If the Indianapolis Colts want to make their first trip to the Super Bowl in five years, they’ll have to do so by pulling off consecutive upsets. Andrew Luck and Co. were underdogs in the divisional playoff win against the Denver Broncos, and they aren’t favored to beat the New England Patriots in the 2015 AFC Championship game.
Multiple signs point to Sunday being the end of the road for the Colts. They are 6.5-point underdogs, visiting a team that has one of the best home-field advantages in the NFL. When the Colts got their shot at the Patriots in Week 11, they were blown out on their home field, 42-20.
Despite the obstacles they face, the Colts have a chance to surprise the experts and win at Gillette Stadium. Indianapolis went on the road and defeated last year’s AFC champions in the second round of the playoffs, and the Patriots lost the AFC Championship game at home just two years ago.
Below are four ways the Colts can upset the Patriots.
Put Pressure on Tom Brady
Brady is one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play in the NFL, and he remains one of the best players at his position, but he does have a weakness. The veteran is far less agile than his counterpart, and he’s had his most trouble when facing a lot of pressure. Brady was sacked seven times in New England’s first three losses, before sitting out the second half of the team’s Week 17 defeat. In 12 regular-season victories, Brady was sacked just 13 times, and six of those sacks came in the two Patriots’ wins in which the team scored less than 20 points.
Even with all of New England’s playoff success, the team has been the victim of several upsets. Most notably, the New York Giants were underdogs in both of their Super Bowl wins over the Patriots. Brady was sacked a combined seven times in those two games, which saw the Patriots scored a combined 31 points
Limit New England's Running Game
The Colts actually did a good job of keeping Brady in check in Week 11, intercepting him twice and holding him to 257 passing yards. It was actually Jonas Gray, who totaled just 412 rushing yards in the regular season, who was the biggest reason for New England’s 42 points. Indianapolis allowed Gray to rush 37 times for 201 yards and four touchdowns. The Patriots’ offense is much more effective when it can run the ball well, averaging just 84.4 rushing yards in the regular-season games in which they scored less than 30 points. They averaged 131.5 rushing yards in the eight contests that saw them score 30 points or more.
Indianapolis doesn’t have a strong run defense, allowing 113.4 yards on the ground per game. The Colts rank 18th overall against the run, but they've surrendered an average of 143.8 rushing yards in their losses. The Cleveland Browns ranked last in 2014, allowing 141.6 rushing yards per game.
Run the Ball Effectively
New England is good at stopping the run, ranking ninth in the league, but they’ve struggled at times, usually resulting in losses. Allowing 104.3 rushing yards per game on the season, the Patriots have surrendered an average of 158 rushing yards in their four losses. It might be easier said than done for the Colts to establish a ground game, considering they’ve rushed for a total of 20 yards on 26 carries in their last two losses. However, Daniel Herron has had his moments, averaging 4.5 yards per carry in the regular season and rushing for 56 yards on just 12 attempts on Wild Card Weekend.
Luck has needed some help in recent games, throwing nine touchdowns and seven interceptions in the last six weeks. He’s surpassed the 300-yard mark just once since the end of November.
Hold Onto the Ball
Luck appears to be taking his spot among the league’s top quarterbacks, leading the NFL in touchdown passes and winning two playoff games. However, he still has a penchant for making costly mistakes, and the Colts have struggled when he’s not careful with the football. Luck threw as many interceptions (eight) in Indianapolis’ losses as he did in the team’s 11 regular-season wins.
The Colts were fortunate to force the Patriots into three turnovers in their first matchup, but that isn’t likely to happen on Sunday. New England led the AFC in 2014, committing 12 fewer giveaways than takeaways.