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Tough test on road turf

The Patriots face what might be their biggest test of the season this Sunday heading to the RCA Dome to face the 9-2 Colts.

When two 9-2, playoff-bound teams meet one would generally expect it to be a good all-around game. And when the 9-2 Patriots face the 9-2 Colts this Sunday on Indianapolis' home turf at the RCA Dome most expect that to be the case.

But one factor that could specifically work to make the game even more intriguing than most such affairs is the fact that the two teams are somewhat mirror images of each other. New England heads into the matchup led by one of the best pass defenses in the NFL working within an overall solid defensive unit, as well as a very capable and opportunistic offense. On the other hand, Indianapolis has one of the best passing offenses in all of football, a solid running game and a playmaking if not overly dominant defense. The varied and balanced skills of both teams on both sides of the ball would appear to lay the groundwork for what has the potential to a postseason-preview type game.

"There is a good reason why they have had as much success as they have had," Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick said. "They are solid all the way through. They are well coached, they have a lot of good players, they are talented and they are playing very well. It will be a big challenge for us out there, playing Indianapolis out there, on their turf with the way they are playing right now. It will be a big test for us. We will need a good effort out there Sunday if we are going to do well."

Offensively the Colts explosive attack is still the story of quarterback Peyton Manning, wide receiver Marvin Harrison and running back Edgerrin James. But this season a bit more of the load has been spread to various other offensive weapons.

"They have a lot of guys we have seen before and as we all know, they are real explosive offensively," Belichick said. "I think that they have gotten a much better balance out of their receiving corps in terms of overall production and of course Harrison is still the guy but their other receivers have performed very well and have been real productive for them too. [Reggie] Wayne and Harrison between them have about 1,500 yards. The tight end situation looks also pretty good with the rookie in there, Dallas Clark, and [Marcus] Pollard who I think will probably be back this week. They are a very strong team and of course James is back. This is a very explosive offense."

Defensively the Colts have grown more into the system and philosophies of head coach Tony Dungy, behind a group of young players that includes defensive end Dwight Freeney, linebacker David Thornton and safety Mike Doss.

"They are very fast on defense as Tony's defensive units always are," Belichick said. "They have a lot of quick guys upfront. They are a very penetrating style of defense. They run a lot of gains, run a lot of stunts, do a fair amount of blitzing and put some pressure on you in terms of their overall team speed is where they are very difficult to match up against."

The Patriots also probably can't match the explosive nature of the Colts in general. Indianapolis has made big plays in all three phases of the game this season and take advantage of the team's own home turf.

"They are scoring on defense," Belichick said. "They are making big plays in the kicking game. They are very, very explosive on offense. That is kind of the way I see this team. They have a lot of weapons."

Game numbers and notes

The Patriots 9-2 start is the best 11-game start in franchise history. … New England is 5-0 this season against teams that currently have winning records. The Patriots are the only team in the NFL with seven or more wins to have played as many as five games against teams with records above .500. … The Patriots have a 39-24 advantage in the all-time series, including a 12-6 mark in Indianapolis. New England has won 10 of the last 12 games in the series. The Colts have won two of the last three games in the RCA Dome. … The Patriots have a 62-41-1 all-time record against teams that make up the AFC South and it is the only division in the NFL where the Patriots own a winning record against each team. … Indianapolis enters the game with the league's 2nd ranked offense while scoring 28.1 points per game and the NFL's 13th ranked defense while allowing 19.6 points per game. The Patriots are tied for 14th and average 19.9 points per game, while sporting the leagues 7th ranked defense and giving up 15.9 points per contest. New England has a plus-8 turnover ratio, while Indianapolis' is plus-5. … Peyton Manning has a 2-6 career record against the Patriots. … Ty Lawhas recorded four career interceptions against Manning and has returned two for touchdowns. … The Patriots have now lost 11 straight coin tosses dating back to Week Two. … New England has won its last eight overtime games, including last Sunday's 23-20 win in Houston. The eight-game winning streak is the longest in NFL history. The Patriots have not lost in overtime since a 16-13 defeat at the hands of the Bills at Foxboro Stadium on Nov. 5, 2000. … The combined record of New England's remaining opponents is 26-29, giving the Patriots the easiest remaining schedule in the AFC East. … Tom Brady's 29-12 career record as a starter is the best of any active quarterback with at least 20 starts. … Kevin Faulk leads the Patriots with 135 rushes for 508 yards. He also leads the team in receptions with 39 for a total of 380 yards. … Deion Branch leads the team with 548 yards on 36 receptions. … Rodney Harrison is the team's leading tackler with 97. … The Patriots lead the NFL with 86 passes defensed. The team has also given up the fewest touchdown passes (6) and has the lowest opposing quarterback passer rating (57.7). … Brady has completed seven passes of 45 or more yards this season, including four in the month of November. He completed just two passes of 45 or more yards in his career heading into this season. … Bill Belichick now has the best winning percentage in franchise history with .597 mark. … New England has won 17 consecutive game when leading at halftime and 22 straight when leading after three quarters. … The Patriots are 7-0 this season when recording a positive or even turnover ratio and 2-2 with a negative ratio. New England is 18-2 since the beginning of 2001 when they maintain a positive turnover differential. The team currently ranks third in the AFC with a plus-8 ratio. … Marvin Harrison leads the Colts with 62 receptions for 824 yards and seven touchdowns. In 12 career games against the Patriots he's posted 71 receptions for 1,053 yards and eight touchdowns. He's recorded 100 receiving yards in five of the last six games against New England. … Peyton Manning has completed 265-of-393 passes for 3,105 yards and 19 touchdowns with just eight interceptions this season. He is 2-6 all-time against the Patriots, but in his last three home games vs. New England he's completed 53-of-81 passes for 789 yards and six touchdowns with a 121.9 passer rating. … Edgerrin James is the Colts leading rusher with 735 yards and seven touchdowns on 200 carries. He has four 100 yard games against the Patriots in his career, including three in each of his home appearances vs. New England. … Second year linebacker David Thornton leads the Colts with 113 tackles. … Dwight Freeney has nine sacks and three forced fumbles.

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