The Patriots are in the AFC Championship Game under Bill Belichick for the ninth time.
It’s also the fourth straight season they’ve made it to this point in the season. But the Patriots have come up short in the last two, losing to the Broncos last season, and the Ravens the year before. This year, though, the Pats are clear favorites to beat the Colts at home and advance to Super Bowl XLIX. A loss Sunday (6:40 p.m., CBS) would be at or near the top of the biggest Patriots choke jobs under Belichick.
With that, three things to watch for on Sunday:
Colts run game
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Last season, the Colts traded a first round draft pick to the Browns for Trent Richardson. Flash-forward to last Sunday when the Colts played the Broncos, and Richardson was a healthy scratch. Yes, he’s been that bad. Ahmad Bradshaw and Richardson were ineffective against the Patriots in Week 11. Now, it’s Daniel “Boom” Herron taking the handoffs – and catching the passes. In the Colts’ two postseason games this month, Herron has 35 carries for 119 yards and two touchdowns. He also has 18 receptions for 117 yards. That means Jamie Collins is going to be very busy on Sunday. “I’d say he’s done a great job of running; good balance, good toughness, good vision,” Bill Belichick said of Herron. “[He’s] made a lot of extra yards on his own. But I’d say the big thing has been how involved he’s been in the passing game. That’s been huge.”
Darrelle Revis was good – not great – last weekend against the Ravens. He allowed a touchdown to Steve Smith Sr. in the first quarter before Smith was “erased” for the rest of the game. But Revis was also flagged for pass interference in the first quarter, a drive that ended in another touchdown. He was later flagged for defensive holding, which wiped out a Joe Flacco fumble and recovery by the Patriots. Expect a better Revis this weekend. He shut down Reggie Wayne in the team’s last meeting, but there’s a good chance his coverage duties could change to T.Y. Hilton this weekend, clearly the best wide receiver on the Colts now. Eliminating Hilton will go a long way in eliminating the Colts.
The Patriots played with fire twice last weekend and somehow didn’t get burned. We know that if Belichick has the choice, he’ll defer receiving the ball to the second half. Even so, it’s important for New England to make a statement early. They can’t give the Colts reason to believe in a big upset.