Tale of the Tape: Indianapolis Colts at New England Patriots
One of the NFL's best veteran quarterbacks tangles with one of the league's top young gunslingers as Tom Brady leads the New England Patriots against Andrew Luck and the visiting Indianapolis Colts in Saturday night's AFC Divisional Round playoff game.
Brady and the Patriots enjoyed a first-round bye after posting a 12-4 regular-season record, including an 8-0 mark at Foxboro. Luck and the Colts rallied from a 28-point deficit to stun Kansas City 45-44 in last week's wild-card showdown.
Here's the breakdown in our betting tale of the tape:
Luck had a solid if unspectacular second season in the NFL, leading a Colts pass attack that ranked 17th in the league in yardage (3,725) with 23 touchdowns and just 10 interceptions. He had an eventful game against the Chiefs, throwing for 436 yards with four TDs and three interceptions. The rush attack was up-and-down for most of the season, ranking in a tie for 20th in yardage (1,743) but finishing with a respectable 15 scores while fumbling just three times.
Despite dealing with long-term injuries to top receiving options Rob Gronkowski and Danny Amendola, Brady managed to put together another solid campaign. The future Hall of Famer lifted New England to 10th spot in the NFL in passing yards (4,087) with 25 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. The Patriots overcame Stevan Ridley's fumbling problems to rank ninth in yards on the ground (2,065) on 4.4 yards per attempt while finishing second with 19 touchdowns.
Edge: New England
Last week's shootout with Kansas City notwithstanding, the Colts had a strong season when it came to defending the pass. Indianapolis allowed the 13th-fewest yards through the air (3,711), countering 21 touchdowns against with 15 interceptions and 42 sacks. The Colts' run defense was a disappointment - allowing the seventh-most yards while getting torched for 14 TDs - and surrendered 150 yards to a Chiefs team playing without injured star Jamaal Charles.
The Patriots' defense was banged up all season, but still managed to impress in stretches. New England ranked 18th in opposing passing yards (3,824), allowing 25 touchdowns but grabbing 17 interceptions and compiling 48 sacks - second-most in the AFC. The Patriots were gashed for 2,145 rushing yards - the third-highest total in the league - but held their own against red-zone ground attacks, allowing just 11 touchdowns on the season.
Indianapolis ranked near the middle of the pack in both kickoff return average (23.5 yards) and punt return average (9.9). The Colts weren't nearly as effective at defending returns, allowing the seventh-highest kickoff average (25.2) and the second-highest punt average (13.7) - highlighted by a 98-yard return from Rams speedster Tavon Austin in St. Louis' Week 10 win. Kicker Adam Vinatieri was sensational, connecting on 35-of-40 field-goal opportunities.
New England was solid on returns in 2013, ranking 12th in kickoffs (24 yards per attempt) and 11th in kickoffs (10.8). The Patriots also did a solid job at defending returns, allowing just 20.8 yards per kickoff return try and 7.6 yards per punt return attempt - both top-10 marks league-wide. Stephen Gostkowski was one of the top kickers in the NFL, hitting 38-of-41 field-goal chances - including 16-of-19 from 40 yards or longer.
Edge: New England
"It's truly an honor to have an opportunity to field a team and compete against the likes of coach (Bill) Belichick who will go down as one of the greatest coaches in the history of the National Football League." - Colts offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton
"I think we rally together really well. I think we lean on each other. I think we trust each other. We play with a lot of heart, and I think that shows." - Patriots running back Shane Vereen