This Saturday night the Patriots head to familiar territory in Indianapolis to take on the surging Colts, yet with unfamiliar quarterbacks under center. It won't be Brady vs Peyton like the good, kinda old days. We have a rookie quarterback in Mac Jones who seems prime to win the Rookie of the Year Award, especially if the Pats can grab the #1 seed in the AFC. On the other side is Carson Wentz who is quietly having a solid season and helped take his team from a horrible (1 - 4) start to being in the playoff picture, currently the 6th seed in the AFC with a record of (7 - 6).
Both teams want this game bad! But who wants it more? I believe that we'll see a very interesting chess match between the master Bill Belichick and Frank Reich. Which head coach will be able to see and make in game changes when and if necessary.
One thing we know about Belichick other than he's the greatest head coach in NFL history, is that his main goal defensively is to take away the opposing offenses number one threat. In this case that man would be the leagues leading rusher Jonathan Taylor. But here's the thing - for as much praise as we give New England's defense, they're just 18th in the league against the rush allowing 114.5 yards per game. So we think Bill will stack the box and try to make Carson Wentz beat his defense. But like I mentioned earlier, Wentz is having a very solid season with 22 TD's and only 5 INT's, completing his passes at a 63% clip with around 3,000 yards passing. So what will Bill do?
Maybe coach Belichick knows it will be extremely difficult to stop or even slow down the leagues leading rusher behind a mountain of an offensive line. So perhaps the Patriots defense will play more players with speed, even 5 - 6 defensive backs in on most plays. Why would he do this? The answer is Jonathan Taylor is not just a strong old school running back. The kid has electric speed and if he breaks through the line he has the potential to take the rock to the house. Therefore having faster, more athletic players that can chase down Taylor or better yet use their speed to get to Taylor quicker before he busts one for 70 yards down the sideline. If Bill does stack the box than watch out for Michael Pittman Jr., T.Y. Hilton, Zach Pascal and even Nyheim Hines coming out of the backfield. The Patriots are ranked 3rd against the pass so this may be the route the master takes defensively.
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On offense we already know what they're going to do. The Patriots will run the ball and then run it some more sprinkled in with a few intermediate throws by Mac Jones. Maybe he'll get 4 pass attempts this week! Will that be enough? Well the Colts are ranked 12th against the pass only allowing 230 yards per game. The game changer and X-Factor in the game is how the Colts rushing defense holds up against the Patriots dominant run game. The Patriots have the 9th ranked rushing offense, averaging 124 yards per game. Conversely the Colts are just 16th in the NFL against the run, giving up an average of 112 yards per game on the ground. Now, Damien Harris who has led the Patriots rushing attack all season is out in this match up with hamstring issues. So it will be the Rhamondre Stevenson show in Indy and he's a tough runner with big play making ability.
Time to find out who wins and why? As we all know, head coach Bill Belichick wants to take away the oppositions number one threat. It may not be that easy here with the leagues leading rusher Jonathan Taylor and a great offensive line blocking for the sophomore stud. Plus the Pats are suspect when it comes to run defense. The question is, will Belichick allow Taylor to get his yards between the 20 yard lines, but when they get in the red zone there's less room to work and open the playbook. Belichick may use this strategy and just stack the box on D when the Colts get close to the red zone.
As for the home team Colts, well I think they'll have to be well balanced on offense and give the Patriots defense a bunch of different looks that New England hasn't seen on film. The Colts want the Patriots to respect their pass game in order to open things up for Taylor in the backfield. If the game is close late in the 4th quarter, a tired defense can be taken advantage of by a young RB with power, agility and stamina. The Colts also run some nice packages with 3 tight end sets which can cause confusion to defensive backs and even linebackers.
I believe that Mac Jones is going into his toughest game of the year. There's pressure to get the top seed in AFC. He'll be on the road in a dome where the noise level can be a huge factor because Colts fans love and suport their team. It's also been rumored they pump up the volume when the opposition has the ball. And if Indy has success slowing down the Patriots run game, Mac Jones will have to step up and make some plays he hasn't been asked to do before. I think both teams have done their homework, studied film and in practice ran a lot of scout offense the Patriots and Colts tend to do situationally.
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That's why I say this game is a chess match between two head coaches who have to rely on their players executing during the game. The stats and recent 7 game winning streak by New England suggest they have the upper hand in this match up. However, the Colts have won 4 of their last 5 games and the one loss was a shootout with the defending champion Tampa Bay Bucs and Tom Brady with all those weapons on offense.
The Colts need to win this game because they're home in the dome, they have to keep pace for a Wild Card spot in the AFC and most importantly a win Saturday night over the rough, tough best coached team in the NFL will boost team moral and take that adrenaline into the post season. The Patriots need this game just as bad to stay atop the Chiefs for the top seed in the conference. This should be a hard nose hitting game which would seem to favor the Patriots. But people sometimes forget that the Colts are a tough, bring your lunchpail to work kind of team that have the ability to beat teams in several ways. What's important and can't be overlooked is the fact that the Patriots and Colts are playing their best ball late in the season.
Prediction: This will be a close game, a low scoring match up, a fast game with a lot to expect from both teams on the ground. Multiple turnovers will likely determine the outcome of this contest and both defenses will step up in 3rd and short scenarios. Creativity is key, trick plays and misdirection to try and throw off the defense. If Carson Wentz goes out and plays a clean, turnover free game, I think the Colts will get the victory. It appears most people are taking the Pats and I understand why. But eventually every team gets punched in the mouth. Prediction Colts 20 - Patriots 13