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NFL Preview - Indianapolis (6-3) at New England (7-2)



By Michael Rushton, Contributing NFL Editor

(Sports Network) - Peyton Manning may be coming off his worst performance of this season, but don't expect the New England Patriots to give the Indianapolis Colts quarterback any less admiration because of it.

After all, the team showed last year just how much it respects the four-time MVP.

One of the better and tightest rivalries in the NFL resumes this weekend, as Indianapolis looks to deal New England its first regular-season home loss since 2008 Sunday at Gillette Stadium.

Manning's Colts will be squaring off against the Tom Brady-led Patriots for the first time since last season's thrilling 35-34 victory a season ago that showed just how dangerous New England believes Manning to be.

With New England up by six points and 2:08 left on the clock in that Week 10 meeting, the Pats faced a 4th-and-2 from their own 28-yard line. Rather than punt it away and give Manning a long field to work with, New England head coach Bill Belichick instead opted to try and keep the ball out of his hands entirely. Brady's short pass to running back Kevin Faulk was stuffed for a one-yard gain, however, and Manning, now already deep in New England territory, eventually completed a one-yard go-ahead touchdown pass to wide receiver Reggie Wayne with 13 seconds left.

"If we make that play we probably win the game," said Brady, who threw three touchdown passes, afterwards. "Coach was being aggressive and I love that about him. He gave us a chance to make the play, but we came up a little bit short."

Manning threw four touchdown passes in that game to complete a rally from 17 points down, and each of the past five meetings between the clubs have been decided by seven points or less, including the 2006 AFC Championship game won by the Colts.

The 34-year-old Manning isn't exactly coming into this meeting on a roll, though, after throwing for just a season-low 185 yards in last weekend's 23-17 victory over Cincinnati. Manning turned in a passer rating below 70 for a second straight week for the first time since November of 2007, but the Indianapolis defense forced five turnovers that led to 17 points.

"Certainly we would have liked to have played better," said Manning. "There were some things that I thought we could have done a little bit better."

The victory was Indianapolis' fourth in five games and at 6-3, the club owns a one-game edge over Jacksonville and Tennessee for the top spot in the AFC South.

Brady, on the other hand, is coming off a season-high 350-yard passing effort in a 39-26 victory at Pittsburgh over the weekend that featured three touchdown passes to rookie tight end Rob Gronkowski. New England had a five- game winning streak broken the previous week in Cleveland, but improved to 25-2 since the 2003 season in games following a regular-season loss.

"That was an emotional win for us," Brady said of the Pittsburgh game. "It's always fun to come in here and play well. We know what kind of team [the Steelers] have, what they're all about. I thought we showed what we're all about, too."

New England, which at 7-2 is tied with the New York Jets for first place in the AFC East, has won all four of its home games this year and 13 straight during the regular season at Gillette Stadium since its last loss there on Nov. 30, 2008.

Manning is 5-1 with 1,802 passing yards and 13 touchdowns in his last six games versus the Pats, including the postseason, while Brady is 7-4 with 2,650 yards and 20 touchdowns versus the Colts with the playoffs included.

SERIES HISTORY

The Patriots hold a 42-28 advantage in their all-time regular-season series with the Colts, but Indianapolis has won two straight and four of the past five meetings between the teams after rallying for last year's one-point victory at Lucas Oil Stadium. Indianapolis has also left with a win in each of its last two stops to Gillette Stadium, the most recent being a 27-20 triumph in 2006.

The Colts and Patriots have also met three times in the postseason, with New England taking a 24-14 decision in the 2003 AFC Championship and a 20-3 triumph in a 2004 AFC Divisional Playoff prior to the Colts' 38-34 home win in the 2006 AFC Championship.

Including the playoffs, the Patriots are 32-14 against Indianapolis since the Colts moved from Baltimore following the 1983 season.

Belichick is 10-8 against the Colts all-time, including an 8-6 record while with the Patriots, while Indianapolis head coach Jim Caldwell has won his only previous matchup with Belichick and New England.

Brady owns a 7-4 edge in 11 lifetime head-to-head meetings with Manning, three of which have taken place in the postseason.

WHEN THE COLTS HAVE THE BALL

The rash of injuries that have hit the Colts' offense may have finally caught up with Manning last weekend. Already without tight end Dallas Clark (37 receptions, 3 TD) and wide receiver Anthony Gonzalez due to injury, running back Joseph Addai (406 rushing yards, 3 TD) missed his third straight game with a neck problem, backup running back Mike Hart sat out his second in a row because of an ankle ailment and wide receivers Austin Collie (45 receptions, 6 TD) and Blair White sat out their first games with a concussion and shoulder injury, respectively. Manning (2663 passing yards, 16 TD, 4 INT) did not throw a touchdown pass last week for the second time this season and running back Javarris James (3 TD) had the team's lone offensive touchdown, a three-yard run. Still, the Colts rank third in total offense (379.3 yards per game) and scoring (26.7 points per game), while tight end Jacob Tamme (24 receptions, 2 TD) has done a great job in replacing Clark. He led the team with seven catches for 73 yards last weekend, while wide receiver Pierre Garcon (28 receptions, 1 TD) added five catches for 37 yards. Of course, Wayne (63 receptions, 3 TD) is always a threat. Addai and Hart did not practice early in the week, while Collie and White did on a limited basis.

New England has struggled on the defensive side of the ball this season, as it ranks 29th in total yards allowed (390.8 ypg), 30th against the pass (277.8 ypg) and 25th in points surrendered (23.8 ppg). The Patriots yielded 425 yards, including 349 through the air, last weekend and forced just one turnover. However, that was an interception by safety James Sanders (31 tackles, 1 INT) that was returned 32 yards for a score. Safety Pat Chung (59 tackles, 2 INT), who is questionable with a knee ailment, led the club with 10 tackles against Pittsburgh, while both cornerback Devin McCourty (48 tackles, 2 INT) and linebacker Jerod Mayo (104 tackles, 1 sack) finished with nine each. New England did come away with five sacks, including a single game-high 1 1/2 by end Mike Wright (14 tackles), who has already set a career best this year with 5 1/2 sacks. Tully Banta-Cain (27 tackles, 3 sacks) also logged 1 1/2 sacks and fellow linebacker Gary Guyton (25 tackles, 1 sack, 1 INT) was credited with a quarterback takedown as well. Safety Jarrad Page is battling a calf injury, while defensive tackle Myron Pryor (11 tackles, 1 sack) has a back issue.

WHEN THE PATRIOTS HAVE THE BALL

With a defense that has given up its fair share of points this year, Brady (2176 passing yards, 17 TD, 4 INT) has helped the Patriots log the most points per game in the NFL (28.7 ppg) despite an average of just 338.7 yards per game of offense. Brady, who also ran for a touchdown last week, completed 30-of-43 attempts against the Steelers for his first 300-yard passing game of the season and has won 24 straight regular-season games at home as a starter. That leaves him one shy of the longest such streak in league history, a 25-game run by Brett Favre from 1995-98. Gronkowski (19 receptions, 6 TD) became the first rookie tight end to make three touchdown catches in a game since Pittsburgh's Eric Green on Oct. 14, 1990. Wide receiver Wes Welker (52 receptions, 3 TD) also had a big game, matching a season high with eight catches for a season- best 89 yards. Wideout Deion Branch (23 receptions, 1 TD with Patriots) added seven catches for 71 yards and Gronkowski finished with five receptions. Running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis (472 rushing yards, 6 TD) led the club with 87 rushing yards on 18 carries in Week 10.

Indianapolis' 18th-ranked defense came up huge last weekend, accounting for five turnovers that led to 17 points. Cornerback Kelvin Hayden (51 tackles, 2 INT, 2 TD) scored on a 31-yard pick-six and linebacker Tyjuan Hagler (14 tackles, 1 sack, 1 INT) added another interception that he initially returned for a score until it was ruled he was actually down by contact. Safety Aaron Francisco's (29 tackles, 2 INT) pick gave the Colts a season-high three interceptions in the game, while defensive tackle Antonio Johnson and safety Mike Newton recovered fumbles forced by end Dwight Freeney (16 tackles, 6 sacks) and linebacker Kavell Conner. Freeney also had a sack, as did fellow ends Robert Mathis (35 tackles, 8 sacks) and Eric Foster (19 tackles, 3 sacks), while Hayden led the way with nine tackles against the Bengals. Corner Jerraud Powers (42 tackles, 2 INT) had eight and linebacker Pat Angerer (38 tackles, 1 sack) finished with six. Linebacker Gary Brackett (42 tackles) missed the game with a toe injury that could keep him out of this game as well, while linebacker Clint Session (38 tackles, 1 sack) and corner Justin Tryon (17 tackles) both missed a second game in a row. Session has an elbow injury and Tryon is battling a foot ailment.

FANTASY FOCUS

Owners looking to milk points out of the Colts need to look close due to the team's injuries. Manning and Wayne are must-starts and Tamme is as well as long as a back injury doesn't force him to the sidelines. Garcon's value takes a hit if Collie returns this weekend, and Addai owners will once again be watching the injury report. James obviously has value if Addai and Hart are out. Indy's defense faces a tough road matchup while former Pats kicker Adam Vinatieri, who is 17-for-19 on field goal tries this year, has upside.

Brady is a must-start and Welker is always a solid play in points-per- reception leagues. The Colts struggle defending the run, so Green-Ellis has flex value. Gronkowski might be a hot pickup this week, but Aaron Hernandez and Alge Crumpler are still around and it is too tough to narrow down a Pats tight end to start. Avoid New England's defense and with kicker Stephen Gostkowski on IR due to a thigh injury, Shayne Graham is now the man in New England.

OVERALL ANALYSIS

There is always excitement and plenty at stake when the Patriots and Colts get together and this weekend is no different, with both clubs at the top of their respective divisions. New England is perhaps the best home team in all of the NFL and the Colts' injury problems definitely had an impact on Manning's offense a week ago. Though Indianapolis has gotten the best of New England as of late, expect Brady and company to prevail in yet another close contest.

Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Patriots 28, Colts 27

11/18 19:33:28 ET

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