The No. 4 seed Indianapolis Colts will travel to clash with the No. 2 seed New England Patriots to renew a rivalry that has resulted in three playoff matchups since 2004.
This weekend not only marks the fourth time the two teams will meet in the playoffs but also turns to a new chapter in the rivalry and possibly the changing of the guard.
New England has had the same head coach and quarterback for the last 13 seasons with Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. Indianapolis is in its second season with Chuck Pagano and Andrew Luck, which also just so happens to be their second postseason together.
While the names at the top for the Colts have changed, the amount of success hasn't. As for the Patriots, three Super Bowls and a 17-7 record with the Brady-Belichick tandem is the closest to a dynasty the NFL has seen since the turn of the millennium.
Before the two teams begin the next stage of a rivalry that dates back to when the two teams were located in Boston and Baltimore, here is a breakdown of each position and who has the upper hand in each.
Defense: Indianapolis Colts
To be honest, neither defense has played incredibly well. But with the Patriots ravaged by injuries this season, the Colts defense looks like the better unit at this point—even after giving up 44 points to the Kansas City Chiefs.
The Colts also have an experienced lineman in Robert Mathis, who just so happens to be having one of the best seasons of his career without Dwight Freeney on the other end of the line. Mathis finished the regular season with another sack-forced fumble against the Chiefs in the Wild Card Round.
Brady is quite familiar with Mathis, being sacked by the 11-year veteran five times in his career. In an interview with ESPN's Field Yates, Brady talked about Mathis:
And like I said, it all starts with Robert Mathis and being the defensive player of the year, basically, 19.5 sacks, he kind of wreaks a lot of havoc. We've got to be able to figure out how to slow him down and then we've got to be really balanced on offense like we've been. We've got to run it, and when we throw, we've got to throw it good.
While the Colts defense didn't look particularly sharp against the Chiefs, Indianapolis will still have the best defense on the field when it faces off with the Patriots. But if the Colts defense allows the Patriots to put up 31 points in the first half, it might not be so easy to slow them down in the second half.
Running Backs: New England Patriots
The unpredictability of the Colts backfield actually hurts them here. Donald Brown has been good this year. Trent Richardson has been underwhelming, to say the least.
With the Patriots having a stable of backs that includes Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen and LeGarrette Blount, this is an easy position to decide.
But when it comes to the Patriots, it might be more about the offensive line than the running backs themselves. As Erik Frenz of Boston.com points out, the Patriots' running back trio owes its offensive line a little something extra for its blocking:
LeGarrette Blount should consider buying his offensive line a nice steak dinner. Take nothing away from Blount, who set a career-high for rushing yards in a game with 189, but the men up front were the key behind that achievement.
The offensive line gashed the Bills' defensive front by paving big holes at the line of scrimmage, and if that trend continues into the playoffs, the running game could be the Patriots' not-so-secret weapon in the most important games of the season.
This season, both Blount and Ridley have over 800 total yards while Vereen has over 600 total yards in just eight games after suffering an injury in Week 1.
With Blount serving as the bruising back, Ridley being the speedy back who eludes tacklers and Vereen catching passes out of the backfield, the Patriots have a back for every purpose that can get the job done.
Receiving Corps: Indianapolis Colts
This was the difficult one to decide. If Reggie Wayne were still lining up for the Colts or Rob Gronkowski for the Patriots, this could have been even more strenuous.
But after analyzing the two teams' receiving corps and knowing the status of Aaron Dobson is uncertain after he didn't practice Tuesday, according to Nick Underhill of The Republican, the Colts have the better receivers entering the divisional matchup.
While the Colts don't have a number of dynamic receivers, T.Y. Hilton has been one of the most explosive players in the NFL over the last two weeks. Thanks to two straight 150-plus-yard performances by Hilton, Luck officially has a No. 1 target following the loss of Wayne.
When a team specifically signs a receiver to serve the role of a player on the practice squad like the Patriots did, according to Mike Reiss and Field Yates of ESPN, the receiver must be pretty special.
Along with Hilton, the Colts also have Coby Fleener, Luck's teammate from college. The two receivers paired for three touchdowns in the win over the Chiefs and will look to repeat that success in the divisional round.
Quarterback: New England Patriots
While this is much closer than it may appear, Tom Brady still runs away with this matchup over Andrew Luck.
The 14-year quarterback has 22 more playoff games under his belt, has 13 more wins and has been a benchmark for both success and consistency. But going against a team that has proved no lead is too big, Brady hopes his team is up for the challenge, according to the Patriots' official website:
This team makes you earn it. You could have a 28-point lead but it really doesn’t matter unless there’s no time left on the clock. This is a team that’s good in all three phases, they put pressure on you to do the right thing on every single play. Hopefully that’s a skill set of ours, too. Hopefully we can go out there and play well on every single play and see if they can slow us down.
Simply put, Brady is one of the best playoff quarterbacks in the NFL. While football fans were baffled by the comeback that Luck staged, Brady has led six in his career.
The second-year quarterback has proved he is an emerging star with one playoff win. But until Luck consistently proves it, he will continue to look up to quarterbacks like Brady and Peyton Manning until he can replace them on the list.
If Luck wants to begin supplanting quarterbacks at the top of the quarterback plateau, he will need a win over Brady in the playoffs.
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