Welcome to Season 2, Episode 18 of the Unconventional Preview, a serious-but-lighthearted, nostalgia-tinted look at the Patriots’ weekly matchup that runs right here every Friday around noon. The second-seeded Patriots, coming off a much-deserved and needed bye after a 12-4 regular season, host
Bert Jones Art Schlichter Mark Herrmann Mike Pagel Jim Harbaugh Peyton Manning Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts, who overcame a 38-10 deficit in the wild card round to beat the Kansas City Chiefs, 45-44. Kick it off, Gostkowski, and let’s get this thing started already …
THREE PLAYERS OTHER THAN TOM BRADY I’LL BE WATCHING
1. T.Y. Hilton: The Colts’ second-year receiver has put up these totals over the past two games, the regular-season finale against the Jaguars and the thrilling comeback in the wild-card round against the Chiefs:
Twenty-four catches, 379 yards, two touchdowns.
That’s a pretty good month for most starting receivers. Hilton is obviously the No. 1 weapon among few in the Colts’ offense, and that status makes him the first priority to stop at all times for the Patriots defense. It’s not a myth that Bill Belichick’s defenses have a knack for taking away what the opposition wants to do most, and with Aqib Talib and an assortment of other defensive backs with various skills, the Patriots should be able to contain Hilton Saturday night.
2. Robert Mathis: Mathis had the best season of his 11-year career in 2013, racking up 19.5 sacks. It’s all the more impressive when you consider this is the first year he played without Dwight Freeney, now a Charger, drawing attention on the opposite side. But while Mathis surely is disruptive — he had a pivotal strip-sack in the win over the Chiefs — he may not be the threat at Gillette Stadium that he is at Lucas Oil Field. Thirteen of his sacks came at home, and he had just two sacks in the Colts’ last six road games this season.
3. LeGarrette Blount: The Patriots have a variety of appealing and diverse options in their running game, with Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen both likely to play significant roles going forward. But Blount, who ran for 189 yards in the season finale versus Buffalo, looks like a classic cold-weather back in the Antowain Smith mold. He should feast on the Colts’ 26th-ranked run defense.
COMPLETELY RANDOM FOOTBALL CARD: Going with The Dierdorf by default here since I couldn’t find a card of Ty Law roughing up Marvin Harrison. Saturday’s game will be the final broadcast of Dierdorf’s 29-year career. No matter what you think of him as a broadcaster, that’s a heck of a run. And if you don’t like him as an analyst, let me remind you of this: He began his career at CBS in 1985 as a play-by-play guy. Imagine that.
THE FIVE BEST QUARTERBACKS TO BE DRAFTED NO. 1 OVERALL
5. Drew Bledsoe, Patriots, 1993: I’ll stick with my standard Bledsoe line here — there’s no shame in being the second-best quarterback in franchise history. If you want to go with Jim Plunkett (1971) here, I’ll respectful nod. If you want to go Vinny Testaverde (1987), I’ll assume you’re a member of his family.
4. Terry Bradshaw, Steelers, 1970: Four Super Bowl rings are a pretty decent argument, yes. But it did take him awhile to get going — he completed 38.1 percent of his passes as a rookie, with six touchdowns and 24 interceptions.
2. John Elway, Indianapolis, 1983: Elway never played for the Colts, of course, using his leverage as a Yankees outfield prospect to force a trade to the Broncos. And make no mistake, Elway was a big-time baseball prospect — Baseball America rated him as the Yankees’ No. 1 prospect entering 1983. Don Mattingly was ninth.
1. Peyton Manning, Indianapolis, 1998: He’ll be the most statistically accomplished passer in NFL history when he retires, if he’s not considered so already. Hard to believe there was ever a debate whether Manning or Ryan Leaf — who may have been a better athlete with a stronger arm — would be the No. 1 pick.
I bring all of this up because it’s conceivable, should Andrew Luck slightly exceed all of the high but possible realistic expectations attached to him now, that he could crack the top three on this list. Which would mean the Colts drafted the three best quarterbacks ever to go No. 1 overall. Pretty impressive, though not quite as impressive as drafting arguably the best quarterback ever at No. 199 overall.
PREDICTION, OR BRING ON THE GOOF IN THE BOLO TIE
I’m predicting one upset this week in the AFC Divisional Round, but it will happen in Denver, not Foxborough. The Colts are certainly a worthy opponent, well-coached and led by an accountable young quarterback ascending to superstardom. But the Patriots, so familiar with such situations in the Brady/Belichick era, will build an early lead, control the game with a rejuvenated running attack, and frustrate Luck enough that he’ll surrender a costly turnover or two in the second half. Meanwhile, Philip Rivers and the Chargers will prevent another Manning/Brady showdown, with the current and former Colts quarterbacks seeing their seasons end on the same day.
Patriots 27, Colts 17