Will history repeat itself during latest Colts-Patriots showdown?

The 8-0 undefeated New England Patriots play the 7-0 undefeated Indianapolis Colts on Sunday, in what will be the highest profile regular season game of the current 2007-2008 season. The general consensus, from the talking heads on sports talk radio to the fan on the street, is that the Patriots high-powered offense will prove to be too much for the Colts, leading to yet another New England blowout. But, to look ahead to the game on Sunday, we must look back to the past. More specifically, the AFC Conference Championship Sunday in January 2007, when the Colts beat the Patriots 38-34 and went on to take home the Super Bowl crown.

A fumble recovery in the Colt’s end-zone, a Corey Dillon TD run and an Asante Samuel interception return for a touchdown had the Patriots up big early. In fact, the Colts went into half-time down 21-6. But, of course, we all know what happened next. Playing at home under the dome in Indianapolis, Peyton Manning and the Colts orchestrated the largest comeback in Conference Championship game history. The Patriots defense could only hold the offensive juggernaut of Manning, Harrison, Addai, Wayne and company in check for one half. On the opening drive of the second half, the Colts marched down the field and Manning scored the team’s first touchdown of the game with a 1-yard scramble. The flood-gates had opened, and the team went on to score another 25 points en route to the win.

All those expecting a Patriots blowout this weekend should pay very close attention to last year’s epic battle. Sure, the Patriots offense is reaching historic proportions – averaging by far more points per game, 41.4, than any team ever – but the Colts defense is also better than last season. The Colts have the #1 ranked pass defense in the game, giving up a measly 165.4 yards per contest. Their run defense, which was much maligned during certain points last year, has solidified in giving up 107.4 yards per game for a rank of #13 in the league. The defensive line, led by sack-master Dwight Freeney, is playing with more discipline – respecting the run more and being more selective in rushing the quarterback. The Colts defense overall is the second toughest in the league to score on, giving up a mere 14.6 points per game.

On the other side, the Colts offense is not to shabby either, putting up 32 points per game and gaining just about 400 total yards per contest – and that’s with soon-to-be Hall of Fame receiver Marvin Harrison missing significant time because of injury. The video game numbers the Patriots offense is putting up may be overshadowing what Manning and company are doing in Indy, but the Colts offense is just about on par with what they’ve done in year’s past. Of course, the Colts will be facing a New England defense that’s giving up 15.9 points per game, good for fifth in the league. The ranking of fifth in the league also extends to both their team run and pass defensive numbers – the Pats are giving up 87 yards on the ground and 181.5 yards through the air per game.

So, what do those numbers mean and who will win on Sunday? More or less, we expect a repeat of last year’s Conference Championship game. Just as they’re done with every team they played this year, the Patriots will surprise the Colts defense early with their speed at wide receiver and the deep passing game. We expect the Pats to come out and dominate both sides of the ball and take a big early lead. But, just like last year, the Patriots defense just isn't dominant enough to contain Manning and the Colts offensive horses, particularly when the team goes into hurry up mode – they have a tendency to overwhelm defenses with a mix of play action passing, screens, and Joseph Addai runs. In the end, the Patriots should hold off the Colts and head back home with a close win, but, as history tells us, don’t underestimate the Indianapolis offense – even if they’re down by 15 points at the half.

No comments: