The Patriots marched to another playoff bye, but this might be the hardest they've ever had to work for it. The roster was decimated by season-ending injuries to key players, including Rob Gronkowski, Vince Wilfork, Jerod Mayo and Sebastian Vollmer. The power of Tom Brady and Bill Belichick has never been more evident. The Colts are coming off an outrageous 45-44 comeback win over the Kansas City Chiefs in the Wild-Card round, a game in which Andrew Luck announced his arrival as a superstar. Now Indy gets the chance to slay a giant.
Tom Brady, quarterback, Patriots: Brady has a 17-7 career postseason record, but is just 3-5 since 2008. No. 12 is New England royalty and a first-ballot Hall of Famer regardless how this game turns out, but it's on Brady's shoulders to carry an offense that reminds no one of the 2007 Patriots. Working in Brady's favor is a weak Colts secondary that just got torched by Alex Smith and is down a starting cornerback after Greg Toler injured his groin last week. Indy is vulnerable through the air. Brady must be sharp.
Matchup to watch
Colts WR T.Y. Hilton vs. Patriots secondary: Hilton picked a good time to have the best game of his life. The second-year wideout lit up the Chiefs for 224 yards and two touchdowns last week, morphing into an evolutionary version of Reggie Wayne at a time his team needed him most. The Patriots secondary is banged up, including top cover man Aqib Talib, who's dealing with a hip injury that could hinder his chances of wrangling Hilton and his 4.34-speed. Hilton can be contained with over the top help on deep routes, but could give New England fits with his intermediate patterns.
All three times the Colts and Patriots played in the postseason during the four seasons from 2003-2006, the home team has won. That team has also gone on to win the Super Bowl. ... With a record of 22-10, Andrew Luck has won one more game than Tom Brady (21-11) over their first 32 career starts. ... The Colts' victory over the Chiefs marked the fourth game this season Indianapolis overcame a double-digit deficit to win a game. Since 1940, only the Colts and the 2011 Lions won four games in which they trailed by 12 or more points. The Colts went 0-3 the week after they overcame double-digit deficits -- getting outscored 97-28 in those games.
The Colts can't possibly feel any better about themselves right now. When you're down 38-10 in the second half of a playoff game and you end up winning, the D-word (that's destiny, friends) announces its presence. Still, this is not a great Colts team, and no amount of magic by Luck will save them from another slow start. The Colts are the sexy pick here, but give me a hyper-motivated Brady and Bill Belichick with extra prep time.