FOXBORO, Mass. — The Patriots (7-2) and Colts (6-3) are meeting for the eighth consecutive season and rekindling a rivalry that has morphed into one of the greatest in recent sports memory. Already staked to a one-game advantage in the AFC standings, the Patriots would almost ensure the tiebreaker for playoff time.
The Patriots lead the all-time series, 44-29, including a 2-1 mark in the playoffs. They're 24-12 at home and 3-2 in games at Gillette Stadium, including a 2-0 postseason record. The Colts have won five of the last six meetings, including two in a row.
Patriots head coach Bill Belichick set it straight about Peyton Manning this week, saying, "It’s no secret he’s good. I don’t think that’s a big news story." Manning has been doing it again, lifting a team that has lost so much talent around him and vaulting them to the top of the AFC South yet again.
Obviously, stopping Manning will be the key to the Patriots' success, and again, that’s not much of a news story. The Colts rank third in the league in passing offense (288.9 yards per game), but they're only 27th in rushing offense (90.4 yards per game). On the other side, the Patriots rank 30th in pass defense (277.8 yards per game).
Manning has been turning water to wine with his supporting cast this season, and the Patriots need to keep him as human as possible. If they can put some pressure on him — Manning has been sacked 12 times this season, two more than all of 2009 — they've got to think they can eventually take advantage of Indy's short staff.
Quarterback Tom Brady is 7-4 in his career against the Colts, including a 2-1 playoff record. In those 11 games, Brady has completed 234-of-356 passes (65.7 percent) for 2,650 yards, 20 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.
The Patriots had 126 wins in the last decade (2000-09), which was the most by one team in any decade in NFL history. The Colts were second in total victories (124) last decade.
Wide receiver Wes Welker tied a season high with eight receptions last week against the Steelers, but that catch total would have ranked tied for 10th out of his 14 games in 2009. His season-high 89 receiving yards against the Steelers would have ranked ninth in 2009.
The Patriots have returned three interceptions for touchdowns this season — Gary Guyton in Week 1 against Cincinnati, Patrick Chung in Week 4 against Miami and James Sanders in Week 10 against Pittsburgh. The Patriots' team record in a single season is five (2001 and 2003).
By making both of his field-goal attempts against the Steelers, Shayne Graham jumped into fifth place all time in field-goal percentage (85.3 percent). Graham, who has made 198-of-232 career kicks, moved past Robbie Gould (148 of 174, 85.1 percent). With two more field goals, Graham would become the 52nd player in NFL history to make 200.
The Colts' record of 130-56 since the start of the 2000 season is second to only the Patriots (133-54) in that span.
Manning is 7-11 in his career against the Patriots, including a 1-2 playoff record. In those 18 games, Manning has completed 408-of-670 passes (60.9 percent) for 4,819 yards, 34 touchdowns and 26 interceptions.
Manning has 44 career game-winning drives in the fourth quarter or overtime. After recording an NFL-record seven comeback victories in 2009, he's got one such game-winning drive in 2010.
Wide receiver Reggie Wayne has caught 42 passes for 572 yards and four touchdowns in eight regular-season games against the Patriots. He had a career game in the teams' last meeting, catching 10 passes for 126 yards and two scores.
The Colts have scored on 31-of-32 red-zone opportunities this season, including 20 touchdowns (62.5 percent). That touchdown efficiency ranks fourth in the NFL, while the scoring efficiency ranks first.
Defensive ends Robert Mathis (7.5 sacks) and Dwight Freeney (six) have registered 13.5 sacks this season.
From Thursday's practice report
Quarterback Tom Brady (right shoulder/foot) was limited but will play.
Running back Fred Taylor (toe) was limited, and his status is uncertain.
Right guard Stephen Neal (shoulder) was limited, and his status is uncertain.
Cornerback Jonathan Wilhite (hip) was limited, but it is believed he'll play.
Safety Jarrad Page (calf) did not practice and is not expected to play.
Defensive lineman Myron Pryor (back) did not practice, and it seems unlikely that he'll play.
Linebacker Gary Brackett (toe) did not practice, and his status is uncertain.
Defensive end Robert Mathis (rested) did not practice but will play.
Safety Bob Sanders (biceps) did not practice and will not play.
Linebacker Clint Session (elbow) did not practice, and his status is uncertain.
Tight end Brody Eldridge (rib) did not practice, and his status is uncertain.
Running back Mike Hart (ankle) did not practice and probably won't play.
Defensive back Justin Tryon (foot) did not practice, and his status is uncertain.
Running back Joseph Addai (neck) was limited, and his status is uncertain.
Cornerback Kelvin Hayden (neck) was limited, but he is expected to play.
Wide receiver Austin Collie (concussion) fully participated but hasn’t been cleared to play in a game.
Defensive end Dwight Freeney (rested) fully participated after sitting out Wednesday. He'll play.
Wide receiver Reggie Wayne (knee) fully participated and is expected to play.
Wide receiver Blair White (shoulder) fully participated and is expected to play.
When the Patriots are on point, like they were in Pittsburgh, they look like a team that's going to be awfully tough to beat. Since they've gotten better as the season has gone on, save for that mess in Cleveland, there are a lot of reasons to like their chances against the Colts, who have been decimated by injuries and might not be as good as their record really indicates.