Pats vs. Colts Preview
Indianapolis, IN - Tom Brady has returned from major knee surgery and Peyton Manning has moved on without his longtime head coach, but when it comes to their teams' places in the standings, little has changed for the NFL's last two MVPs.
The New England Patriots and Indianapolis Colts again look like Super Bowl contenders, and the Patriots will try to derail the Colts' 17-game regular-season winning streak as they renew their star-studded rivalry Sunday night.
Oddsmakers from online sports book Sportsbook.com have made the Colts -3 point spread favorites (View NFL odds) for Sunday’s game (Game Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 74% of bets for this game have been placed on the Colts -3 (View NFL bet percentages).
New England and Indianapolis are the only franchises to win more than 70 percent of their games since the start of the 2001 season, and they have combined to win half of the eight Super Bowls in that stretch.
Personnel changes haven't slowed either team this year. While the Patriots (6-2) have relied on a patchwork defense to help them to a commanding lead in the AFC East, the Colts (8-0) have a two-game lead on the rest of the conference under first-year coach Jim Caldwell.
"It will be a little different looking across the sideline not seeing (retired coach) Tony (Dungy)," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. "(But they're) 8-0, leading the league in defense in points allowed. ... They're a team offensively that can pretty much do whatever they want to do or need to do. I don't think they are limited in any way. They never have been and they certainly don't look like it now."
Indianapolis, though, has looked somewhat vulnerable in its last two games, the most recent a 20-17 home win over Houston on Sunday that would have gone to overtime had the Texans made a field goal as time expired.
With his team still unbeaten, Manning could be the frontrunner for his second straight MVP. Favorite targets Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark are having prolific years and newcomers Pierre Garcon and Austin Collie are contributing, helping Manning to throw for more than 300 yards in seven of his eight starts.
"He's just the ultimate quarterback,'' said New England cornerback Leigh Bodden, a newcomer to the rivalry. "There's a route and a run to beat every coverage or defensive front. So he looks at it, he surveys it and he checks out of whatever play he's in to go to a better play and he has a lot of weapons and he can put the ball on the money in tight coverage."
Brady, of course, belongs in the same conversation after throwing an NFL-record 50 touchdown passes and winning the league MVP award in 2007, when the Patriots went 16-0 in the regular season.
After missing almost all of last year due to a major knee injury, Brady has regained his form recently, throwing for 1,020 yards and 10 touchdowns during a three-game winning streak. He found Randy Moss for a 71-yard score in a 27-17 win over Miami on Sunday.
New England's offense could present a difficult test for a young Indianapolis secondary that is without safety Bob Sanders and cornerback Marlin Jackson for the rest of the season.
"They've been on a roll lately, just watching them on Sunday games," Colts cornerback Jerraud Powers said of the Patriots. "Tom looked like he was back to his old self. They look like they're clicking on all cylinders. I'm pretty sure this will be a fun one."
While the high-powered passing games may get most of the attention, defense could be the key to the matchup.
The Patriots' revamped unit has dealt with retirements (Rodney Harrison and Tedy Bruschi) and departures (Mike Vrabel and Richard Seymour), but anchored by linebacker Jerod Mayo and lineman Vince Wilfork, the team ranks second in scoring defense at 14.4 points per game.
The Colts lead the NFL in that category, with opponents managing 13.5 points. Their defense, which features rookie starters at cornerback in Powers and Jacob Lacey, has allowed four passing touchdowns this season.
"I wouldn't consider them rookies any longer," Caldwell said. "We also don't look at them that way. We don't allow them to make excuses because of experience."
The Patriots will have extra incentive as they try to stop the Colts from joining them as the only teams to finish a 16-game regular season undefeated. Indianapolis also needs four victories to match New England's 21-game run in the regular season from 2006-08 - an NFL record.
Although half the season remains, the Patriots may need to win Sunday to have a chance at home-field advantage in the playoffs. They have yet to win a true road game, with their only victory away from Gillette Stadium coming over Tampa Bay in London.
This won't be the first time the clubs have gotten in each other's way. The Patriots and Colts have met once each regular season since the start of 2003, splitting the six meetings.
They've also faced off three times in the playoffs in that stretch, with New England winning twice but Indianapolis claiming the most recent matchup in the AFC title game Jan. 21, 2007.
With the exception of last year's 18-15 Colts home win, the constants throughout the recent meetings have been Brady and Manning.
"I'm always keeping up on Peyton. We talk from time to time," Brady said. "I have a lot of respect for him."
Posted: 11/11/09 8:28PM ET