It was 11 years ago in some crappy conditions at Gillette, and it was the last time the Patriots hosted the Colts in an AFC Championship Game. It wasn't the last time New England and Indy battled for the conference title; that came in the RCA Dome during the 2006 playoffs, with the Colts making a comeback that ranks as an all-timer among conference championship games. But the contest from the 2003 playoffs sticks out because of its far-reaching effects. Tom Brady would go on to win his second Super Bowl, launching the Brady vs. Manning comparisons, while Bill Belichick's burgeoning dynasty was further established.
It also changed the passing game forever, advancing football -- or setting it back, depending on how you feel about physical defense. Afterward, then-Colts general manager Bill Polian complained about New England linebackers putting their hands on guys like Marcus Pollard, pushing a "re-emphasis" of the illegal contact rule. And now we have what seems like flagball. Either way, there was nothing controversial about Law's three picks that day, which were a big reason I have him as the best player to not make the Pro Football Hall of Fame's finalist grouping for the Class of 2015.
Solid stuff here.
Looks like J.D.'s three amigos sure could use a walk.
Slob -- is it OK if I call you slob? -- check the last four letters in Quarless' last name. That should answer your question.
Biased in Boston? Maybe. Getting ahead of yourself? Absolutely. The Patriots have a game to play before they potentially go for their first Lombardi Trophy in a decade. Let's see how the AFC title contest goes before doing any Gronk vs. Legion of Boom projections. As far as the actual predictions for Championship Sunday go, take a gander below. Per the usual, feel free to share your take: @HarrisonNFL is the place.
Now, let's get to it!
Elliot Harrison went 2-2 on his predictions for the Divisional Round, giving him a record of 178-85-1 so far this season. How will he fare on Championship Sunday? His picks are below. And listen to the latest edition of the "Dave Dameshek Football Program" for additional analysis of this weekend's football forecast.
The bottom line is, Rodgers doesn't care who the safety is; when he sees just one back there, he'll fearlessly take his shots. And he will fearlessly hold the ball until the last second. That resulted in eight sacks when these two clubs met in the "Fail Mary" game two years ago. It also resulted in a strip-sack that turned into a safety on kickoff night this season. Rodgers doesn't care. He has tremendous trust in his ability and his supporting cast. On that note, Randall Cobb could cause Seattle trouble out of the slot. I also expect the ball to go to tight end Andrew Quarless in the red zone. As noted above, the Seahawks gave up plenty of touchdowns to tight ends this year. Antonio Gates, anyone?
All that strategic mumbo jumbo aside, will Russell Wilson make enough plays to win? Yep. Tony Romo was masterful against the Packers at Lambeau last weekend, and it's not as if they had to worry about him running like Wilson. Green Bay did have to worry about DeMarco Murray on the ground -- and other than a huge fumble, the Cowboys back produced. Marshawn Lynch, who isn't a fumbler, should follow suit against that Green Bay front seven. I don't care if all he says to reporters after the game is "Dr. Leonard McCoy" -- Lynch will be a bowling ball of desire, one that I'm not sure the Packers can stop 25 times. #GBvsSEA
First, though, the Colts must keep Rob Gronkowski out of the end zone. The Patriots tight end has scored five times in four career games against them. T.Y. Hilton must catch more than three balls for 24 yards -- Hilton's line from Indy's Week 11 loss to New England -- against Darrelle Revis. (I don't see Brandon Browner matching up with Hilton's speed.) Speaking of New England's defense, I anticipate the Pats mixing coverages more than trying to blitz Luck. The first time Belichick faced the Colts' phenom, New England blitzed the kid 17 times. Hey, Luck was a rookie quarterback ... why not pressure him? In last season's divisional matchup, though, the Patriots blitzed him just eight times. Then, back in November, Luck had 43 dropbacks -- and New England blitzed a scant seven times.
Ultimately, I think Belichick and Co. play this game relatively straight, with a little more LeGarrette Blount sprinkled in than there was in last week's win over the Ravens. And the Patriots will make the bearded kid beat their coverage without the gimmes that unsuccessful blitzes bring.