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Hold your horses

Posted by Eric Wilbur, Boston.com Staff November 9, 2009 10:23 AM

Now that that's out of the way…

No disrespect to the Miami Dolphins, who are about as good a 3-5 team as you'll find anywhere east of San Francisco, but this is the date Patriots fans have had circled on their pocket calendar for some time now, the text barely legible at this point from tracing over it repeatedly in recent weeks.

What the Patriots have on their plate two of the next three weeks is a chance to de-rail both the Colts (Sunday night) and potentially, the Saints (Nov. 30), denying both teams' bid for the perfect season.

But let's face it; a win over the Colts would taste sweeter than a victory over the Saints.

In a showdown once dominated by the Patriots, the Colts have won four of the last five meetings between the two teams, last year's win, of course, missing Tom Brady from the New England equation. Since the AFC divisional playoff game in 2005, the Patriots have beaten the Colts only once – during their own run at perfection in 2007.

A win over Indianapolis on Sunday would go a long way toward New England's battle for a first-round playoff bye (Amazingly, the Broncos, Steelers, and Patriots might be fighting the Bengals for one of the two positions). It would also be New England's first road victory on American soil this season.

Chris Gasper recently pointed out that the only team to win the Super Bowl without a winning road record since 2000 was the 2006 version of the Colts (4-4). In the Belichick era, the Patriots have the second-best road record in the NFL (50-25), trailing only...yes, the Colts (52-24).

"In the Patriots' back-to-back Super Bowl-winning seasons of 2003 and 2004, they posted identical 6-2 road records," Gasper wrote. "In 2001, the season the Patriots lifted the first of their three Lombardi Trophies this decade, they went 5-3. New England lost its first two road games that season as well, but then went 5-1 on the road the rest of the way."

That's a script they hope to repeat - or better - once again this season.

The Colts meanwhile, while still undefeated, have won their last two games by a combined seven points. Yesterday, it was the Houston Texans who put a scare into Peyton Manning and Co., Kris Brown reverse Norwooding the game by missing a last-minute field goal that would have sent the game into overtime. A Houston win could have potentially forecast a scenario where the Patriots and Colts were tied with 7-2 marks next Monday morning.

As the Colts defense continues to be marred by injuries, the Patriots' unit has quietly emerged as one of the league's best. New England is allowing an average of 14.4 points per game. Only the Broncos (13.7) and Colts (13.5) have allowed fewer.

Still, we really don't know too much about either one of these teams. The Colts' schedule looks like something out of a cupcake ingredients recipe, and the Patriots just spent the last three games beating up on teams that have a combined six wins (Tampa got its first yesterday over a Green Bay team that some – ahem – toolbags picked to win the Super Bowl).

The Cold, Hard Football Facts kids say that both teams have something to prove:

Indianapolis – The Colts were the only team in football with just one game against a Quality Opponent, so their impressive 7-0 start had at least some air of suspicion around it. Indy now has a 2-0 mark against Quality Teams after beating upstart Houston at home Sunday, but the other Quality win came against Arizona. These two victims are a combined 10-7 – it’s not exactly on the caliber of the slate the Broncos have faced. But we’ll know more about the Colts Sunday night, after they boast the Patriots in what seems like an annual grudge match against the AFC powers.

New England – Oh, look, how convenient: the Patriots, like the Colts, actually still have something to prove. Oh, and look, the two teams play Sunday night. New England, like Indy, easily controls its division at the halfway mark. And both have won impressively: the Patriots have outscored their opponents by 110 points this year; the Colts by 109. Only New Orleans (+129 is better). But the Patriots are a meager 1-1 against Quality Teams through Week 9. The only Quality Opponent the Patriots have bested this year are the 5-3 Falcons, who New England handled fairly easily (26-10). In retrospect, New England’s best game of the year might not have been its 59-0 thrashing of the Titans in the snow, but its 20-17 overtime loss at 6-1 Denver .

The last time the Patriots beat the Colts – in 2007 – New England snapped Indianapolis' seven-game winning streak to begin the season. The Pats hope to hand the Colts a "1" in the "L" column once again this weekend. It will be the first time the Patriots face a Tony Dungy-less Colts team since 2001, when New England swept its season series with Indy. The first of those games – Tom Brady's first career start.

This is as good as it gets in the NFL. At least, it's as good as it can get in November. Only the potential of an AFC title game between these two can offer more buildup. The Patriots have an opportunity to put a dent into the Colts' hopes of hosting that game come January.

As if you needed more reasons why Colts-Patriots is the league's marquee game, here are almost seven minutes worth:


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