AFC Championship Game Preview: Indianapolis Colts @ New England Patriots

New England tight end Rob Gronkowski is a match-up nightmare for any defense

Gillette Stadium, Foxboro
6.40 PM (E.T)

Tom Brady and Andrew Luck meet in the AFC Championship Game in a battle of old versus young, as the upstart Colts aim to reach their first Superbowl since the Peyton Manning era while Brady and Patriots coach Bill Belichick attempt to make it to their sixth Superbowl together. As the number one seed in the AFC New England earned home-field advantage, but the Colts showed last week in Denver that they won’t be intimidated in any situation this post-season. Brady, of course, has three Superbowl rings to his name, but with no championships since 2005 he’ll be desperate to add to his legacy and make up for New England’s two most recent Superbowl appearances, which both ended in defeat to the New York Giants.

When Indianapolis has the ball…
The Indianapolis offense begins and ends with Andrew Luck, the number one overall pick in the 2012 draft who has helped the franchise make a seamless transition from the Peyton Manning era. Luck has a big arm, high intelligence levels and underrated mobility that allows him to escape collapsing pockets. His main weapon on the outside is mighty mite T.Y Hilton, who has emerged as an elite deep threat this year. Reggie Wayne remains a reliable option although age has slowed him, while tight end Coby Fleener has shown flashes of ability over the past couple of seasons. A lack of a running game hurts the Colts, and the decision to trade a first round pick for Trent Richardson looks worse by the second. New England’s defense is led by Vince Wilfork and the mammoth nose tackle makes running inside against the Patriots an incredibly difficult proposition. The secondary is an under appreciated unit containing safety Devin McCourty and former Seattle cornerback Brandon Browner, and they’ll have to be at the top of their game as they take on Luck and the Colts aerial attack.

When New England has the ball…
In last year’s play-offs the Patriots were able to run all over the Colts defense, and it’s likely they’ll attempt to do so again this time around through a combination of Jonas Gray and LeGarrette Blount. The other big weapon New England possess is, of course, tight end Rob Gronkowski, who is a match-up nightmare for any defense. Too big for safeties and too quick for linebackers, Gronkowski is Tom Brady’s favourite target and he comes into his own in the red-zone where his big body can be best utilised. On the Colts side Vontae Davis is their number one corner, although the veteran can be exposed at times. Big hitter LaRon Landry roams centre field from the safety position, and former Browns linebacker and tackling machine D’Qwell Jackson is at the heart of the defense.

Special Teams
Adam Vinatieri was perfect for the Colts right up until the season finale, and the former Patriot also has one miss in the post-season. The former New England kicker is money when the game is on the line, however, and is set to appear in a record 30th play-off game. Returner Josh Cribbs is always a threat, although hasn’t taken a punt or kickoff back to the house this season. Vinatieri’s replacement in New England Stephen Gostkowski was nearly as good as his predecessor in 2014, missing just two kicks and making 13 of 14 kicks from over 40 yards. Punt returner Julian Edelman had one touchdown return during the regular season.

Colts 24, Patriots 33

Who do you think will win the AFC Championship Game? Tweet @fredjstanley or leave a comment


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