INDIANAPOLIS – For the 16th time since 2003, the Colts and Patriots will meet for 60 minutes of action.
The stakes on Sunday are as high as they've ever been between these two teams with a Super Bowl bid in Arizona on the line.
What should fans be looking for when the Colts playoff run takes a trip to Gillette Stadium this weekend?
1. Solid Start
-The Colts got down 7-0 in the Divisional Round but didn't allow for that to snowball. That has to happen again this weekend, with maybe even a stronger emphasis on starting better. In New England's last seven games, they've allowed just one second-half touchdown (outscored opponents 88-22 in that stretch). Playing from behind in Foxborough is nearly impossible considering the Patriots have won an incredible 74 straight home games when leading at half.
2. Ball Security, Friendly Fire
-Andrew Luck's two interceptions against the Broncos were nowhere near the backbreaking type of turnovers he's had in past meetings with the Patriots. New England has taken eight of Luck's turnover against them and turned them into eight touchdowns. Penalties also get thrown into this area after the Colts were able to overcome a team postseason record of 10 in the Divisional Round.
3. Patriots Offensive Game Plan
-The Colts would be foolish to expect the Patriots not to pound the rock on Sunday. The Patriots have piled up 480 rushing yards in their last two games against the Colts, averaging nearly double the amount of rushes they typically have in games. If the Colts do have to commit an extra body down in the box, how does that impact the coverage needed against All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski?
4. Red Zone Success
-In the Patriots 42-20 win over the Colts in Week 11, they were 5-for-5 in the red zone. The Colts defense cannot let that sort of efficiency happen again. On the other side of the ball, the Colts need to have the same success they had against the Broncos when they got past their 20-yard line. One advantage the Colts will have on Sunday versus the regular season meeting is Dwayne Allen back in the red zone (Allen left in Week 11 after 13 snaps due to an ankle injury).
5. Covering T.Y. Hilton
-Back in Week 11, Hilton had just three catches for 24 yards against the Patriots. A safety over the top on Hilton forced the Pro Bowler into his season low for receiving yards. Now, the Patriots might switch things up with All-Pro cornerback Darrell Revis (who was assigned to Reggie Wayne in Week 11) being a strong candidate across from Hilton. It was clear on Sunday that once the Colts got Hilton involved, things opened up for the rest of the offense.
*6. Mother Nature *
-Forecasts for Sunday have temperatures in the high 30s, low 40s. It looks like showers will be heading into the Foxborough area as the afternoon carries on Sunday. The Colts obviously struggled in similar conditions last year in the playoffs. How much rain could impact the Colts offensive attack, one that has relied heavily through the air in January.
7. Riding The Playoff Momentum
-I don't think the Colts have put together better back-to-back performances this season than they have the last two weeks. The pressure for this one falls much more on the Patriots shoulders with a 37-year old quarterback and a fan base waiting nine years since their last Super Bowl title. Can the Colts continue to play loose, make a game-changing turnover and ultimately ride their playoff momentum into a venue where AFC teams rarely have success?