The wild comeback win by the Colts, coupled with the Chargers' win over the Bengals, sends Indianapolis to New England to face the Patriots in the divisional round.
AFC East Lead Writer Erik Frenz breaks down a matchup that he thinks favors the home team:
At first blush, Indianapolis is a good matchup for New England. With a one-dimensional offense and a one-man pass-rush, the Colts are exactly the kind of team that makes a game plan easy for Bill Belichick, who has earned a reputation for taking away a team’s best weapon. Offensively, that title belongs to wide receiver T.Y. Hilton; the Colts’ defensive MVP is clearly outside linebacker Robert Mathis.
Not coincidentally, those two players made key plays in the Colts’ big win over the Chiefs on Sunday. Hilton had two touchdown catches, including the game-winner, and Mathis recorded a sack-fumble.
Typically, cornerback Aqib Talib would be the one to match up with Hilton, who is the Colts’ best receiver. But Hilton’s speed, quickness and small frame make him a tough matchup, especially when considering Talib’s hip injury. If he struggles, cornerback Alfonzo Dennard may be the matchup for Hilton. Dennard was having a standout season of his own before suffering a knee injury, but with a week to get healthy, he could be up to the challenge.
Mathis led the NFL this year with 19.5 sacks. That’s 14 more than anyone else on the team, so taking him away could cause a ripple effect across the defense if the unit is unable to get pressure on Tom Brady. Thus, left tackle Nate Solder’s matchup with Mathis will be key for the Patriots to be successful on offense.
There are other players who must be accounted for as well. Running back Donald Brown remains a steady presence in the offensive backfield, and tight end Coby Fleener has shown up in spots in the receiving game. Defensive tackle Cory Redding and cornerback Vontae Davis have made some plays of their own.
Still, Hilton and Mathis should be the focal points on offense and defense.
Don’t be surprised if the Patriots go to great lengths to take those two players away. Bracketing Hilton with a safety over the top will be important, and fortunately for the Patriots, Devin McCourty returned to practice after missing Week 17 with a concussion. The Chiefs completely forgot to cover Hilton deep on the game-winning touchdown, but don’t expect the Patriots to make the same mistake.
Leaving Solder on an island with Mathis may not be a bad idea to start, but if the Colts want to get Mathis wide of the formation, the Patriots may be forced to put a tight end on him.
There are several keys to this game if the Patriots want to win, from running the ball against a soft front seven to dropping seven in coverage and inviting the run when the Colts have the ball. But on both sides, the game plan starts with eliminating one very key player.
The Patriots’ ability to do that could determine their chances of winning the game.