opinion, the secondary is the best aspect of the Patriots defense. Although the D-line helps cause pressure, the secondary has WRs and TEs blanketed so well that the D-Line will eventually get to the QB even if it’s after their initial effort. With a good secondary, Belichick can play around with his formations and that’s what he loves to do.
Indianapolis playing New England may not have the say ring to it that it used to, but this game will be entertaining down to the final gun. This game could be a blow out or it could be a close game, it’s all dependent on if one or both defenses show up. I think it could all come down to the foot of a former New England kicker. Indianapolis will be driving to try and win the game, and one of two things will happen, 1) Luck gets Adam Vinatieri into range and the Colts win 30-27 or 2) the Patriots defense stops Luck on 4th and 5 and Brady kneels to finish the game. I think the Patriots make a stand on defense and pull out the win, 28-27.