Colts face cold streak

STEVE MACFARLANE -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 9:13 AM ET

Forgive the New England Patriots if the thought of facing Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts doesn't bring them to their knees in fear.

History is on their side.

The Pats have defeated the Colts six straight times at Foxboro, including a nailbiter to open the 2004 NFL season.

Two Super Bowl wins in three years is good for a team's confidence, too.

But something about this year's playoff matchup feels different. Maybe it's because of Manning's record-breaking 49-touchdown season or the fact his top three receivers each gained more than 1,000 yards -- becoming just the second NFL trio to accomplish the task.

Maybe the Colts take comfort in knowing the league's sack leader Dwight Freeney is on their side.

Whatever it is that's given Indianapolis confidence despite past failures in New England, don't try to tell coach Tony Dungy his team will have it easy just because the Patriots' star cornerbacks Ty Law and Tyrone Poole are injured.

"Well, they're in disarray poor enough to win 14 games, so I guess that's what their state of disarray is," Dungy told reporters tongue-in-cheek this week when asked about the state of New England's depleted secondary. "They're able to rush the passer a lot of different ways, bringing different linebackers and that type of thing. I haven't seen them since Week 1, so hopefully we'll see some answers in the next couple of days."

A lot has changed since that opening-night battle, which the Patriots won 27-24 after Colts kicker Mike Vanderjagt missed a 48-yard attempt with 24 seconds on the clock.

Since then, the Colts have been solid.

In addition to Manning making many opponents appear defenceless, the Colts defence has gone on the offensive. The team finished with an NFL-best plus-19 turnover differential.

"I think we're better on defence," said Dungy, pointing out his team's progress since their last meeting. "We're certainly more confident offensively."

Vanderjagt, or 'Vanderjerk' as he's now known across Massachusetts, did his team a disservice this week by running his mouth about the Pats being "ripe for the picking." But the idiot kicker wasn't wrong when he said New England was weaker now than in Week 1.

And the Colts have been praying for a rematch since that loss.

"When we lost that game up there, we were disappointed and we felt like it was probably going to be a game that cost us a chance to have a home game (in the playoffs)," said Dungy. "And if we played them again, (we thought) we'd be playing them up there. That was our goal all year, to be in it so we could go back up there and that's what we have right now."

Skeptics will point to Manning's 1-3 record in outdoor post-season games and say the zero-degree weather will end the quarterback's hot streak. But Dungy says his Colts "don't subscribe to that indoor-outdoor theory" or the supposed mental barrier that comes with a six-game losing streak at Foxboro.

"It just really doesn't matter. It's not going to have any bearing on the game on Sunday," said the coach. "It's just one of those statistics that you can throw out."

* INDIANAPOLIS +2 AT NEW ENGLAND: You heard Dungy. Revenge is at hand for a 24-14 loss in last year's AFC title game. Colts 28, Patriots 24.

* N.Y. JETS +8 AT PITTSBURGH: The Jets won't make it easy on the home team but Big Ben's boys will be ready to roll with a relentless ground attack. Steelers 27, Jets 21.

* ST. LOUIS +7 AT ATLANTA: Rookie coach Jim Mora Jr.'s Falcons appear to be another team of destiny this season. Michael Vick is the X-factor. Falcons 30, Rams 20.

* MINNESOTA +8 AT PHILADELPHIA: Finally, we get to see how the Eagles play without star receiver Terrell Owens. It won't be easy. Eagles 26, Vikings 23.

CHECK THE RECORD

Playoffs: 3-1 ATS; 1-3 straight up. Regular season: 122-122-8 ATS; 158-98 straight up.


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