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Patriots vs. Colts preview: New England faces a playoff-caliber opponent in Week 15

Related: NFL playoff picture: Top-seeded Patriots share AFC’s best record with 2 other teams

NFL: SEP 26 Colts at Titans Photo by Jeffrey Brown/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

While the heated rivalry between the two teams is a thing of the past, the New England Patriots’ game against the Indianapolis Colts is still a high-stakes affair: both teams are currently in the playoff picture, after all, with the 9-4 Patriots ranking first in the AFC, and the 7-6 Colts owning the No. 6. seed.

There is a lot on the line for both squads, meaning that the Saturday night matchup projects to be an entertaining affair between two of the better teams in the league right now. With all that being said, let’s take a deeper dive into the Patriots’ upcoming opponent.

Welcome to Week 14.

Offense

Points scored: 28.5/game (3rd)

Yards gained: 368.1/game (11th)

Passing offense: 268-for-425, 2,813 yards, 22 touchdowns, 6 interceptions, 0.101 EPA (14th), 13.4% DVOA (18th)

Rushing offense: 383 carries, 1,972 yards, 20 touchdowns, 0.085 EPA (1st), 12.2% DVOA (1st)

The Colts’ offense is one of the best in the game, in large parts due to its ability to move the football on the ground. Indianapolis ranks first in the league in yards per carry, EPA and DVOA, and is top-five in attempts, total rushing yards and touchdowns. For comparison, the team’s passing attack is a bit more middle-of-the-road — but still good enough to play a complementary role.

Defense

Points against: 21.8/game (9th)

Yards given up: 342.1/game (13th)

Passing defense: 290-for-445, 2,993 yards, 26 touchdowns, 15 interceptions, 0.064 EPA (16th), 6.9% DVOA (17th)

Rushing defense: 322 carries, 1,454 yards, 8 touchdowns, -0.128 EPA (5th), 18.6% DVOA (5th)

Indianapolis is a well-balanced team, with the defense also being among the best in the NFL right now. The strengths of the unit lie in stopping the run — the Colts field a top-five run defense — and generating turnovers: the group has taken the football away a league-best 29 times, registering 15 interceptions and 14 fumble recoveries. The team’s +13 turnover differential is ranked first in the NFL.

Week 1 vs. Seattle Seahawks: L 28-16

Week 2 vs. Los Angeles Rams: L 27-24

Week 3 at Tennessee Titans: L 25-16

Week 4 at Miami Dolphins: W 27-17

Week 5 at Baltimore Ravens: L 31-25 (OT)

Week 6 vs. Houston Texans: W 31-3

Week 7 at San Francisco 49ers: W 30-18

Week 8 vs. Tennessee Titans: L 34-31 (OT)

Week 9 vs. New York Jets: W 45-30

Week 10 vs. Jacksonville Jaguars: W 23-17

Week 11 at Buffalo Bills: W 41-15

Week 12 vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: L 38-31

Week 13 at Houston Texans: W 31-0

Week 14: Bye

The Colts started off the season in disappointing fashion, dropping each of their first three games before ending their losing in Week 4 against the Dolphins. While the team did fall to the Ravens the following week, it started trending in the right direction: Indianapolis won five of its last six games — including a quality win over the Bills on the road — before a one-score loss to the reigning world champions in Week 12.

Before entering their Week 14 bye, the Colts blew out the Texans 31-0 to improve to 7-6 on the year.

Offense

QB Carson Wentz; RB Jonathan Taylor; WR Michael Pittman Jr, WR Zach Pascal; TE Jack Doyle, TE Mo-Alie Cox; LT Eric Fisher, LG Quenton Nelson, C Ryan Kelly, RG Mark Glowinski, RT Braden Smith

After Philip Rivers’ one-year stint with the Colts, the team swung a trade to acquire former second overall draft pick Carson Wentz from the Philadelphia Eagles in the offseason. So far, the move has worked out well for Indianapolis: Wentz has completed 63.3 percent of his pass attempts for 2,948 yards, 22 touchdowns and just five interceptions, leading an offense that is among the best in the game. The primary reason for that, however, has been the team’s ability to move the ball on the ground.

Defense

DE Kwity Paye*, DT DeForest Buckner, NT Grover Stewart, DE Al-Quadini Muhammad; LB Darius Leonard, LB Bobby Okereke; CB Xavier Rhodes, CB Rock Ya-Sin, CB Kenny Moore II; S Andrew Sendejo, S Khari Willis

*rookie

The Colts’ defense features considerable talent on all three levels. Up front, DeForest Buckner and first-round rookie Kwity Paye are a disruptive duo. At linebacker, Darius Leonard has a strong case as the best player his position currently has to offer. The secondary, meanwhile, is led by former first-round draft pick Xavier Rhodes and ex-Patriots cornerback Kenny Moore. While not as star-studded a group as the Buffalo Bills’, for comparison, the unit has played some quality football.

Specialists

K Michael Badgley, P Rigoberto Sanchez, LS Luke Rhodes; KR Isaiah Rodgers, PR Nyheim Hines

With Rodrigo Blankenship on injured reserve due to a hip injury, the Colts brought veteran Michael Badgley on board to fill the place kicker role. In fact, Badgley has been the better of the two so far this season: he has made 11 of 12 field goal attempts and all 32 of his extra points. His combined success rate of 97.7 percent is significantly better than Blankenship’s 81.8.

RB Jonathan Taylor: A second-round draft pick in 2020, Taylor is the motor that powers the Colts’ offensive attack so far this season. Playing at a Pro Bowl level, he leads the league with 1,348 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns; his rushing average of 5.6 yards per carry is also best among all qualifying running backs in the NFL. The threat that Taylor poses goes beyond those numbers, though: he also is second on the team with 36 catches which he took for 336 yards and two more scores.

G Quenton Nelson: Now in his fourth year in the league, Nelson has a strong case as the best guard in football. The former first-round draft pick is a powerful run blocker — thus a key reason for the Colts’ rushing success — and as good a pass protector as any in the game today. Nelson is a tone-setter up front, and a player able to win one-on-ones on a regular basis.

LB Darius Leonard: As noted above, the Colts lead the NFL with 29 takeaways. No player on the team has come up with as many as Leonard: the fourth-year defender has intercepted two passes and also recovered three fumbles; he furthermore has forced five fumbles. Those numbers are impressive, but only part of what makes Leonard one of the best linebackers in the game today. He is an instinctive presence at the hart of Indianapolis’ defense regardless if asked to play against the run or the pass.

CB Kenny Moore II: A rookie free agent who had a strong preseason for the Patriots in 2017, Moore joined the Colts when he was claimed off waivers on roster cutdown day. Since then he has developed into one of the best slot cornerbacks in the NFL — one that has intercepted a team-high four passes already. While aligning primarily in the slot, part of Moore’s value comes from his versatility: he has lined up all over the Indianapolis secondary this season.

Head coach: Frank Reich

Coordinators: Marcus Brady (offense), Matt Eberflus (defense), Raymond Ventrone (special teams)

Despite being on his fourth different starting quarterback since taking over as the Colts’ head coach in 2018, Frank Reich is well on his way to leading the team to the playoffs a third time in four years. In total, Reich has gone 35-26 in the regular season and 1-2 in the playoffs.

His staff also features some Patriots connections. Wide receivers coach Mike Groh is the brother of New England college scouting coordinator Matt Groh, while special teams coordinator Raymond Ventrone played 17 games for the Patriots in 2007 and 2008; he later also served as the team’s assistant special teams coordinator between 2015 and 2017.

The Patriots and Colts have met 81 times so far, with four of the meetings coming in postseason.

  • Patriots: 52 wins (4 playoff wins)
  • Colts: 29 wins (1 playoff win)

Original members of the AFC East, the Patriots and Colts — who played in Baltimore until 1983 — met twice each season between 1970 and 2001, with the exception of the strike-shortened 1982 campaign. While Indianapolis has since left the division to join the newly-founded AFC South in 2002, the teams enjoy a storied rivalry.

That rivalry is connected to four men in particular: quarterbacks Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, as well as head coaches Bill Belichick and Tony Dungy.

Between 2001 and 2008 they led the Patriots and Colts, respectively, to a combined four Super Bowl wins. Three of those championship runs saw the teams meet in the playoffs as well: New England won in 2003 and 2004, with Indianapolis getting its revenge in 2006. Those games rank among the best in each franchise’s history.

The rivalry did not end when Dungy and Manning left the Colts in 2009 and 2012, respectively. In fact, it was restarted when Indianapolis general manager Ryan Grigson accused the Patriots of foul play in the 2014 AFC title game — the birth of Deflategate, one of the most ridiculous scandals in NFL history. The Patriots won that game en route to another Super Bowl, but that was still not the end of the fierce competition between the two organizations.

In 2018, after all, Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels backed out of the Colts’ head coaching job after the team’s PR department had already made the premature announcement. This, in turn, opened the door for current head coach Frank Reich to take over and for Indianapolis GM Chris Ballard to declare the rivalry alive and well.

Long story short, the history between the Patriots and Colts is a long and entertaining one — one that has generally been kind to New England.