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Hakeem Nicks must play big role for Colts vs. Patriots

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It's no secret that New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick specializes in taking away the opposing offense's No. 1 weapon.

If Belichick assigns All-Pro cornerback Darrelle Revis to T.Y. Hilton on Sunday, the Indianapolis Colts will need big plays from rookie deep threat Donte Moncrief and tight ends Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen.

With an injury-ravaged Reggie Wayne drawing just three of Andrew Luck's 77 postseason targets, though, it's a revitalized Hakeem Nicks who is emerging as the AFC Championship Game's wild card.

Still adjusting to Pep Hamilton's complex offense and failing to separate from defensive backs in September, Nicks lost his job and became an afterthought in Luck's aerial attack by midseason.

Since racing for a 26-yard touchdown and hauling in a twisting, 18-yard back-shoulder throw in Week 15 versus the Texans, however, Nicks has recaptured playmaking skills that were believed by many to be long gone.

"I think in New York, I was just having injury after injury and I think I just wasn't taking care of it the right way," Nicks said Thursday. "I just kept trying to play through them instead of being patient and sitting and let it heal.

"Now, I am extremely healthy. Looking back on it now, I think that's something that I just had to go through. My body was adjusting."

Showing more elusiveness and better leaping ability than he has since carrying the Giants to the Super Bowl three years ago, Nicks is finally popping off the game film again, making two or three big plays per week on limited snaps.

The Colts have taken early command of the game in each of the past two weeks, perpetuating the luxury of Wayne as an every-down blocking specialist.

Hamilton will have to make adjustments against a Patriots team that has won 60 of Tom Brady's last 67 home starts.

If Luck is going to outgun Brady in a potential shootout, the Colts need to emphasize Nicks' playmaking ability at the expense of Wayne's playing time.

For all of the praise lavished on Joe Flacco for his recent postseason heroics, Nicks' light shines just as bright in January.

The latest Around The NFL Podcast previews Championship Sunday and makes our picks for each game. Find more Around The NFL content on NFL NOW.

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