First off, apologies for the bad Luck pun. I’m as annoyed as everybody else by them, but seeing as how I have yet to personally use one, I had to get it out of my system.
More importantly, kickoff to the New England Patriots’ home playoff game against the Indianapolis Colts is quickly approaching. Things just got real. I can surely only speak for myself when I say this, but the nerves are beginning to tingle. And I would bet I am nowhere near alone here.
In fact, I don’t even remember being this nervous for those Brady vs. Manning showdowns, back when the latter sported a horseshoe on his jersey. Perhaps it has to do with Andrew Luck’s improbable comeback in round one against the Chiefs. Maybe it is because it just feels like Brady’s time to win another ring is running out, so the pressure only feels greater. Or maybe I feel this way every year. Ahh…who am I kidding?! I feel this way every week.
One thing is for certain. The Patriots need to be able to convert touchdowns in the red zone (13th in the NFL with a 55.38% TD conversion rate) and win the turnover battle. If those two things do not happen, the Pats will likely be in for a very long and very disappointing evening.
Aaron Dobson is out, which hurts because with Rob Gronkowski on IR, he was the only viable starter left standing taller than 6’1”. Will that really matter? Well, yes and no. It certainly affects the ability to reach up and over defenders in jump ball situations, likely forcing the Pats to once again rely on seam routes down the middle of the field. The Colts know this. But between Edelman, Amendola and Vereen, the Pats have shined in the seam and screen departments all season.
Then there’s the turnover battle. The Pats just cannot turn the ball over. Simple as that. Andrew Luck just might toss a few interceptions, as he’s been known to do, but he could also put up four or five touchdowns to go along with those picks. If Luck catches fire like he did against Kansas City, watch out. A few early New England takeaways and offensive scores will make it much easier on the Patriots’ defense.
Bill Belichick is probably the best coach at taking away an opponent’s best weapon, so you have to know that Aqib Talib will have his hands full with T.Y. Hilton. If Talib can be a shutdown corner – a la his Jimmy Graham masterpiece – it would give New England a clear advantage. Even still, an injury-riddled New England team will need to play near flawless football in order to advance to the AFC Championship game.