Perfect in play

It’s been dubbed. “The biggest game in the history of the NFL.”

“The Perfect Bowl.”

“Good vs. Evil.”

It’s impossible to escape the hype machine that surrounds Sunday’s showdown between the Patriots and Colts, if only for the reason that these two teams signify the best rivalry in today’s NFL with no close second even in sight. Sunday will be the latest in any NFL season that two undefeated teams have faced off, with essentially home field advantage for the AFC title game in the balance. The winner has what amounts to a two-game lead over the other, with head-to-head the second criteria for deciding any tie-breakers.

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The last time these two teams met, of course, the Patriots held a 21-6 lead on the Colts at halftime of the AFC title game, eventually falling to a Colts offense that scored 32 second-half points in a dome that may or may not have had a higher heating bill that month.

Of course, if the Pats hold a similar lead on Sunday at the half and dare to try and score more in the third and fourth quarters, get ready for another week of “running up the score” nonsense.

Who they’re picking

How folks from around the country see this weekend’s Patriots-Colts game:

  • Jim McCabe, Boston Globe: Colts (against spread). “By all means, you Patriots and Colts can say hello to one another, but do not say goodbye. You’ll see one another again in January.”
  • Boston Globe staff writers: Only Greg Lee goes with the Colts.
  • Indy Star staff writers: Colts across the board.
    Mike Chappell: Colts 38, Patriots 34. “Despite all the offensive firepower, this one will come down to which defense can make just enough difference-making plays. I’ve seen enough of Indy’s defense to believe it will make the difference.”
    Phil Richards: Colts 27, Patriots 24. “Give them their due. People don’t so much overestimate the quality of the New England offense as they fail to appreciate the sturdiness of the Colts defense. The home team is sold short in one other critical area: toughness. That’s what wins these games and it will win for the Colts.”
    Phillip B. Wilson: Colts 36, Patriots 33. “This pick is dedicated to the national know-it-alls (especially Cris Collinsworth) who say there is no way the Colts can win. Yeah, sure. Peyton Manning can’t outperform Tom Brady. Tony Dungy can’t outcoach Bill Belichick. The Colts can’t block Mike Vrabel. The Patriots will stuff Dwight Freeney. The Pats’ Randy Moss can’t be covered. Colts receivers will wilt under the vise-grip holds of those rule-bending tough guys. The list goes on and on, and you know what? Pure poppycock.”
    Bob Kravitz: Colts 31, Patriots 27. “I’m picking the Colts because of (gasp) their defense, which will at least slow down Tom Brady and Randy Moss enough to allow Peyton Manning and Co. to pull it out in the end. This one will be worth video-recording.”
  • Peter King, Sports Illustrated: Patriots 40, Colts 31. “After we’ve dissected, filleted, over-analyzed and thought way too much about this game, it all comes down to this very simple fact of football life: Tom Brady will finish two more big drives than Peyton Manning in the second half. Which, of course, means the New England D won’t let the Colts run it and throw it down their throats the way they did in the second half of the AFC title game last January.”
  • Vinnie Iyer, The Sporting News: Colts 38, Patriots 35. “Near the end of this game, I still believe in the importance of a power running game that can gain chunks of yardage, in effect playing keep away from a potent opposing offense. For that reason, I side with Addai and the Colts — barely. And with the Patriots being favored by five, this pick also doubles as the “Upset of the Week.”
  • Pete Prisco, CBS Sports: Colts 41, Patriots 27. “The game of the week, month, season should be a great one. Both teams can score — and will. The Patriots haven’t been stopped yet. The Colts, though, can keep up. They’re the one team that can. Since they’re at home, they get it done.”
  • Jeff Zillgitt, USA Today: Patriots 34, Colts 27. “I’ve been saying all year that I’m picking New England to win until proven otherwise. I’ve said the same thing about Indianapolis. What happens now at the crossroads? We might venture a guess as to whom Patriots coach Bill Belichick sold his soul.”
  • Vegas Vic, Philadelphia Daily News: Colts. “The Colts have the second-best scoring ‘D’ in the league, allowing only 102 points in seven games. In this latest version of the Game of the Century, we love Peyton plus 5, 6 or whatever we can get.”
  • Greg Cote, Miami Herald: Patriots 34, Colts 24. “These Pats might be the best team ever. Seriously. Miami’s 1972 Perfectos have heard it before but it’s different now. Get past the Colts here and New England has a real chance to steamroll through the season at 19-0.”
  • Gerry Dulac, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: Patriots 34, Colts 24. “They’re calling it Super Bowl XLI and a half because there has never been a meeting of two teams with records of 7-0 or better. It’s on to the real Super Bowl for New England.”
  • Mike Tanier, Football Outsiders.com: Patriots. “The Patriots won’t post another 52-7 blowout, but the final score will be in the convincing 34-24 range. Laurels will be tossed at their feet. The 1972 Dolphins will start getting nervous. Some experts, even cool-headed ones, will write the season off as a done deal. Don’t despair, Colts fans. Peyton and company won’t be happy with the loss, but they won’t be dejected or demoralized. They’ve been down this road before. They’ll just gather themselves up and ensure an all-important postseason rematch.”
  • ESPN.com: Only Keyshawn Johnson goes with the Patriots.
  • Yahoo! sports: Patriots across the board.
  • Our pick: Patriots 41, Colts 28. For all the hype these offenses receive, the Patriots and Colts are Nos. three and four respectively in overall defense, two of just eight teams allowing fewer than 300 yards per game. The Colts are second in points allowed with 102, the Patriots 10th with 127.
    That’s bad news for the Patriots, who might not score on their first drive of the game for the first time this season. After that, it’s anyone’s guess how many they put up on the board. If pundits are looking for this team to let up late in the game, this isn’t the week they’re going to see it.
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