Sunday, 6:40 p.m. EST, Gillette Stadium
LAST TIME these teams met, in Week 11, New England's Jonas Gray rushed for 201 yards on 37 carries, 32 of those behind a six-man line. But lately the Colts' run defense has solidified and the Patriots' ground game has dried up, demonstrated by their 14 yards against Baltimore. The running lanes are not likely to be a major battlefront in this game.
The key for Indianapolis, as always against New England, is stopping Rob Gronkowski. He'll often face safeties—a matchup favoring the Pats, especially when the safety is LaRon Landry. The Colts will have to devise help-coverage concepts along the seams and the field numbers in order to double the All-Pro tight end. Perhaps we'll see "quarters"—a field-dividing man-zone hybrid coverage that keeps two safeties back. This would mean minimal blitzing, which isn't the worst thing; the Pats' O-line can be penetrated with just four rushers.
The Colts' offensive line struggled this season too, though it has been outstanding in two playoff games, yielding just one sack. Behind that wall Luck threw for 265 yards against Denver's stellar man-based secondary. The QB will face a similar challenge Sunday against the Pats' equally impressive man defense.
Last time around cornerback Darrelle Revis shadowed Reggie Wayne and stifled him, while Kyle Arrington defended T.Y. Hilton with safety help. Expect Revis to take Hilton this time and win that battle. The question will be who guards rookie wideout Donte Moncrief. Brandon Browner performed well last Saturday against another speedster, the Ravens' Torrey Smith, but left the game with a knee injury.
If the Pats win in coverage on the back, they'll take the AFC title. The Colts have been better on the ground and in their short passing game of late, but the athleticism of New England linebackers Dont'a Hightower and especially Jamie Collins trumps the threat posed by Indy running back Daniel Herron.
THE PICK: Patriots 27, Colts 21