NFL: New England Patriots at Indianapolis Colts Preview

Tom BradyWith the NFL regular season reaching its climax, the (6-3) Indianapolis Colts and (7-2) New England Patriots, two teams whose rivalry has seen a string of recent successes, go at it with high stakes on the line (8:30pm EST, Sunday on NBC).

The teams, both leading their respective divisions, have a lot to play for as the winner of the game could play a big role in who gets the first seed, home field advantage and first round bye in the postseason.

Colts, Patriots Rivalry is More Than Just Manning and Brady

In 1970, when the Colts were in the AFC East, a divisional rivalry with the Patriots began. At the time, the meetings between the two teams were just that. On paper, a rivalry existed because of proximity but there was not the same passion and fire that is associated with some of the most historical rivalries.

It wasn’t until 2001, one season before NFL realignment moved the Colts to the newly formed AFC South, that the rivalry began to heat up. Leading the charge was Tom Brady (pictured). A back-up quarterback for most of the season, Brady received his first ever start against the Colts. Brady defeated the 2-0 Colts by a score of 44-13 and went on to win his next five games against the Colts, including defeating them twice in the playoffs.

With an intensity building because of the recent playoff meetings, the Colts won the next three meetings, including the 2006 AFC Championship which led to Indy winning their first Super Bowl in 36 years.

In 2007, the Colts and Patriots made history as they met in week nine of the NFL season, both with perfect records. The 8-0 Patriots came back from a deficit as the defense intercepted Manning on a late drive en route to a 24-20 victory. It was the first of the Patriots’ five victories in their most recent seven games against the Colts.

While the rivalry has oft been cited as “Manning vs Brady,” it is more than that. Even with Manning a member of the Denver Broncos, the two teams continue to meet once a year in the regular season and continue to give fans high-scoring and memorable games.

Don’t Call it a Comeback

“Brady is no longer an elite quarterback. His decline is well underway.” This comment was made by Sam Monson in an article on ESPN back in June of this year. Eyebrow-raising sure, but it wasn’t the first time a writer had asserted that Brady was no longer a top five quarterback in the league and it wouldn’t be the last time either.

In September, just three months later, Yahoo Sports wrote of Brady’s continued decline, calling him “one of the most disappointing players in 2014.” Of course, the article was speaking specifically on Brady’s fantasy stats but the numbers weren’t lying.

Brady posted a season and career-low QBR of 11.6 in a particularly bad loss for the Patriots. He threw for 159 yards, completing just 14 passes. He had two interceptions, just one touchdown.

But that was week four. That was the last week Brady threw more interceptions than touchdowns, the last week his passer rating was under 95 and the last week, to date, that the Patriots lost a game.

Since then, Brady has thrown for two or more touchdowns in each of the team’s five games. He had thrown fewer than two in each of the four games prior. Since week four, Brady has 20 TD to just one interception. Only Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers, has posted better numbers in that span. Brady has also thrown for over 290 yards in four of the last five, something he hadn’t done once prior to this point in the season.

Additionally, the Patriots are averaging over 30 points a game in that span. They had only scored 30 once before then.

This is a different Patriots team and one that the Colts and every other AFC team should fear. If the numbers mean anything, Brady’s decline was exaggerated and with the full return of Rob Gronkowski, New England is a legitimate threat in the conference.

Considering that Andrew Luck has yet to win against or even play well against the Patriots (4 TD, 7 INT) in his only two starts, the recent surge of Brady and the New England offense could not have come at a worst time.

The New England Defense vs Andrew Luck

Here’s the thing. This game is not being played between Luck and Brady, it is between the Patriots and the Colts. This means Brady vs the Indianapolis defense and Luck vs the New England defense. And given how the Patriots offense held Denver (31.8 PPG) to just 21 in their last game, it could be a long day for Luck.

That said, the Colts too have been hot as of late. They are coming off a 40-24 victory against the New York Giants and have won six of their last seven after starting the season 0-2. Luck has been at times, masterful, throwing for three or more touchdowns in six games this year. His 26 total touchdowns is second to only Manning. He also has nine interceptions, which is tied for sixth highest in the league.

When it comes to getting to the QB, the Patriots have been a top 10 team. They have intercepted 10 passes which is tied for seventh best and have forced 10 fumbles which is tied for ninth best. A turnover prone QB, Luck could have some issues against the Patriots pass defense.

New England Patriots at Indianapolis Colts Betting Picks

Luck’s career includes a 0-2 record against the Patriots but that was with both games taking place in Gillette Stadium (NE). This is the first time Luck will play the Patriots at home at Lucas Oil, a place where he is 3-1 this year and 16-4 in his career.

Looking at the betting lines with the top online sportsbooks, the Colts are around three-point home favorites with the game’s total points spread set at 57.5pts.

  • Given how both of these teams are coming off of huge offensive performances where both quarterbacks threw four touchdowns, it is a safe bet to take the over on the total points. Besides, only once in their last four meetings has the total been under 58 and even then, the score finished at 56. Take the over at 57.5pts @ odds of -110 with BetOnline or 5Dimes sportsbooks. Bovada goes over 58pts at slightly better odds of -105.
  • As for the winner, take the Patriots to get another big win. Their offense is humming along and looks unstoppable. The Colts defense will have their hands full and with how Brady has been playing lately, it is hard to imagine they will be able to stop him. So take the Patriots +3pts on the spread at best odds of -110 with 5Dimes Sportsbook and to get a key road win in their quest for the postseason and another Super Bowl victory.