The Super Bowl champion Indianapolis Colts. The unstoppable New England Patriots. Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Marvin Harrison, Randy Moss. The only thing wrong with this game is that both teams play in the same conference and can't meet in the Super Bowl.
Although the "Duel in Dallas" didn't live up to all the hype, this Pats-Colts matchup will. The folks here at ESPN wanted us to look into this game a little more closely, so we fired up the AccuScore Super Computer, rolled up our sleeves and threw on a pot of coffee.
Based on current data, AccuScore shows the Patriots with the edge, winning 62 percent of AccuScore simulations by an average score of 31-27. In the baseline simulation averages, Brady throws for a shade over 300 yards and three touchdowns while Manning comes in just under 300 yards and two touchdowns.
However, if this game were played in New England, the Patriots would roll, winning 77 percent of game simulations and by an average margin of 10 points.
Clearly, Brady isn't overrated, but we wanted to see how the Patriots would fare with Matt Cassel starting at quarterback. Not surprisingly, AccuScore data shows that there is a pretty big drop-off between Brady and Cassel.
Cassel puts up decent numbers in average simulations with around 200 yards passing, one touchdown and at least one interception. With Brady out, the Patriots would look to run more, making Colts safety Bob Sanders a critical player. With Cassel starting, the Colts win in 69 percent of simulations, according to AccuScore forecast data.
Randy Moss has bought into the Patriots' philosophy and is having one of his finest seasons.
So we know Brady is valuable and we know Moss is valuable, but just how valuable is Moss? In 2004, Bill Belichick picked up much-maligned RB Corey Dillon, who caused turmoil in the Bengals' locker room. Thanks to the team-first mentality of the Patriots, Dillon had his best season as a pro, rushing for more than 1,600 yards and earning a Super Bowl ring.
Now it appears Belichick has done the same with Moss, who is on pace to have his best season ever. Clearly, there is something in the water in New England that turns selfish players into good teammates.
Certainly, Moss' stats make his value plain as day, but what isn't in the stat sheet is how much value he adds to other receivers on his team. Moss is almost always the target of double coverage, thus freeing up other receivers in single coverage.
No team did more to improve in the offseason than New England, with key acquisitions such as Moss, LB Adalius Thomas and WR Donte' Stallworth. What doesn't get a lot of attention is what the Colts did to bolster their roster. We wanted to see just how much each team improved, so we played this year's Patriots against last year's Colts and then flipped it, playing this year's Colts against last year's Patriots.
The Colts' running game has gotten much better with Joseph Addai carrying the load and not splitting carries with Dominic Rhodes. Although Indy's defense was solid in last season's playoff run, it was subpar during much of the regular season. A matchup between this year's Patriots and last year's Colts shows New England winning in 69 percent of AccuScore simulations, a 7 percent jump in favor of Brady and the gang. In a matchup of this year's Colts playing last year's Patriots, the Colts win 70 percent of simulations, a whopping 32 percent increase for Manning and the Colts.
After pouring over AccuScore data, the most interesting observation involves the Patriots and their likelihood of an undefeated season. The Patriots currently have a 30 percent chance of going 16-0, which is a statistically huge number. However, should the Patriots defeat the Colts in Indianapolis, New England's probability of going undefeated literally doubles to an astounding 60 percent.
Our apologies to Nick Buoniconti, Don Shula, Bob Griese, Jim Kiick and the rest of the 1972 Dolphins. They were a great team, but AccuScore data says there is a really good chance the bubbly might stay in the fridge this year. A 60 percent chance if the Patriots win on Sunday.
Gibby McCaleb, an NFL analyst for AccuScore, is a contributor to ESPN.com.