NFL Preview - New England (7-2) at Indianapolis (6-3)
By Chris Ruddick, Contributing NFL Editor
(SportsNetwork.com) - It wasn't all that long ago that people were writing off the New England Patriots and Tom Brady.
That's not happening anymore.
New England tries to further cement its status as the top team in the AFC on Sunday, as it goes after a sixth straight win against Andrew Luck and the up- and-coming Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium.
The Patriots were beaten badly by the Kansas City Chiefs, 41-14, to fall to 2-2. Since then, though, they have reeled off five straight wins and have averaged 40.2 points per game in those wins.
New England enjoyed a bye last week, but that came after an impressive 43-21 win over the Denver Broncos in Week 9. Brady threw for 333 yards and four touchdowns in that win and moved past John Elway into fifth place on the all- time passing yards list.
Brady did throw an interception, his first in five games and only his third of the season.
Rob Gronkowski caught nine passes for 105 yards and one of Brady's scoring strikes, with Julian Edelman adding nine receptions totaling 89 yards with a touchdown along with a huge punt return.
Over his last five games Gronkowski has 36 catches for 516 years and five touchdowns. Gronk has caught 18 balls in his last two games for 254 yards and four touchdowns.
"Tom's spreading the ball around, but Rob's a matchup nightmare," Colts coach Chuck Pagano said. "It's all hands on deck to try to make sure that that guy doesn't wreck a game. You see everybody trying to do that, but he finds a way to make unbelievable plays. He's a great player and they've got a bunch of them, a bunch of skill guys that are making great plays."
Since 2010, the Patriots are now a combined 30-3 in the second half of the regular season. In both 2010 and 2011, the Patriots were 8-0 in the second half of the year. New England was 7-1 in 2012 and 6-2 in 2013. Since Bill Belichick became Patriots head coach in 2000, New England is 90-23 in the second half of the season, and has gone 8-0 in the second half four times in Belichick's tenure and 7-1 three times.
New England's defense had Peyton Manning rattled all day in that one, forcing him into two interceptions. On the other hand, the Patriots have turned it over just six times all season and is tied for the NFL lead with a plus-12 turnover differential.
That could be bad news for Luck and the pass-happy Colts, who come into this contest averaging a league-best 32.2 points-per-game, but are even in turnover differential.
Luck has thrown nine picks on the season but is in the midst of what could be a record-setting campaign. The 25-year-old has set a franchise record with seven straight games of over 300 yards and leads the league with 3,085 yards and is on pace to narrowly surpass Manning's record of 5,477.
Over his last seven games Luck has thrown 21 touchdowns and has averaged 363.3 yards for a 104.5 rating.
"Their offense is doing a great job this year. They score a lot of points, especially at home, and he's kind of the ringleader," Brady said of Luck.
"... When you play another great offense, you're going to have to put up a lot of points, similar to our last game. We realize we have a big job, too. You're right, my focus is on the other side of the ball, but you also know you're not going to be able to score 13 points and win the game."
Like New England, Indianapolis is coming off a bye in Week 10, but was a big winner the previous week against the New York Giants.
Luck tossed three of his four touchdown passes in the third quarter and the Colts cruised to a 40-24 win in Week 9.
T.Y. Hilton hauled in three passes for 71 yards and a touchdown, Reggie Wayne posted four receptions for 70 yards and a score and Dwayne Allen had four catches for 48 yards and a score in the triumph.
Indianapolis has now won six of its last seven games after starting the year 0-2.
New England beat the Colts, 43-22, in an AFC Divisional Playoff game last year and has won six of the last 10 regular season matchups. New England has won the last three in the series, including the playoff game, but it has dropped the last two in Indianapolis.
The Patriots need one more victory to guarantee a finish of .500 or better for the 14th consecutive season. In fact since 2001, the Patriots are the only team to finish with a record above .500 in each of those seasons.
Every other NFL team has had at least one losing season between 2001 and 2013.
Since 2001 no team has more November wins than the 38 posted by both New England and Indianapolis.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
The Colts could be in for a long day defensively, as they have given up 31 passing plays of at least 20 yards and ranks 27th with an average of 263.6 yards passing allowed.
If Brady is given time, he could have a field day. With another 300-yard performance he could tie Hall of Famer Dan Marino (63) for the third-most such games all-time.
"They blitz quite a bit more than most of the teams that we've played, which is going to be, I would say, a very critical factor in the game, our ability to handle that," New England offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said.
Luck has been as good as any quarterback in the league this season, but New England's revamped secondary with cornerbacks Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner is really starting to hit their stride.
"They are very talented," Colts wideout Reggie Wayne said. "They are ball- hungry. They are definitely talented. It gives them a little bit to where they can be a little bit more of risk-takers with blitzes and things of that nature."
This probably won't be the last time these two teams square off. Another postseason matchup could be in the offing this January. But where that game is played might be decided this Sunday.
Brady has been terrific, almost playing with a chip on his shoulder since that Week 4 loss to the Chiefs. Luck has been tremendous as well, but look for Belichick to confuse him all night. The Patriots brought Revis in for games like the win over Denver and this one coming up. It might be a long night for Mr. Luck.
Sports Network predicted outcome: New England 35, Indianapolis 17
11/15 17:44:31 ET