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AFC Championship Preview: Colts vs. Patriots
By Mike Tanchevski

Familiar foes, with a slightly different cast of characters, face off in the AFC Championship Game in Foxborough, Massachusetts on Sunday. The New England Patriots and Indianapolis Colts meet for the third time in the Bill Belichick Era; New England beat Indianapolis 24-14 in 2003 and lost to the Colts 38-34 in 2006.

This is New England’s 11th AFC Championship Game, their fourth consecutive. Tom Brady will play in his ninth AFC Championship in 13 years as the starting quarterback.Tom Brady

Andrew Luck will play in his first AFC Championship Game. The third year player has a 3-2 record as a starting quarterback; he’s led the Colts to three consecutive playoff appearances.

New England was able to stave off a determined Baltimore Ravens team to reach the championship game. They only ran the ball thirteen times for 14 yards versus the Ravens. Relying on the pass, Brady completed 33-of-50 pass attempts for three touchdowns and one interception in the playoff game.

Baltimore exploited the New England secondary for 292 yards and four touchdowns; Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco was four of seven on passes thrown 15-plus yards down field.

Indianapolis dominated Denver in their divisional playoff victory. The Colts shut down the Broncos’ offense, limiting Peyton Manning to 211 passing yards and one touchdown. Despite two interceptions, Luck led the Colts to four scoring drives, throwing for 265 yards and two touchdowns.

New England defeated Indianapolis in a regular-season game at Lucas Oil Stadium on November 16. Entering the second half with 14-10 lead, the Patriots scored four touchdowns on five possessions to overwhelm the Colts.

Indianapolis was held to 19 yards rushing on 16 attempts in the game. Luck did pass for 303 yards, completing 23-of-39 passes, with two touchdowns and an interception.

Brady, intercepted twice in the first half, threw two touchdown passes in the second half in a mediocre effort.

Running back Jonas Gray provided the highlights for New England. The third team running back rushed for 201 yards and four touchdowns. He hasn’t been a force in the offense since, falling in disfavor with the coaching staff after reporting late to practice. He is listed as probable with an ankle injury for this Sunday.

Indianapolis Keys to Victory 

  • Indianapolis has demonstrated that their offensive line has gelled in the post season, allowing one sack in 87 pass attempts and improved their rushing average to 106.5 yards per game.
  • Luck must continue to make plays with his legs, scrambling for first downs and extending plays under pressure.
  • Continue using running back Daniel Herron, who’s rushed for 119 yards on 35 carries and caught 18 passes for 117 yards in two playoff games, as a multiple threat.
  • Hang on to the football. Luck led all NFL quarterbacks with 13 fumbles, losing six. Herron fumbled twice (losing one) against the Bengals in the Colts playoff opener. T.Y. Hilton fumbled three times and lost one.
  • Pressure Brady with the defensive front and linebackers. He was sacked eight times in the four losses the team suffered.
  • Legally bump receivers; an offense predicated on timing will suffer if routes are disrupted. Beating up tight end Rob Gronkowski, who is Brady’s biggest weapon with 82 receptions and a team-high 12 touchdowns, will especially crucial to the Colts' defensvie game plan.

New England Keys to Victory

  • Tom Brady has to play like the Hall of Fame quarterback that he is. He owns or will own a multitude of NFL Playoff records including appearances, wins, completions, touchdowns, and yards. 
  • Protect Brady because he doesn’t like to be hit. The frustration in his body language is evident when he’s harassed.
  • Run the football in order to keep the Colts off balance. The Patriots have rushed for 480 yards against the Colts in their last two games.
  • Belichick’s experience is critical to New England's defensive success. Look for him to disguise his secondary's coverage in order to confuse the young and inexperienced Luck.
  • New England is 16-4 all-time at home in the playoffs, in large part because Belichick takes chances on third and fourth downs. They will use their home-field to their advantage.
  • The kicking game is a wash as place kickers Adam Vinatieri and Stephen Gostkowski are first and second in the league in field goal percentage. Both have a wealth of post season experience.
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