Thursday, January 2, 2014
Possible playoff opponents: Colts
By Field Yates
Continuing our look at the Patriots' possible playoff opponents, here's an overview of the Indianapolis Colts, the team we deem to be the second-most favorable matchup.
Division status: AFC South champs
Versus Patriots: No matchup in 2013
How these two can face off: If Indianapolis beats Kansas City on Saturday and San Diego beats Cincinnati on Sunday
Top offensive player: Quarterback Andrew Luck. The top pick in the 2012 draft, Luck has more passing yards in his first two NFL seasons than any other player in NFL history. A very good athlete to boot, he's carried this offense that has been torched by key injuries.
Top defensive player: Defensive end Robert Mathis. A strong candidate for defensive player of the year honors, Mathis led the NFL with 19.5 sacks. He recently surpassed Dwight Freeney for the most sacks in franchise history and is a menace off the edge.
How they can stress the Patriots: The NFL is a quarterback-driven league, and though wide receiver Reggie Wayne is out and the Colts have dealt with numerous other injuries, Luck is talented enough to change the course of a game on his own. While he didn't throw for 4,000 yards, Luck had several standout performances this season reminding many why he was regarded as the best draft prospect in over a decade when he came out of Stanford in 2012. The NFL is the ultimate team game, but we've seen strong play from quarterbacks make impactful differences in the playoffs. Luck is the best quarterback on the three possible playoff opponent rosters.
How the Patriots can stress the Colts: In terms of yardage allowed, the Colts are an average pass defense. The Patriots have favorable matchups in their passing attack, particularly if they can find a way to push this defense vertically (a healthy Aaron Dobson would aid that cause). The secondary in Indianapolis is made up of some familiar former AFC East defensive backs (Vontae Davis, LaRon Landry and former Patriot Darius Butler included) and is a group that the Patriots wide receivers and backs can be productive against. Additionally, while the Colts made the biggest trade of the season in adding 2012 third overall pick Trent Richardson, their running game is not a major strength. That bodes well for the Patriots, who have been susceptible defending the run this year.