Does Belichick still have Manning's number?
These two teams fully expect to play each other in the AFC Championship in January. The Colts believe they can move the ball on the Patriots' defense, especially with the new pass defense rules that greatly favor the Colts' receivers. Meanwhile, the Patriots think they can design enough changes in schemes to confuse Peyton Manning.
The Patriots are searching for offensive balance and may have found it during the offseason in RB Corey Dillon. The Colts did not address their big offseason need to improve their defense, and the Patriots' creative offense could spell trouble.
It could be a wild game, with Manning knowing the best way to beat the Patriots is to try to make it a shootout.
When the Colts have the ball
Rushing: The Colts are most effective when they can run the football, force defenses to play honest and set up the play-action package for Manning. Injuries have hindered the run game over the past couple seasons, but the 1-2 punch of Edgerrin James and Dominic Rhodes is finally healthy.
Finding Patriots SS Rodney Harrison will be the key to the Colts' run game. Harrison loves to play in the box, almost like another linebacker, and the Colts must force him to sit back in coverage, which is not his strength. But that will require early success in the passing game.
The Patriots' defense is big up front, difficult to get good blocking angles on inside, and they can play either a 3-4 or 4-3 scheme. The Colts have an extremely athletic offensive line and they play with more finesse than power. The Patriots will try to occupy the Colts' blockers with their two-gap defensive line, thus allowing the linebackers and Harrison to flow to the ball and make plays.
The Colts will use their patented "stretch" play, which gets James outside and allows him time to read the hole and take advantage of cutback opportunities. At times, the Patriots may employ some five-man fronts, but regardless of the defense Manning sees, the Colts will run the ball early.