No rivalry sticks out more in the NFL over the last decade than the one between the New England Patriots and the Indianapolis Colts. As fate would have it, the two teams would meet in 2003, 2004, and 2006 for big-time playoff games. The Colts lost to the Patriots in the 2003 AFC Championship game. Again the Colts lost in the 2004 Divisional Round when the two teams were considered the best in football. Finally, the Colts defeated the Patriots in the AFC Championship game, prior to winning Super Bowl XLI.
From 2000-2004 the Patriots owned the head-to-head record 6-1. Since that time, the Colts are 5-1, including wins in Foxborough in 2005 and 2006. This is the first time since the regular season in 2006, when the Colts hoisted the Lombardi Trophy, that the two teams met at Gillette Stadium. Two of the teams’ last four games have been won by miraculous or historic comebacks by the Colts.
Any way you slice it, the history between the teams, the rivalry between the fan bases, and the blood-lust each team shares for the other will make the game highly active and will imitate a playoff-like atmosphere in a way no other regular season game has this year. There is no doubt the Patriots want revenge, their fans are licking their chops to see the Colts enter their stadium, and they are intent on completely demolishing Peyton Manning in front of a home crowd.
What makes the game even more meaningful is that two of the games best quarterbacks will be facing off, at a time which neither player has as full of a compliment of receiving weapons as he did when the year started. Tom Brady no longer has Randy Moss to take pressure off of slot receiver Wes Welker. Peyton Manning is without tight end Dallas Clark and former first round pick Anthony Gonzalez. Benjarvus Green-Ellis and Donald Brown may be the starting running backs for each team.
The point is, few in the mainstream media or either fan base will except a lot of excuses from either team complaining of being without weapons or for being injury depleted. In some ways, many will argue that Tom Brady has been without comparable weapons in many of the prior match-ups between the two teams and will argue that Manning’s questionable arsenal serves to even the playing field. Accordingly, the media will likely turn this game into a comparison of Brady versus Manning with larger implications, and claim that the victor has the upper-hand in the history books.
Consider also that the Patriots are 7-2 and coming off of a big win against the Pittsburgh Steelers where Dan Gronkowski burst into a receiving role with three touchdown receptions. On the other side of the field, Manning and the Colts have unveiled a new pass receiving tight end in Jacob Tamme, who has been the most productive tight end in the last three weeks. The Colts enter the game 6-3.
Colts President Bill Polian has already come on record stating that the outcome of the game will not determine anything for either team. This seems an awful lot like a guy who feels that his team is not ready to take on such a formidable opponent with the current available personnel. Polian really wants to take the pressure off of the team and take away the emphasis a lot of people will place on its importance.
One thing is certain, the team who out-executes the opponent has the best opportunity to win this game. Even injury depleted on both sides of the ball, even with both teams not being at the dominant levels they have been in years past, whoever plays the most disciplined game, wins the turnover battle, scores in the red zone, and limits big plays will very likely emerge the victor. In these games, there is always a very small margin of error, no matter the circumstances.