We're spoiled around these parts. We take it for granted the Patriots will make the playoffs every year. If the season doesn't end with a Super Bowl victory, the season is construed as a failure. Such is the pressure on Tom Brady and company when the Patriots host the Indianapolis Colts Saturday night.
I wrote prior to the 2011 season that the regular season means absolutely nothing to me. The Patriots finished 12-4? Woo-hoo! I don't care. I have become numb to regular season records and accolades. If the Patriots lose Saturday night, the twelve victories this year mean nothing to me.
Having said that, the Patriots got the best case scenario for their first matchup in the 2013-14 playoffs. I wrote last week how, of the three options, the Colts were the team I would have preferred come to Foxboro. I feared the Cincinnati Bengals the most, but I overestimated Andy Dalton by a wide margin. The Kansas City Chiefs lost star running back Jamaal Charles early on, but that was no excuse for blowing a 38-10 lead to the Colts in the second half. Hey, Kansas City, think you should double-cover T.Y. Hilton? Maybe?
Colts' second year quarterback Andrew Luck became a bona fide NFL star on January 4, 2014 against Kansas City. He threw for 443 yards and four touchdowns. He also had his signature Franco Harris Immaculate Reception/Doug Flutie Hail Mary pass play when he recovered a fumble by his running back at the goal line and soared through the air to draw the Colts to within a touchdown. I call it the Superman Play. I'm looking to copyright it.
Yet I think the Patriots should thank their "luck"y stars for facing the Colts. The Colts have no defense (ranked 20th in the NFL). They have no running game (ranked 20th). And they have no receivers. I won't go so far as the Boston Globe's Dan Shaughnessy to say the Colts won't be a challenge for the Patriots. I will say I am very confident the Patriots will win.
Weather conditions look to be lousy Saturday night in Foxboro. Temperatures are expected to be in the 50's, but heavy rain and gusty winds are expected. This is disconcerting for the Patriots as it may limit Brady's ability to exploit the Colts secondary. On the bright side, it will be "Blount Force Trauma" weather. Yes, I am looking to copyright that as well.
The rain should make the running games a big factor. This could make the loss of inside linebacker Brandon Spikes a bigger factor than I initially believed. In a bit of a surprise, the Patriots placed Spikes on IR this week with a bad knee. Combine that with the losses of Vincent Wilfork, Tommy Kelly, and Jerod Mayo, and the Patriots are paper thin up the middle of their defense. Fortunately, the Colts have Trent Richardson (2.9 yards per carry) as one of their running backs. UConn's Donald Brown is a bit more of a threat.
If the Colts are to win, it will be safe to assume they will need another superhuman effort from their young quarterback. The problem is Luck really has no one to pass to. Veteran Reggie Wayne is done for the year. Darrius Heyward-Bey, who isn't that great, likely will not play. T.Y. Hilton is OK, but he is no Demaryius Thomas, or even Dwayne Bowe. Tight end Coby Fleener, Luck's Stanford teammate, has the obvious rapport with his QB. Am I shaking yet? No. Should I be worried the Colts signed former Patriot Deion Branch? Laughable.
Under ideal circumstances, the Patriots should win and win easily. The rain worries me. Fumbling worries me. I've been a big Stevan Ridley supporter, but if the conditions are wet, I will tackle him myself if I see him set foot on the field. Brady is a terrific bad weather quarterback. Indianapolis is a dome team. Belichick feasts on young QBs. All signs point to...
Patriots win, 35-24.
I got off to a good start picking games last weekend, going 2-0 on the Saturday games. But I lost both Sunday games to even out at 2-2. Here's my quick look at the other three NFL playoff games this weekend (which is the best sports weekend of the year):
New Orleans Saints at Seattle Seahawks-- Seahawks have the best pass defense in the league. They are playing at home. Seattle wins, 24-17.
San Francisco 49ers at Carolina Panthers-- This will be a good, old-fashioned defensive struggle. 49ers win on the road, 13-10.
San Diego Chargers at Denver Broncos-- Should be nice weather conditions in Denver Sunday so I can't use "Manning can't play in the cold" as an excuse. Things always have a way for working out for the Patriots to get home games in the playoffs, though. San Diego pulls off the upset, 38-34.