Football

AFC Championship Game scouting report: Colts at Patriots

Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck (left) will face off against Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.
Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck (left) will face off against Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. The Associated Press

▪ KICKOFF: 5:40 p.m. Sunday at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass.

▪ TV/RADIO: CBS (Chs. 5, 13); WHB (810 AM).

▪ THE LINE: Patriots by 6 1/2

▪ KEY INJURIES: Colts — CB Vontae Davis (knee), CB Greg Toler (groin), questionable; LB Erik Walden (knee), probable. Patriots — C Bryan Stork (knee), out; QB Tom Brady, CB Brandon Bowner (knee), LB Dont’a Hightower (shoulder), WR Brandon LaFell (shoulder, toe), DT Chris Jones, probable.

Passing

EDGE >> PATRIOTS

The Colts’ Andrew Luck led the NFL in passing with 40 TD passes and a franchise-record 4,761 yards and has recorded the most passing yards (1,703) in a player’s first five playoff games in NFL history. WR T.Y. Hilton has posted 100 yards receiving in three straight postseason games. But as brilliant as Luck has been in the postseason, Patriots QB Tom Brady has been the best playoff quarterback of his generation, if not all-time. Brady, who has a healthy and near-unstoppable TE Rob Gronkowski at his disposal, threw for 367 yards and four TDs in the divisional win over Baltimore and is the NFL’s all-time leader with 19 playoff wins and 46 postseason touchdowns.

Rushing

EDGE >> COLTS

Indianapolis’ second-year RB Daniel “Boom” Herron, who played at newly crowned national champion Ohio State, rushed 12 times for 56 yards in the wild-card win over Cincinnati, and 23 times for 63 yards last week against Denver, just enough to take some pressure off Luck. The Patriots’ committee of Brandon Bolden, Shane Vereen and LaGarrette Blount managed just 14 yards in seven carries against Baltimore, but obscure Jonas Gray rushed for 201 yards and four TDs in the Patriots’ 42-20 regular-season win over the Colts. Blount ran for 166 yards and four TDs in a divisional playoff win over the Colts last year.

Defense

EDGE >> PATRIOTS

Despite being led by defensive-minded coaches, the Colts and Patriots were middle-of-the pack defensively. The Patriots ranked 13th overall on defense; the Colts were 11th. But both teams were opportunistic as the Colts created 26 takeaways, the Patriots 25. New England star CB Darrelle Revis will man up against Hilton while the Colts’ Vontae Davis will have a similar role against the Patriots’ Julian Edelman. But the Colts may not have an answer for Gronkowski, who caught seven passes for 108 yards and a TD against Baltimore.

Coaching

EDGE >> PATRIOTS

Chuck Pagano has guided the Colts to the postseason in all three seasons in which he has been head coach, and clearly, his team plays hard for him. Pagano and offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton have been rewarded by giving Luck a lot of responsibility. But Patriots coach Bill Belichick and Brady are the masters with 19 playoff wins, the most by a coach/QB duo; and Belichick, who surprised the Ravens on a critical down with an unusual formation and with a wide receiver TD pass by Edelman, can break a tie with Tom Landry for the most postseason wins with his 21st victory.

Intangibles

EDGE >> PATRIOTS

This is New England’s fourth straight AFC Championship Game, but they’ve lost the last two, and there’s no telling how many more shots Brady and Belichick will get to win their elusive fourth Super Bowl championship. Who else comes back from two 14-point deficits in a playoff game like they did last week? Hard to believe it’s been 10 years since they last won a title.

Face to face

Indianapolis K Adam Vinatieri and New England K Stephen Gostkowski

These games often come down to kicking, and Vinatieri is the NFL’s career playoff leader with 56 field goals, including five field goals in the postseason. Before Vinatieri moved onto Indianapolis, his field goals were the decisive points in all three of the Patriots’ Super Bowl wins. His replacement, Gostkowski, supplanted him as the club’s all-time scorer this season as he made 35 of 37 field-goal attempts.

Why the Colts will win

It’s time for Luck to take the mantle from Brady, Peyton Manning and others and become the next great quarterback to win a Super Bowl. Brady and Ben Roethlisberger won championships in their second pro seasons; Eli Manning in his fourth.

Why the Patriots will win

The Patriots have absolutely dominated the Colts, winning their last three meetings by an average 26 points, including 43-22 in the playoffs last season and 42-20 in the regular season this season. In those three games, Luck threw six TD passes but was intercepted eight times and sacked five times.

Randy Covitz’s prediction: Patriots 34-30

To reach Randy Covitz, call 816-234-4796 or send email to rcovitz@kcstar.com. Follow him on Twitter: @randycovitz.

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