For two teams, the last exit before Glendale is Foxborough.
The New England Patriots and Indianapolis Colts will meet there for Sunday’s AFC Championship Game at Gillette Stadium. But before the two sides do so for the chance to go to Super Bowl XLIX at University of Phoenix Stadium, here is one last glance at the road map for it.
Kickoff is set for 6:40 p.m.
Without Stork: On Friday’s injury report, Patriots rookie center Bryan Stork was officially ruled out for Sunday due to a knee injury. And in his absence, the Patriots will likely turn to former starting center Ryan Wendell again, while second-year reserve Josh Kline rotates into the right guard spot. But a couple others will also have to be taken into account, including rookie tackle, guard and eligible tight end Cameron Fleming, as well as fourth-year swing tackle Marcus Cannon. The Patriots went with six offensive linemen for much of the Nov. 16 meeting.
Indianapolis Pressure: The Colts notched one sack against the Patriots in that last meeting, yet the 3-4 went on to finish the regular season with 41 sacks. Rookie linebacker Jonathan Newsome registered 6.5 and linebacker Erik Walden registered six, while edge man Bjoern Werner registered four. The return of five-technique defensive end Arthur Jones has played a part in that success, but so has head coach Chuck Pagano’s aggressive blitz packages, which were seen prominently in his one season as Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator.
Corners Questionable for Indianapolis: After practicing in a limited capacity during the Colts’ final two sessions of the week, starting cornerbacks Vontae Davis and Greg Toler have been ruled questionable due to knee and groin injuries, respectively. But both appear to be on track to play against New England for a second time this season. The 5-foot-10, 207-pound Davis primarily matched up with Patriots split end Brandon LaFell in Week 11, while the 6-foot, 190-pound Toler matched up with flanker Julian Edelman.
Tale of Two Ground Games: Over the three games against Indianapolis since 2012, New England has amassed 595 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns on 125 carries. It was running back Jonas Gray leading the charge most recently, tallying 201 yards and four scores. It was LeGarrette Blount who powered for 166 yards and four scores last January. And it was the likes of Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley who broke into the end zone two seasons ago. The Colts have netted a combined 207 rushing yards over that three-game span, with only four arriving from running backs last time. But this time, Indianapolis’ backfield consists of Daniel ‘Boom’ Herron and Zurlon Tipton handling the carries.
Not Making the Trip: Indianapolis will be without running back Trent Richardson and reserve offensive tackle Xavier Nixon against New England. Richardson did not make the trip to New England on Saturday due to personal reasons, while Nixon did not make the flight. The 5-foot-9, 225-pound Richardson had six rushes for zero yards and one reception for 21 yards against the Patriots earlier in the season. The 6-foot-6, 330-pound Nixon was inactive.
Luck Setting Standard: On the heels of throwing for 265 yards and two touchdown passes in the divisional round against the Denver Broncos, Colts quarterback Andrew Luck now has has 1,703 postseason passing yards to his name, the most by any player in his first five career playoff games in NFL history. The 25-year-old’s prolific pace through the air has eclipsed the previous threshold set by Kurt Warner’s 1,644 yards.
Covering the Colts: New England’s last meeting with Indianapolis saw Luck throw for 303 yards. A total of 144 went to tight end Coby Fleener, who had a career day against cornerback Brandon Browner and linebacker help. Another 91 went to veteran wideout Reggie Wayne, who primarily went against corners Logan Ryan and Darrelle Revis. But only 24 went to slot speedster T.Y. Hilton, who was caught in a web of press-man and off-man from nickelback Kyle Arrington, with deep safety assistance over top. Others Colts targets have since left their mark for Indianapolis, however, with tight end Dwayne Allen healthy, Hakeem Nicks working the read zone, and rookie Donte Moncrief seeing a rise in opportunities. Eight different Colts caught passes last weekend versus Denver, with Allen and Nicks catching touchdowns. How the Patriots match up with them is something to look for.
Gronkowski Meets Indianapolis for Fifth Time: Rob Gronkowski caught just one pass when he faced Indianapolis as a rookie in 2010. The Patriots tight end has caught 16 against them in his three games since, collecting 272 receiving yards, two rushing yards and six touchdowns in the process. And most recently, he posted 71 yards and a touchdown against the Colts earlier this season.
Belichick, Landry and Brady: With last Saturday’s divisional victory over Baltimore Bill Belichick’s teams have now gone 20-9 in the postseason. The mark has brought him into a tie with Tom Landry for first place on the all-time postseason wins list. And another victory would send the 14-year Patriots head coach into a company of his own. Sunday’s AFC Championship will be Belichick’s ninth in tandem with Tom Brady, who would become the first quarterback to appear in six Super Bowls with a win over the Colts.