New England (8-0) at Indianapolis (7-0)
Never in the 88 years that the NFL has been in existence have two teams with records this good played against each other.
In the last three meetings between the Patriots and the Colts, Indianapolis has won three times. But the tide has already started to turn in a very big way.
2005; When the Colts beat the Pats 2 years ago on November 7, they blew New England out with a 19 point margin. Manning was 28 of 37 for 321 yards and three touchdowns that day. The Colts didn’t even have to punt the football until the game was practically over and they scored more points against the Patriots defense than they ever had before. â€œWe got our butts kicked tonight,â€ Pats quarterback Tom Brady said in a very brief interview following the game.
2006; Brady and Manning next met on November 5 when New England was 6-1 and Indianpolis was 7-0. Before the game the Indianapolis defense was ranked 21st in the NFL in points allowed per game, and their poor record against the run had earned them the uncomplimentary nickname â€œswiss cheese defenseâ€. In a depressing performance, Brady was picked off 4 times and didn’t throw a touchdown all day. Peyton Manning by contrast went 20 of 36 for 326 yards and 2 touchdowns. A decent New England ground game featuring Corey Dillon who ran for 2 touchdowns kept The Pats in the game, and in spite of a -3 turnover margin they still finished only 7 points down as the Colts took it 27-20 and extended their record to 8-0.
2006 (Playoffs); The last time New England and Indianapolis met was in January of 2007, in the AFC Championship Game for the 2006 season. The Patriots rung up 21 points in the first half and led the Colts by 18. But in the second half Manning did a tremendous job of pulling his team back from the deficit. By the 4th quarter the game was see-sawing between a slim Patriots lead and a tie score, but with 2 minutes left on the clock and his team down by 3 points Manning engineered a touchdown drive that put the Colts out in front for the first time all game. With one minute left Brady tried to rally the Pats but he was picked off with only 24 seconds remaining. Manning had only to take a knee for the 38-34 win. At the end of the day he had passed for 349 yards and a touchdown.
It certainly seems as though the Pats have been creeping closer to figuring out the Colts, and there is also a big difference between the Patriots team that lost to the Colts last year and the Pats team today; New England has some huge new offensive weapons in their arsenal, chief among them wide receiver Randy Moss who leads the NFL in almost all receiving categories and wide receiver Wes Welker who is 2nd in the league with 56 receptions this year and ranks as the 8th leading receiver with 613 yards. This is not the same Patriots receiving squad that featured Reche Caldwell dropping 2 very catchable balls in the AFC Championship, one of them for a sure touchdown that would have ended any chance for a Colts comeback.
And New England is flaunting that newfound passing game. Trouncing the Redskins last week 52-7 brought about charges that New England is trying to put as many points on the board as possible, even at stages in a game where it’s clear that a win is out of their opponents reach. Guess what â€“ it’s true. After the Belichick spying scandal I guess these guys feel they have something to prove; namely that they can win without cheating.
The Patriots will get their chance to prove that when they come to Indianapolis this Sunday. They are around 6 point favorites to beat Indy this week, and they have covered the spread in every game this season as they have done in 13 of their last 14 games. In their last 3 games the Pats have scored 48, 49 and 52 points respectively. Will the Colts, their longtime nemesis finally fall beneath their swords? Their baptism by fire in this glorious season will answer that question and will be the true test of their mettle.