Sunday, November 05, 2006

Patriots - Colts

We're about 4 hours from kick-off now, on what looks to be the best match-up that the NFL season has to offer us. Not only are these very possibly the 2 best teams in football, almost certainly 2 of the best 3, but they're teams with great records and history together.

  • This game will, I'm convinced, determine the home field advantage in the AFC play-offs. If the Colts win, they virtually clinch. They'd be 8-0, two games ahead of both New England and Denver, with the tie-breaker advantage against each of them. If New England wins, they'll be tied with the Colts for the best record in the conference, with the tie-breaker advantage, and 8 winnable games remaining on the schedule.

    Let me soften that first line somewhat - if the Colts win tonight, they will certainly be the top seed in the AFC come play-off time. If the Patriots win tonight, the will likely be the top seed in the AFC come play-off time. If is easy to imagine a scenario in which New England wins tonight, but ends up 1 game behind the Colts. It is very difficult to imagine a scenario (in which Manning doesn't get hurt - if he does, everything changes) in which the Colts win tonight and end up behind anyone else in the AFC.

  • One is never sure how much relevance past history between the teams matters. The Colts have struggled in Foxboro, struggled against the Patriots, during Manning's career, and particularly during the Belichick/Brady era in New England. Last year, however, they blew out the Patriots on a Monday night in November at Gillette. Did that "erase all of the demons" or was it a fluke? The Patriots were without Richard Seymour and Rodney Harrison. They had Duane Starks starting at corner, Tedy Bruschi playing his second game following his stroke comeback, and Mike Vrabel playing inside because of the failure of Monty Beisel and Chad Brown to handle the Patriots defense.

    The Patriots entered that game at 4-3, having allowed 180 points in their first 7 games, an average of 25 points per game. 6 of their first 7 opponents had scored at least 20 points. They'd allowed 27 points in a game, 28 points in a game twice, and forty-one (41)! against the Chargers. At home.

    That's a far cry from this year's team - Harrison and Seymour are playing, the addition of Junior Seau moves Vrabel back to the outside, and they've allowed only 87 points, an average of 12 points per game, less than half of what they were allowing last year. In only one of their first 7 games in 2005 did they hold a team to fewer than 20 points (the Bills, in week 7, scored 16) - in 2006 none of their first 7 opponents have reached 20. Their first 3 opponents reached 17, the last 4 have scored 13, 10, 6 and 7. They're playing entirely differently, much more like the teams that gave Manning and the Colts trouble in the past than the team they drilled last year. I don't know if the past means anything, but if it does, I think that the games from 2001-2004 are far likelier indicators than the game of 2005.

  • The Colts are a better offensive team than the Patriots, having out-scored New England by 38, 205-167, through the first 7 games.

  • The Patriots are a vastly better defensive team than the Colts, having allowed 66 fewer points, 153-87, through the first 7 games.

The Colts will score. The Patriots will score more. Final score - New England by 10, 34-24, something like that...



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