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Predictions & Projections
David Dorey
The Huddle
Conference Championships
January 17, 2007

Sunday, January 21st
New Orleans at Chicago, 3:00 PM
New England at Indianapolis, 6:30 PM

Prediction: NE 20, IND 30

The loss by the Chargers last week proved once again that being the #1 seed is hardly a pass to the conference championship. The Colts fell just the same in 2005 and now the Patriots advance with a shot a yet another Super Bowl. This weekend must be a delight to the media with the "feel good" story of the Saints and now a rematch of the Colts-Patriots. The Colts were facing a road game in San Diego until the Patriots pulled off the win and now Peyton Manning gets his chance to finally get the monkey off his back - or yet again feel the pain of not being enough when it counts the most. Big stakes in this one and more than just the chance to play in the Big Show.

Starting in 2001, the Patriots beat the Colts six straight times until 2005 when the Colts won 40-21 in New England. In 2006, the Colts again won 27-20. Oddly enough, the last five meetings between these two teams have all been in New England and the last time the Pats were visitors was back at the end of the 2003 season when they clipped the Colts 38-34.

New England Patriots (12-4)
1 19-17 BUF 10 14-17 NYJ
2 24-17 @NYJ 11 35-0 @GB
3 7-17 DEN 12 17-13 CHI
4 38-13 @CIN 13 28-21 DET
5 20-10 MIA 14 0-21 @MIA
6 Open Bye 15 40-7 HOU
7 28-6 @BUF 16 24-21 @JAX
8 31-7 @MIN 17 40-23 @TEN
9 20-27 IND 18 37-16 NYJ
NEP Projections Rush Catch Pass
QB Tom Brady 0 0 250,1
RB Corey Dillon 50,1 10 0
RB Lawrence Maroney 50 20 0
TE Ben Watson 0 30 0
TE Daniel Graham 0 20,1 0
WR Jabar Gaffney 0 60 0
WR Reche Caldwell 0 70 0
WR Troy Brown 0 40 0
PK Stephen Gostkowski 2 FG 2 XP -
Pregame Notes: The Patriots pulled out the win in San Diego last week being exactly what they needed to be - just good enough to win the game thanks in no small part to fortunate breaks caused by mistakes by the Chargers. The Pats were motivated by the bad loss to San Diego in 2005 and that spilled over into actions by both teams. But in the end, all that mattered was the scoreboard which, incredibly, once again favored the Pats over the vastly talented Chargers. Now the Pats have another tough week on the road facing the team that they owned for years but have not defeated since 2004 - in their last playoff meeting. If you thought the Pats were cocky after the win last week - wait until Sunday if they pull this one off.

Quarterback: Tom Brady threw for 280 yards and two scores last week but he had three interceptions along the way and only completed 9 of 19 for 93 yards in the first half. Prior to that game, Brady had not thrown any interceptions in the five previous games and only twice had more than one interception in any game this year. He had two against the Bears in week 12 and then had a career high four in week nine - against the visiting Colts.

Brady threw for 255 yards and one score in that meeting.

Running Backs: The Patriots rushing attack ranks well but mainly because they scored 21 rushing touchdowns and had four scores via a pass to a running back. Corey Dillon accounted for 14 of those rushing touchdowns. With the split between he and Laurence Maroney (and even Kevin Faulk as well), no Pats runner has turned in more than 80 rushing yards in the last nine games played.

In week nine against the visiting Colts, Dillon gained 48 yards on 13 carries but scored twice while Maroney ran for 63 yards on 13 carries.

Wide Receivers: Last week Reche Caldwell was able to stick it to his old team when he had seven catches for 80 yards and one score. Caldwell varies from game to game with as low as only 12 yards and as high as 134 yards but that season high game came in week 17 against the Titans and he still had 50 yards on five receptions against the Jets two weeks ago. Jabar Gaffney had been chugging along with only around one catch per game but has exploded in the two playoff games with 8 catches for 104 yards against the Jets and then 103 yards on 10 receptions last week with a score. It may have taken all season long, but finally it appears that Brady has a favorite wideout. That usually means a big down game is in store given past history.

Back in week nine against the Colts, no Patriot wideout had more than 45 yards and that was for the departed Doug Gabriel. Caldwell only had one catch for 21 yards and Gaffney had no catches.

Tight Ends: Ben Watson has been very quiet in the playoffs after ending the season missing the final three games. Watson only had one catch for nine yards in San Diego and four receptions for 24 yards against the Jets. Back in week nine, Watson turned in 54 yards on four catches against the Colts.

Match Against the Defense: The Colts stumbled through the final month of the regular season but their defense has been vastly better these last two weeks. Playing at home, the Colts have never allowed an opponent to throw for more than 226 yards this season and have only allowed ten passing scores in those nine home games.

The Colts rushing defense had been ravaged this year which partly caused those lower passing numbers against them but the #32 defense against running backs at the end of the regular season held Larry Johnson to just 32 yards on 13 carries and then Jamal Lewis gained only 53 yards on 13 carries last week. In previous weeks, backs would have those numbers at the end of the first quarter with one touchdown but the Colts have apparently turned around their rushing defense almost immediately when the playoffs began.

The Pats were only moderately successful rushing against them in week nine and now this game is in Indianapolis, not New England. No doubt that the Patriots will try a bit of everything to see what works this week but this is a game beyond merely matching up strengths and weaknesses because so much is on the line both for the Super Bowl implications and the tremendous emotional issue with the Colts never being quite good enough while the Pats have long been as good as they need to be in the post-season.

But the Colts are no longer trying to get into a scoring -fest anymore and Manning is far more patient and willing to accept short gains and even throwing the ball away. If this game does become high scoring, it won't accelerate until later in the game when one team keeps pushing the other to score.

That all said, most likely is the Colts keeping this game fairly close at least in the first half avoiding mistakes and seeing what they can get out of the Patriots who are masters of the second-half adjustment. Most likely will be moderate rushing and passing here but much depends on game situation which will undoubtedly change as the game proceeds. What cannot be dismissed is that the Colts rush defense is improved and the Pats are not rushing all that well anyway. And the Colts passing defense has only allowed eight wideout touchdowns this year and none since week 13. That's six games without a wideout scoring against them and no visiting wideout has turned in more than 70 yards against them. This will be a game of Brady spreading the wealth and unlikely having one player turning in big numbers.

RANKS (1-32, 1 = BEST) TEAM    QB   RB   WR   TE   PK  DEF
Gaining Fantasy Points NE 11 4 19 5 19 11
Preventing Fantasy Points IND 4 32 1 15 20 4


Indianapolis Colts (12-4)
1 26-21 @NYG 10 17-16 BUF
2 43-24 HOU 11 14-21 @DAL
3 21-14 JAX 12 45-21 PHI
4 31-28 @NYJ 13 17-20 @TEN
5 14-13 TEN 14 17-44 @JAX
6 Open Bye 15 34-16 CIN
7 36-22 WAS 16 24-27 @HOU
8 34-31 @DEN 17 27-22 MIA
9 27-20 @NE 18 23-8 KC
IND Projections Rush Catch Pass
QB Peyton Manning 0 0 260,2
RB Dominic Rhodes 40 0 0
RB Joseph Addai 80,1 30 0
TE Dallas Clark 0 40 0
WR Marvin Harrison 0 70,1 0
WR Reggie Wayne 0 90,1 0
WR Aaron Moorehead 0 20 0
PK Adam Vinatieri 3 FG 3 XP -

Pregame Notes: Evidently the path to the Super Bowl is not about looking unbeatable in the regular season, it is playing the final month as if the team is falling apart and struggling against weak opponents and then turning it on when it matters most (note - it helps to win the first 10 games before doing this). The Colts finally host the AFC Championship looking quite differently than they have in the recent past and with a chance to finally and forever rid them of the Patriot curse. What has played better these last two weeks - suddenly the rushing defense has made a 180 degree turn around and the Colts no longer prefer to enter each game as a contest to see if Peyton Manning can single-handedly pass the Colts to a win.

Quarterback: The Colts have won both their playoff games so far but Peyton Manning has not been a major part of that. He was efficient enough when he passed for 268 yards and one score against the Chiefs but had three interceptions in that game. Last week against the Ravens, Manning threw for only 170 yards and no score with two interceptions. Manning threw for 326 yards and two scores in New England earlier this season and had only one interception in that game.

Running Backs: Of some concern is that Joseph Addai injured his shoulder last week and was limited to only four carries in the second half but he is not listed on the injury report this week and has practiced already. Addai was the star of the offense against the Chiefs two weeks ago when he ran for 122 yards and a score on 25 carries and added 37 yards on two receptions. Addai only had 39 yards on 18 carries in Baltimore last week. Dominic Rhodes has also ran far better in these last two games when he gained 68 yards against the Chiefs and then 56 yards on 14 carries last week.

The Colts were unable to mount much of a rushing attack in New England this season. Addai only had 43 yards on 18 carries with one score while Rhodes was held to just 13 yards on four carries.

Wide Receivers: The dynamic duo of Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne really has not done much through two games in the post-season. Wayne has only scored once and had five catches in each match-up with around 40 yards in each game. Harrison ended the season with six scores in the final three games but only had six receptions for a total of 93 yards over the last two games. The Colts are not relying on the pair to win games so far - and yet they are winning. Harrison aggravated a sprained wrist last week but is practicing and said to be fine.

Harrison had eight catches for 145 yards and two scores against the Pats this year while Wayne had 90 yards on six catches.

Tight Ends: Since returning in week 17 after missing five games, Dallas Clark has been one of Manning's favorite targets and had a season high 103 yards on nine catches against the Chiefs. He turned in 41 yards in Baltimore.

Clark only had two catches for 42 yards in New England this year.

Match Against the Defense: Assuming that the Colts are not following New England's lead and claiming that Addai is fine when he is really injured, the Colts rushing game could have some success here against a defense that has allowed numerous big games to opposing runners in the last six weeks. Vince Wilfork returned for the playoffs but the Leon Washington still had 50 yards on just 11 carries against them two weeks ago and the Chargers scored three rushing touchdowns last Sunday.

In the two previous wins by the Colts over the Pats, Manning had very solid games and this year had the most yards allowed by the Pats all season long. But Manning is likely to play closer to the best in this one and that will likely prevent him from posting the gaudy numbers of the past. While Addai and Rhodes should have some success here, Manning will add enough to keep the offense moving without pressing himself into making mistakes. Expect at least one passing score here with a good chance for two if the Pats are successful scoring early. Those strongly favor the wideouts though Clark has been improved lately.

One of the side notes of interest here could be the play of Adam Vinatieri who made five field goals to win the game last week but was only 2 of 4 in New England in week nine.

RANKS (1-32, 1 = BEST) TEAM    QB   RB   WR   TE   PK  DEF
Gaining Fantasy Points IND 2 16 2 8 4 29
Preventing Fantasy Points NE 2 6 11 1 6 12