The Indianapolis Colts and New England Patriots always seem to put on a show when they face each other in the playoffs, and Saturday night's matchup should be no different.
With a confident Andrew Luck going up against playoff veteran Tom Brady, it's anyone's guess as to which quarterback will lead his team to victory. However, the winner of Saturday's matchup will be determined by more than just the play of each team's quarterback.
Let's take a look at some other key matchups that will go a long way toward deciding who comes out on top in this divisional round contest.
T.Y. Hilton vs. Aqib Talib
One of the best cornerbacks in the NFL, Talib has helped prevent a well-below-average Patriots secondary from being a complete failure this season.
During Weeks 3-5, Talib had the tough task of facing Vincent Jackson, Julio Jones and A.J. Green, all arguably top-10 wide receivers in the NFL. Talib did nothing more than hold that trio to a combined 203 yards and not a single touchdown.
Meanwhile, Hilton just finished posting the third-highest receiving total in NFL playoff history with 224 yards and a pair of touchdowns against the Kansas City Chiefs.
So what gives? Hilton is red-hot, but Talib is one of the best in the business.
It all comes down to Andrew Luck's ability to accurately find Hilton, especially on the Colts' patented deep plays. With Luck's incredible play during the second half of Saturday's win and Hilton's confidence due to his play as of late, it's hard to go against that success.
Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen and Co. vs. Colts' Rush Defense
The Patriots' rushing attack is an underrated part of their offense, which is understandable given that Tom Brady is their quarterback.
But don't overlook Stevan Ridley, who hasn't fumbled in four straight games and sports an average of 4.58 yards per carry during that span. Shane Vereen's receiving ability out of the backfield can also cause matchup nightmares for the defense.
Even LeGarrette Blount is a huge threat—especially considering his 189 yards, two touchdowns and 7.9 YPC in Week 17.
Meanwhile, the Colts ranked 26th in the NFL at defending the rush this season, allowing 125.1 yards per game on the ground.
Many will focus on Brady during this game, as he is the Patriots' offensive leader, but if New England can dominate with its rushing attack—which seems likely—then this contest might not even be close.
Robert Mathis vs. Nate Solder
Solder, the Patriots' left tackle, will have his hands full with Mathis, the regular-season leader in sacks with 19.5.
Solder had an exceptionally strong year in 2013, but not many offensive linemen had success containing Mathis. In fact, Mathis has five sacks in his last four games and has only been held without a sack in four of his 17 games (playoffs included) this year.
Expect Mathis to apply heavy pressure on Brady, which will make life difficult for the new England quarterback. Don't forget, Mathis also led the league with eight forced fumbles during the regular season.
Stevan Ridley hasn't had trouble with ball security lately, but if there were to be any time when that issue would spring up again, it would be against the NFL's leader at forcing fumbles.
The bottom line is that Mathis should cause disruption against both Brady and the Patriots' running backs. That is, unless Solder shows he truly can perform against the NFL's best.
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