Once again revisiting the “Deflategate” scandal that dominated the NFL offseason, the New England Patriots storm into their AFC Championship rematch with the Indianapolis Colts as 9.5-point favorites on “Sunday Night Football.”
The primetime matchup serves as New England’s chance for revenge, even though they trounced the Colts 45-7 in last year’s title game and went on to win their fourth Super Bowl. “Deflategate” all began when the Colts D’Qwell Jackson questioned whether a ball he intercepted from Tom Brady was under-inflated, kicking off a wild legal stand-off between Brady, the Patriots, and the NFL.
With quarterback Brady on fire and New England off to a blazing 4-0 start, the Patriots began the week as 6.5-point favorites, but the line has shifted even more in their favor with odds makers unsure how well Indianapolis quarterback Andrew Luck will play.
The Colts are expected to start Luck after he missed the last two games recovering from a torn rotator cuff in his throwing shoulder, but according to NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport the Pro Bowler could have returned sooner in Week 5 when Indianapolis played and beat Houston 27-20 with veteran Matt Hasselbeck under center.
Luck was limited the first two days of practice but fully participated in Friday’s session, while linebackers Jerrell Freeman (groin) and Nate Irving (knee) join him as questionable on the team’s official injury report.
Luck could have a much easier time against the Patriots with defensive back Tarrell Brown placed on season-ending injured reserve with a foot injury. New England did the same with left tackle Nate Solder (bicep).
The fact that Indianapolis has won two straight without Luck, thanks to Hasselbeck’s leadership, as well as the emergence of veteran running back Frank Gore and receiver Andre Johnson, at first afforded the Colts more of a chance in the eyes of odds makers.
However, the Patriots and Brady have opened the season on a tear with likely intentions of silencing an entire league that’s questioned their practices perhaps one too many times, dating back to 2007’s “Spygate.”
Brady’s currently sixth in the NFL with 1,387 yards, and has totaled 10 passing touchdowns and a league-best 121.5 passer rating through four games. New England’s off to its best start in two seasons, and could go 5-0 for the first time since 2007 when they went 19 games before facing a defeat.
The Patriots have dominated the opposition this season, outscoring opponents by 73 total points, most of which came from their 51-17 pounding of Jacksonville in Week 3 before their bye.
On the flip side, Luck hasn’t played the best ball of his career but he’s still one of the more lethal quarterbacks in the NFL. He’s compiled five touchdowns to seven interceptions, and faces a New England secondary that’s No. 11 in the league with 230 passing yards allowed per game.
And with Gore and Johnson finally stepping up after initially failing to adjust to their new offenses and the Colts poor offensive line play, Luck still has weapons to challenge Brady and the Patriots. Gore’s scored all three of his touchdowns during the Colts three-game winning streak and is now averaging 4.3 yards per carry, while Johnson picked up his first two scores of the season against Houston.
Luck can also turn to receiver T.Y. Hilton, who has yet to score a touchdown this season, but but still leads the Colts with 27 receptions for 382 yards off 50 targets.
Betting Odds: New England -9.5
Over/Under: 54 points
Prediction: New England over Indianapolis, 34-24