I doubt anyone expected that this annual Week Nine matchup between the New England Patriots and the Indianapolis Colts would weigh so heavy on the shoulders of Peyton Manning and the rest of the Colts' organization.
Especially when Tom Brady went down in Week One.
The Patriots have since managed to put together a 5-2 record, which is good for a share of the AFC East lead. The Colts, on the other hand, could possibly fall to five full games behind the Tennessee Titans in the AFC South.
The Colts don't need to win the division to make it into the playoffs, but it won't be an easy road to a wild-card spot.
If the Patriots defeat the Colts this week, it will put Indy at 3-5. With games against Pittsburgh, San Diego, Jacksonville, and one more against the Titans still in their future, Indy would need to pull off a major run as the weather turns inclement if they want to see their record any better than 8-8 come season's end.
We certainly can't count the Colts out of this game. Although, I've been waiting for them to wake up for weeks now, and they continue to put up weak performances.
In comparing Peyton Manning to Matt Cassel this season, Cassel has a better completion percentage, more yards per completion, less interceptions, and a better overall quarterback rating.
Who'd have thunk it?
The Patriots' defense is banged up, but they've shown that they have what it takes to put up a strong performance. Richard Seymour has recorded three sacks and 15 tackles in his last two games, showing that his past injuries have not diminished his abilities.
While the Patriots have been without their main running backs for the last few weeks, Kevin Faulk and BenJarvis Green-Ellis have filled in quite nicely. Faulk is averaging 5.9 YPC this season. He may very well eat the Colts' run defense alive.
The Colts have beaten the Patriots in three out of their last four meetings, but the 2008 season has proven, week after week, that the past means nothing. This should be a different, yet interesting, Week Nine slugfest between the league's premiere organizations.