Would Beating the Patriots Really Be an Upset for the Colts?

Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

On Sunday, the Indianapolis Colts head to Foxborough to take on the New England Patriots in the 2015 AFC Championship. At present, the Colts will enter Gillette Stadium as underdogs, with the Patriots are listed as 7-point favorites. This is to be expected. After all, the Pats are extremely difficult to beat at home, they are battle-tested with plenty of playoff experience, and they’re led by one of the best quarterbacks in NFL history in Tom Brady.

That’s before you mention that that Bill Belichick is a master strategist and is certain to construct an effective game plan. There is no reason why the Patriots should not be favored to reach the Super Bowl. However, given the way that Indy has played so far in the playoffs, would taking down the Pats really be that surprising?

When you think of the 11-5 Colts, quarterback Andrew Luck has to be the first thing that comes to mind. In just his third year out of Stanford, Luck has already progressed into one of the best passers in the league. His numbers this season have been impressive, with 4,761 yards in the air, 40 touchdown passes, and just 10 interceptions. There is no doubt he’s the leader of a Colts team that finished sixth in team offense this year and captured its second consecutive AFC South title.

However, no matter how great Luck is under center, he’s just one guy and cannot expect to beat the Patriots on his own. So if this is the case — if the Colts are usually just associated with their stud quarterback — how can they possibly hope to stand a chance in this game? One word: balance.

All statistics are courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.com.

Andy Lyons/Getty Images

In the regular season, the Indianapolis Colts were a very pass-heavy team, and it showed. They ended up leading the NFL in passing offense. A major reason behind this was their lackluster running attack. Last year, they gave up a first-round draft pick for Trent Richardson, but that has not worked out the way they hoped. By the end of the season, the Colts were 22nd in the league in rushing offense, averaging a little over 100 yards per game. Unfortunately, that kind of disparity on the offensive side of the ball is not going to get you anywhere in the postseason. The Colts understood this, and have since adjusted.

Since the playoffs began, the Colts have abandoned Richardson and gone with the tw0-back attack of Dan Herron and Zurlon Tipton. And while this attack will never be mistaken for the Seattle Seahawks’ ground game, “Boom” Herron has become a reliable force in the Colts backfield.

Although he was never supposed to be that guy, he has managed to take some pressure off Luck by tallying 119 rushing yards and another 117 yards receiving in the Colts’ two postseason outings this year. And — wouldn’t you know it — the Colts have won them both. Luck may the face of this franchise, the one whose hands you put the ball in with the game on the line, but if the Colts continue to also show faith in the run game, their offense is much harder to deal with.

The Colts have always been known as an offensive team, so it’s to be expected that they can compete on that side of the ball. However, it’s their defensive effort in the playoffs that have made them a formidable squad.

Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

The Indy defense was thought to be its Achilles’ heel. It was a part of its game that would surely stop the Colts from making a splash in the playoffs. Right now, though, the Colts don’t look like the same team that finished the season 19th in team defense. It has been the strong showing by their defense that has inspired the rest of the team.

They were not expected to march into Mile High and take down the Broncos. But because of a strong defensive performance, including a physically dominating game by the secondary, the Colts scored a huge win on the road. That wasn’t exactly expected, but it happened. This Indy team is not afraid of anyone, and they will face the Patriots with that same kind of confidence — and look for the same end result.

It’s safe to say that this year’s Indianapolis Colts are a different team than in years past. Andrew Luck is still the most recognizable name on the roster, but he’s also got help on both sides of the ball. This postseason, Indy has shown that it is capable of keeping a defense off balance with its running game, and the Colts have showcased a fearlessness on defense that needs to be respected.

Does this mean that they are guaranteed to beat the New England Patriots this Sunday? Absolutely not. But they did manage to go into a hostile environment, as long shots, and defeat a future Hall of Fame quarterback in his own backyard. Why can’t they do it again?