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The odds are in Tom Brady and the Patriots’ favor at home in Foxboro, Mass.
COLTS AT PATRIOTS, GILLETTE STADIUM, 8 P.M.
LINE: Patriots by 7
TV: Ch. 2 (Greg Gumbel, Dan Dierdorf)
RADIO: WFAN-660 AM, 101.9 FM (Ian Eagle, Trent Green, Tony Boselli)
FORECAST: Rain, with temperatures in the mid-50s and 17-20 mph winds.
Patriots LB Brandon Spikes (knee) is on IR. Dane Fletcher will start in the 4-3 but Dont’a Hightower and Jamie Collins will share responsibilities. WR Aaron Dobson is out with a second foot injury. Austin Collie was re-signed as depth. DB Alfonzo Dennard (knee/shoulder) and WR Kenbrell Thompkins (hip) are questionable. Colts WR Darrius Heyward-Bey (hamstring) is out. S LaRon Landry (concussion) is expected to play.
WR T.Y. Hilton vs. CBs Aqib Talib and Kyle Arrington: Since the Colts lost Reggie Wayne , they’ve been moving Hilton (13-224, 2 TDs last week) all around the formation, forcing opponents to keep tabs on him. He’s remained a deep threat while still able to work out of the slot when he’s there. That will be the challenge for the Patriots defense, which excels at taking a team’s best weapon out of the game. If they do, Andrew Luck will have to look elsewhere for big plays. Although the physical Talib is an All Pro, he has trouble with shiftier receivers. Arrington, with safety help, could be the better coverage choice.
“I’m curious how the Colts will play this. They played a lot of off-coverage against the Chiefs and Alex Smith picked them apart on slant routes. That’s Tom Brady’s calling card. They can’t give up the short middle or he’s going to hit them with crossing routes all night. Donald Brown has become a more effective ball-carrier than Trent Richardson . He’s has good as anyone getting yards after contact. Spikes was really struggling on that knee and the Patriots were hurting against the run before they put him on IR so his loss alone is not going to have that much of an impact. But if I’m the Colts, I’m pounding it. Same for the Patriots, for that matter. They can wear this defense down with their backfield.”
History and home field favor the Patriots as they seek to reach the AFC Championship Game for the third straight year. They are 14-4 at home in the playoffs, 10-6 in this round and 8-0 at Gillette this season. Bill Belichick and Brady have the most postseason wins of any HC/QB duo, 17. They have been as mentally tough as ever this year. But the Colts don’t seem to pay attention to such things as long as they have Luck to rally around. They have knocked off both top seeds, the Seahawks and Broncos, as well as the 49ers at Candlestick and the Chiefs, twice, with a 5-2 overall record against playoff teams. And if it comes down to a field goal, they have all-time clutch kicker Adam Vinatieri .
PATRIOTS 30-21: Brady will own this fourth quarter.