For much of this century, it was the marquee matchup in the AFC and arguably the entire NFL: Patriots vs. Colts. Tom Brady vs. Peyton Manning. Prime-time games, playoff classics, this rivalry had it all.
Then Manning left Indianapolis, and the Colts cratered. But that ended up breathing new life into the series, as it allowed them to draft Andrew Luck. He promptly led the Colts to the playoffs in each of his first three seasons, including a couple postseason trips to New England.
Alas, Luck has met the Patriots five times overall, and Brady has gotten the better of him each time, although they haven’t met since 2015. Finally healthy after missing all of last season, can Luck breathe life back into the rivalry again?
Indianapolis at New England
Kickoff: Thursday, Oct. 4 at 8:20 p.m. ET
TV: FOX/NFL Network
Spread: Patriots -10
Three Things to Watch
1. Luck showing flashes of his old self
The Colts are off to an uneven 1–3 start, and Luck has been a big part of that. In two home games, Luck has thrown for 783 yards with six touchdowns and one interception, including 464 yards and four scores in an overtime loss to Houston last week. On the road, Luck has thrown for just 343 yards in two games with three scores and two interceptions. The will need Luck to take his game on the road with him this week. The good news is that he has been pretty good against the Patriots in his career. He has thrown for at least 300 yards and two touchdowns in four of five career meetings with the Pats. Usually, his defense has let him down: In those five games, New England has averaged 44.6 points per game.
2. Searching for an identity, the Pats will lean on Brady
After three weeks, serious questions were being raised about the Patriots. After struggling to put away the Texans at home in the season opener, the Pats got dominated in back-to-back road losses to the Jaguars and Lions. Things normalized in a big 38–7 home win over previously unbeaten Miami last weekend, but still... is this just another one of those slow starts that turns into an 11-game winning streak for the Pats? Or was it just the Dolphins who regressed to normal after a hot start against a weak schedule, which would mean we still aren’t sure what New England is all about? We’ll start to get the answer this week, but there’s no questioning Tom Brady’s dominance on with a short week of preparation. In 12 career Thursday games, Brady is 10–2 and has thrown 25 touchdowns against just three interceptions.
3. Who will be healthy?
Injuries are always a factor with only three days between games, and both star quarterbacks could be missing big weapons. Least likely to play is T.Y. Hilton, the Colts top receiver, who left Sunday’s loss to the Texans with hamstring and chest injuries. Assuming Hilton can’t go, Indianapolis could really use tight end Jack Doyle to return. Doyle caught seven passes in the season opener but injured his hip in Week 2 and has not played since. New England has its own issues, as tight end Rob Gronkowski (ankle) and newly acquired wideout Josh Gordon (hamstring) both came out of the win over the Dolphins at less than 100 percent.
The numbers above say “never bet against Brady on Thursday.” While that may be over-simplifying things, it’s tough to see Luck being able to win a shootout with Brady on the road, especially if Hilton can’t go or is less than 100 percent.