Oh how the mighty have fallen. After years competing with the Patriots for seeding in the AFC and a trip to the Super Bowl, the Colts head to Foxborough this weekend without Peyton Manning and without a win on the season. Bill Belichick has said all week that the Colts record is irrelevant, but their poor level of play in many areas certainly is not. New England is by far the better team, playing far better football. Though the game won't have the energy of the prime time meeting of Hall of Fame quarterbacks that it was supposed to be, Patriots fans should have plenty to cheer about on Sunday. Until the early afternoon kickoff and the fun begins, crack open this bombastic Colts Friday Six-Pack!
1. QB infamy, D unknown - Dan Orlovsky replaces Curtis Painter under center for the Colts. This will sound like a shot, but the former UConn QB is an NFL loser. He's never won a game that he's played in in the NFL. He was also a member of the 2008 Detroit team that went 0-16. He takes over a Colts squad that needs just five more losses to record only the second 0-16 season in NFL history. Not exactly the kinds of marks Orlovsky would like to leave in the record books. Orlovsky is best known for rolling out of the back of the end zone for a safety in Detroit. He threw eight touchdowns and eight interceptions that season, his only scores or turnovers in the NFL. So the Patriots defense won't have a lot of recent film to go on, and facing a new quarterback for the first time is always a unique challenge. Combine that with the fact that Indy fired defensive coordinator Larry Coyer this past week, and the Patriots have some unknowns to prepare for on both sides of the ball. In the end the talent is vastly greater on the New England roster, especially at the most important position. But New England should also expect the unexpected as the new-look, desperate Colts come to town.
2. Offensive fun - Whether it's through the air or on the ground, the Patriots should be able move the ball with great success and score points against the Colts. Indy has the worst point differential in football. They're 31st against the run, thanks to an undersized unit that's had to deal with backups at a number of spots. They're also dead last in third-down defense. So Brady and Co. will be able to put drives together and make plays. This is a good week to get the ground game going to balance out the offense. Maybe BenJarvus Green-Ellis will get enough touches for a big day. Maybe the load will still be split between a few backs. Either way, as I've said in past weeks, it could be good for both the short and long term success of the offense to run the ball with some regularity. They'll have the chance against the Colts.
4. Cover Wayne and Garcon - The other stars that Belichick pointed to when talking about how dangerous the Colts are were wide receivers Reggie Wayne and Pierre Garcon. Again, that's true. They are the Colts two top receivers. Both can make big plays. But their success also relies on pass protection and solid play from the quarterback slot. The Colts best chance on offense may be similar to what the Eagles did successfully early last week - chuck the ball deep and try to make big plays. Had DeSean Jackson caught the ball more consistently, that plan may have worked better for Philly. It's worth a try for the Colts, who have nothing to lose. New England should get Patrick Chung back to help coordinate things in the back end and bring some experienced, stable play. The secondary may also get Devin McCourty back, although my guess is that he's still a week or two away. We'll see. Regardless of the personnel, the pass defense has to keep Wayne and Garcon from carrying a lackluster passing attack that ranks 28th in the NFL.
5. Option football - I'm not talking about the kind of ugly winning that Tim Tebow is putting forth in Denver. I'm talking about more options to diversify the offense. Maybe a good, ol' fashioned blowout would be a good time to get Chad Ochocinco or Taylor Price into the mix of the passing game. Heck, maybe Tiquan Underwood has earned more chances. Regardless, this game should offer a chance for the passing game to spread itself out and make some plays. We already know what Wes Welker, Deion Branch, Rob Gronkowski (if he doesn't have to help with Freeney/Mathis) and Aaron Hernandez can do. Against an opponent that New England should handle pretty handily it could offer almost a preseason-like chance for the other receivers to prove their knowledge of the offense and ability to make plays.
6. What a rush! - Both Andre Carter and Mark Anderson could be on their way to 10-sack seasons. They should have some chances to continue that impressive production in this meeting with a young, suspect Colts offensive line. Indy is middle of the pack in sacks per pass play, but Orlovsky should give the Patriots pass rushers chances to make some plays, especially if the Colts are in catch-up mode pretty early on. Philly did a pretty good job handling both Carter and Anderson as the rushers had to use more contained pressure to stay home against Vince Young. They won't have such fears this time around. They should smell blood in the water, get after Orlovsky and add to their numbers.
Belichick and his players have done a good job this week of selling us on the fact that the Colts record isn't important, that they expect a competitive game. I'm glad they feel that way, because it will only allow them to have more success against a very much inferior opponent. I think the Patriots will be able to make plays on both sides of the ball, probably some big plays, with some regularity. While Indy has fought tough at times and is a bit unknown with the new QB/defensive coordinator, they've failed miserably against good teams with good quarterbacks this season. That should continue Sunday afternoon at Gillette. This game starts, as all games should, at 1 pm. It likely will be over by around 1:30. Orlovsky will continue his losing ways in the NFL. And, unlike last week in Philly against the well respect Andy Reid, I don't expect Belichick to call off the dogs too early against the Colts. He took a little jab at the team and Bill Polian on ESPN radio on Friday and my guess is he'll take another swipe on the scoreboard on Sunday. Pulling it all together, I'm going with the 45-13 win for the Patriots with a chance that New England could put even more points on the board if it really would like to. Remember, the Saints beat the Colts 62-7!