The Indianapolis Colts may very well still be riding a high from their Wild Card victory over the Kansas City Chiefs on Jan. 4, but they will have to be completely focused if they want to walk out of New England with a victory.
Indianapolis overcame a 28-point deficit in the second half against the Chiefs to earn a date with the 12-4 Patriots. New England coach Bill Belichick certainly took note of that game as he mentioned in a preview on ESPN.com:
It was a tremendous performance coming back in the second half. They did a really good job in all three areas of the game. This is a team that's well coached, that's had a real good season. They beat some of the best teams in the league, in both the AFC and the NFC. They've just been impressive.
Now that we know the Patriots won’t be overlooking the Colts, let’s take a look at who will be the biggest stars and dig into a prediction for the divisional round game.
Andrew Luck may have captured all the headlines with his four passing touchdowns against the Chiefs, but the Colts will need to rely on their running game if they want to secure the upset.
New England ranked an abysmal 30th in the league in rushing yards allowed, which means there will be plenty of open lanes for Trent Richardson and Donald Brown to run through. Look for Brown, who has simply been better than Richardson since the latter came over from Cleveland, to be the feature back as the game wears on.
The Patriots linebacking corps is dealing with a number of injuries, including one to Brandon Spikes. Dane Fletcher will start in place of Spikes, but this already vulnerable run defense will not be the same without one of its leaders. Brown found the endzone against the Chiefs and will do so again in New England.
New England’s run defense is poor, but the Colts’ version isn’t much better.
Indianapolis is 26th in the league in opposing rushing yards and will have trouble stopping Stevan Ridley and LeGarrette Blount. If the Patriots seize an early lead, look for them to rely more on the running game than Kansas City did when trying to protect a lead against the Colts.
Blount posted an incredible 189 rushing yards and two touchdowns the last time he took the field against Buffalo and will look to exploit the holes in Indianapolis’ defense much to the same effect.
What’s more, Blount has the chance to make an impact in the kick return game.
If it seemed like the typically untouchable Tom Brady was on the ground more than usual this year, that is because he was.
Brady was sacked an incredibly high 40 times this season, which was the highest amount since 2001. While there has been plenty of hand-wringing about the lack of weapons Brady has at his disposal in the receiver and tight end spots thanks to injuries and roster attrition, the offensive line breakdowns have been even more concerning from a New England perspective.
Look for the NFL’s leading sack-man Robert Mathis (19.5 sacks in the regular season) to make Brady’s life difficult all game long. Mathis recorded a sack against Kansas City and will be the key to the Colts’ attempt to slow down one of the best postseason quarterbacks of all-time.
Prediction: New England 31, Indianapolis 21
New England handed Luck the worst loss of his career last year to the tune of 59-24, but look for this game to be much closer.
The Colts will ride their momentum from the comeback against the Chiefs in the early going against a rusty Patriots team that is coming off a bye. However, Blount will bust a long kickoff return and exploit the holes in Indianapolis’ run defense to give the Patriots the lead at the half.
Brady will hit on a number of short passes in the second half, which will at least limit the damage Mathis does in the backfield, and the Patriots will pull away in the final minutes setting up a showdown with either Denver or San Diego in the AFC Championship.
Follow and interact with Bleacher Report writer Scott Polacek on Twitter @ScottPolacek.